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Getting his mojo back

Stoughton reels off two straight wins after earlier struggles

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Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton was on a roll Wednesday while beating Saskatchewan 7-4 in the afternoon draw at the Brier.

ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton was on a roll Wednesday while beating Saskatchewan 7-4 in the afternoon draw at the Brier.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- When Jeff Stoughton is on, he's as good a curler as there is anywhere in the sport.

And the Charleswood skip is on -- finally -- at the Tim Hortons Brier heading into today's final two round-robin games for Team Manitoba.

With two wins here on Wednesday -- 9-6 over Northern Ontario's Jeff Currie in the morning draw and 7-4 over Saskatchewan's Steven Laycock in the afternoon draw -- Stoughton will take a three-game winning streak and third place in the round-robin standings into today's final two critical round-robin games.

That's good. But what's even better is that in a week in which Stoughton has uncharacteristically struggled to find the consistency that has been his trademark over the years, the 11-time Manitoba champion appears to have saved his best for last.

A sizzling 96 per cent performance in Wednesday's win over Saskatchewan came just a day after Stoughton put up a 95 per cent performance in the win over Nova Scotia Tuesday that started the current winning streak.

Toss in a workmanlike 86 per cent effort in the win over Northern Ontario and it would appear Stoughton has found his game just as the games are about to get very, very interesting.

Manitoba lead Reid Carruthers says his team is drawing confidence from the play of their skip in recent days.

"Jeff played outstanding today. We just have to keep setting them up and hopefully he'll keep cleaning the table," said Carruthers.

"You can tell just in how Jeff is calling the line right now that he's starting to see it really well -- he's starting to see the angles and he's knowing exactly where the rock is as soon as he lets it go. That's a really good thing."

Stoughton said he likes where his entire team's game is at heading into their final two round-robin games -- against B.C.'s John Morris this morning and then Ontario's Greg Balsdon tonight.

"It just took us a little while to get into the groove and get used to the ice and the rocks and everything else," said Stoughton. "But I think everyone is starting to feel a little more confident and it shows out there. There's not as much hesitation -- it's just go and make some shots."

They're going to need to make a lot of them today, particularly against a B.C. team that comes into today in first place with a sizzling 8-1 record. A win over B.C. would go a long way to securing Manitoba a spot in Friday night's coveted Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game, where teams get two chances to advance to Sunday's Brier final.

But first Stoughton has to figure out a way to beat B.C., something that's only happened once this week -- and not for six games -- thanks in large part to the red-hot play of vice-skip Jim Cotter, who is leading at his position in shooting at 87 per cent.

Morris said his team's runner-up performance at December's Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre -- where they made it all the way to the final before losing to the eventual Olympic gold medallist Brad Jacobs -- prepared them well for the pressure they are facing here as the hometown favourites.

"If you can handle the heat of the Olympic trials, that's the most heat of the entire season," said Morris, who calls the game for B.C. but yields last rock to Cotter. "That was a big test for us in Winnipeg. We've trained mentally all year and we won't do anything different this weekend."

Stoughton said he's looking forward to the challenge posed by Morris's squad, which beat him in Winnipeg.

"They're a good team," said Stoughton. "John has been around forever, he's played in so many big games it's unbelievable. So there's no worry about him not doing the right thing. So it's just execution and making Jimmy have to make some tough shots."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 0

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