Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grassie respects top guns but wants his shot at top spot, too

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DAUPHIN -- Reid Carruthers got a call from Jeff Stoughton and parlayed it into a world championship last year in his very first season.

Rob Fowler got a call from Stoughton prior to that and rode it to three Manitoba men's titles.

Dan Kammerlock got a call from Kerry Burtnyk and promptly got to curl in the 2008 Brier in front of a hometown crowd.

But unlike his contemporary Manitoba skips, the phone never rang for Sean Grassie.

"I just never got a call from Kerry or Jeff or one of those guys," Grassie said Wednesday at the 2012 Safeway Manitoba Men's Curling Championship. "But that's fine. I've enjoyed skipping my own team all these years."

Without a top skip and elite sponsorship package that comes with playing with the likes of Stoughton or Burtnyk, Grassie has spent much of the past decade putting together a blue-collar curling career -- toiling on the Manitoba Curling Tour and making the most of the playdowns opportunities that were available to him.

In addition to a 1999 provincial junior title, Grassie also acquired two provincial mixed titles and a Canadian mixed title in recent years -- and he came within one final game of winning the MCA Bonspiel last month.

But the one title that has remained elusive has been the Manitoba men's title up for grabs here this week.

His fellow competitors have annointed Grassie the sixth seed, but Grassie has no illusions of the challenges involved in an event where top seed Stoughton is the defending world champion and second-seeded Mike McEwen is the No. 1- ranked team in the world.

"Those two guys are obviously the favourites and for good reason," said Grassie, who was a convincing 9-2 winner over Pembina's Dave Johnson in his opener on Wednesday. "But if you can get to the last day, who knows? Anything can happen. We played really out there today. And so if we can play like that to the end, regardless of who we are playing, I think good things could happen."

Grassie plays Arborg's Kyle Foster on the 12:15 p.m. draw today.

 

Quick start for Stoughton

 

JEFF STOUGHTON thrashed Flin Flon's Brad Hyrich 11-2 Wednesday afternoon to get his title defence off to a convincing start.

Stoughton -- the defending Manitoba, Canadian and world champion -- took four-enders with the hammer in the first and fourth ends and stole three more in the fifth end to take an 11-1 lead into the fifth end break. The two teams played two more ends after that before Hyrich had enough and proferred a handshake.

It wasn't much of a test, but Stoughton said his team tried to turn the Hyrich game into a learning experience. "It's still nice to see how the rocks were running and get out there and throw a few. It never hurts," Stoughton said.

Stoughton plays Ste. Anne's Murray Woodward on the 12:15 p.m. draw today.

 

Early scare for McEwen

 

SECOND seed Mike McEwen survived a major scare here Wednesday morning on the opening draw.

Leading Dauphin's Glen Toews 4-1 through four ends, McEwen gave up a game-tying three-ender to Toews in the fifth end. The teams traded singles from there and the game was tied 6-6 heading into the tenth end when McEwen used the hammer to score a single and squeak out a 7-6 victory.

McEwen needed full four-foot with the final rock of the 10th end -- and he cooly drew the button to preserve the victory.

McEwen plays Brandon's Kelly Skinner on the 12:15 p.m. draw today.

 

'We'll be ready': Fowler

 

THIRD seed Rob Fowler thinks this event is more than just a two-horse race between Stoughton and McEwen, the combatants in the last two Manitoba men's finals.

"It seems the media looks at it that way. So you guys can draw the conclusions you like," said Fowler. "We've played against those two teams and other top teams in the world not just for the last two years, but really for the last decade... When the time comes, we'll be there and we'll be ready."

Fowler plays Pinawa's Richard Muntain on the 8:30 a.m. draw today.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2012 C3

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