BEAUSEJOUR -- Andy Stewart sat in the hack, looked down at his last rock, looked up at his time clock -- and then watched the seconds tick down to zero.
"It was at 7 seconds," Stewart reflected later, "and I figured I might as well just wait until it counted down to 0 so that I wouldn't have to be throwing while it was going 3, 2, 1." Big mistake.
What Stewart thought were seconds counting down on a timeout were in fact seconds counting down on his game clock.
And so when his clock expired, so did Stewart's hopes of beating Dave Boehmer here on opening day at the Safeway Championship Wednesday in what will go down as one of the strangest finishes in the history of the Manitoba men's curling championship.
"It's a heck of a way to get in the paper," Stewart lamented.
The problem came down to miscommunication. With the game tied 4-4 in the tenth end and Stewart looking at a takeout of a lone Boehmer counter to lie three himself and set up a possible game-winning steal with his last rock of the game, the veteran Rosser skip decided to call a one-minute timeout -- with about one minute left on his time clock.
But the problem was Curl Manitoba on-ice officials had already credited Stewart with having taking both his allotted timeouts earlier in the game. And so unbeknownst to Stewart, the seconds he was watching tick off his clock wasn't a timeout but rather his own game clock. Oops.
Indeed, it was a hard-luck finish for one of curling's good guys -- and even the beneficiary of Stewart's mistake was feeling badly about it afterward.
"If he makes it perfect," Boehmer observed of the last rock Stewart was never allowed to throw, "I'd have had an awful tough shot with my last one. It doesn't feel good winning that way."
Stewart explained that when he called the timeout in the tenth end it was in the genuine belief that he had only called one other timeout during the game -- during second rocks in the ninth end.
"We took one timeout in the ninth end, about fourth rock," Stewart said. "That's the only timeout I know about."
But MCA official Don Campbell produced the game sheet for reporters after the game, showing notations that the Stewart team had been credited with taking timeouts at the 15:06 and 11:08 marks.
Cathy Gauthier, who called the game for a tape-delayed broadcast on Shaw TV, said the Stewart team had talked several times about calling time outs in the late ends and on at least one occasion were making the 'T' gesture in an animated discussion about whether to call a timeout.
The win advanced Boehmer to an A-side game against Rob Fowler this afternoon while Stewart suddenly found himself facing an elimination game late Wednesday against Dauphin's Roger Parker. Stewart survived the test, eliminating Parker 7-4.
The three other teams eliminated with their second loss Wednesday night were Wawanesa's Perry Fisher, Gimli's Barrie Sigurdson and Assiniboine Memorial's David Bohn.
Stewart's snafu was the only really unpredictable thing that happened on a day that otherwise unfolded according to form.
Top seed Mike McEwen and eight-time champion Jeff Stoughton were both big winners -- Stoughton 8-3 over Wawanesa's Perry Fisher and McEwen 11-2 in just six ends over Flin Flon's Don Holmes.
Third seed Rob Fowler, fourth seed Peter Nicholls and fifth seed Vic Peters were also winners.
McEwen laid waste to Holmes, punching out a three in the first end and then stealing three more in the second end to jump out to a 6-0 lead.
McEwen raised a few eyebrows among observers when he later threw up corner guards with a 6-1 lead, but the skip said afterward he felt it was important his team continue to play at a high level despite the lopsided score.
"You get a five- or six-point lead, you kind of do (treat it like a practice)," McEwen said. "You try to get as many good throws in as you can. You're going to need that in a tight game. If the second or third game is tight, hopefully you have something to draw back on."
McEwen will take on 2008 Manitoba men's champion Garth Smith here this afternoon. Smith advanced by rising from the ashes against Beausejour's Scott Madams, erasing a 4-1 deficit with a three-ender in the sixth end and then stealing three more in the eighth en route to an unlikely 7-6 win.
Stoughton plays La Salle's Randy Neufeld this afternoon, while Peters takes on Randy Dutiaume and Nicholls plays Bob Sigurdson.