Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enough of this losing

Stoughton determined to break cycle of Brier disappointments Rocks on the ice for national title

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LONDON, Ont. -- Let's begin with something you probably know about Jeff Stoughton: With nine provincial men's titles, he is the winningest Manitoba skip in curling history.

Now here's something you probably don't know about Jeff Stoughton: With just two wins in eight previous trips to the Brier, he is the losingest Manitoba skip in curling history.

Indeed, with six Brier losses on his resumé -- including in each of his last five trips to the national curling stage -- Stoughton has now lost more Briers than any other Manitoba curler has even competed in.

Or how about this for some context: The last time Stoughton won a Brier -- which also happens to be the last time Manitoba won a Brier -- was way back in 1999, when the biggest thing we all had to worry about was a doomsday computer virus that was either going to eat us alive or do nothing at all when the clock struck midnight that New Year's Eve.

Since then, Manitoba teams have lost 11 Briers in a row, with Stoughton defeats in 2000, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 accounting for almost half those losses.

Now, if he lived in Newfoundland, where the province sends the same team to the Brier every year, with the same predictable result, no one would bat an eye.

But when you represent the province that has won more Briers than anyone and comes to this event every year as one of the favourites, that kind of drought is a blemish on even Stoughton's unparalleled curling record.

And he knows it.

"There's no doubt about it -- and I can look in the mirror for who's to blame," he said Friday as his team got their first look at the ice inside the John Labatt Centre for this year's Tim Hortons Brier.

"We've had five chances -- this will be the sixth -- and we just haven't been able to finish it off, for some reason."

Which is striking when you consider that Stoughton won the Brier in two of his first three outings. After missing the playoffs in his rookie Brier in 1991, he won Briers in each of his next two appearances -- in 1996 and 1999 -- and also won a world title in 1996.

So how is it that a man who, in some years, has had to face a tougher field to get out of Manitoba than he did at the Brier, can no longer find the winner's circle once he's at the national championship?

"There comes a point where you say to yourself, 'Wow, fourth place, way to go; you're fourth best in Canada.' But is that all you want to be -- fourth best?'

"And that's when you start giving yourself time frames when you're not going to play anymore. And it's also why I feel so comfortable this year with a team that I think matches up with any of these guys.

"It's no longer, 'If we play our best and if they miss a couple.' Now, it's, 'If we put our best up against their best, we will win this game.' That's a big difference for us -- that mental confidence. And it just comes from having such a good year on and off the ice."

With former teammate Jon Mead sliding back in at third this season and former Manitoba men's finalist Reid Carruthers taking over at second, Stoughton and longtime lead Steve Gould come here off an outstanding cashspiel season.

In three Grand Slam events -- the barometer by which all elite men's teams are measured -- Stoughton and his first-year team made two finals and a semifinal.

That's an outstanding performance -- although again, it is also notable for the lack of finish.

So it raised this direct question Friday on the eve of what will be Stoughton's ninth Brier: You gonna finally win this thing again, or what?

"We're here for one thing -- and everyone knows it -- and that's to win the Brier," Stoughton said.

"And if we do anything else but win, we'll be disappointed, along with everyone else."

LOOSEHAIRS -- Stoughton has a pair of games today on Brier opening day, taking on B.C.'s Jim Cotter this afternoon and New Brunswick's James Grattan tonight.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2011 D1

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