BEAUSEJOUR -- Jeff Stoughton showed once again here Sunday that he can win Manitoba.
The question now is when -- and if -- he'll show again that he can still win Canada.
Manitoba's winningest curler in history piled another Manitoba men's title on top of his record-breaking resumé, recording his ninth provincial championship with a 5-4 defeat of Winnipeg's Mike McEwen in the final of the Safeway Championship Sunday afternoon at the Sun Gro Centre.
That Stoughton is the best curler Manitoba has ever produced has been beyond debate for a couple of years now. But it somehow became even more unequivocal Sunday as Stoughton -- supported by third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Steve Gould -- took down a team in McEwen that was the premier curling foursome in the world on the cashspiel circuit this winter and was the top seed this week.
But there remains one lingering question mark about Stoughton -- and it was one McEwen alluded to as he emerged from the ice Sunday, a beaten man in the provincial final for the second year in a row at the hands of Stoughton.
"We still believe we're the best chance Manitoba has to win a Brier," said McEwen.
That is bold talk from a man who's never actually won one -- or even a junior men's Canadian championship for that matter. And, when pressed later, McEwen back-tracked, saying he's sure Stoughton -- a two-time Brier winner -- will do a fine job.
"I'm just saying that we'd be a great representative," said McEwen. "We really thought we'd be Manitoba's really good chance to bring home a Brier."
Stoughton, not surprisingly, bristled a bit when presented with McEwen's comments. "That's what he said at the beginning of the week," Stoughton chortled. "Sure, why not? He can say what he likes. He's not going to the Brier yet, so maybe next year they'll have a good chance at it."
Still, it is a legitimate question to ask of Stoughton, who has now won five of the last six Manitoba men's titles and a total of six since the last time he actually won the Brier, which was back in 1999.
So, how are you going to do at the Brier this year, Jeff? "Oh, Top 12 I guess," he bristled again.
But seriously, it's been a while. "It has been a long time," said Stoughton, finally opening up. "But I really think this team has a fantastic chance...We've beaten (Kevin) Koe, we've beaten (Kevin) Martin, we've beaten (Glenn) Howard -- all these guys that are coming to the Brier, we're pretty sure we can handle them. We'd love to finally get that Brier back to Winnipeg and I'm pretty sure we're going to give it a pretty good shot."
McEwen was 3-0 against Stoughton in their last three meetings on the cash circuit this winter.
But in a week when Stoughton cruised undefeated to the final while McEwen scrapped and clawed through the B-side just to stay alive, the difference in the final came down to just a couple of missed shots by McEwen -- and one in particular.
Stoughton scored his only deuce of the game in the third end but the decisive point proved to be in the fourth, when McEwen came up light on a draw to the four-foot and gave Stoughton the only steal of the game.
McEwen tied the game 4-4 with a deuce in the ninth end but in the tenth, Stoughton needed nothing more than a draw to the eight-foot with the final rock of the game for the win.
The victory was the third in a row for Stoughton and Gould, making them just the second and third curlers in Manitoba history to win three straight men's curling titles.
Doug Armstrong was the first to do it, as a lead for Dale Duguid in 1998 and then with Stoughton in 1999 and 2000.
The victory also continued Stoughton's almost incomprehensible dominance of provincial finals. He is now 9-1 in 10 career provincial men's finals.
The man is, beyond a doubt, the best in Manitoba. And he has earned the chance -- again -- to prove he's the best in Canada.