Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 02/2/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Want to make the world's safest bet on Super Bowl Sunday?
Then ignore the big game in New York this afternoon and instead lay all your money on this afternoon's Manitoba men's curling championship final at the MTS Iceplex.
That's because there is nothing closer to a sure thing in the world of sports then betting on Jeff Stoughton when he's playing in the Manitoba men's final, as he will today at 2 p.m..
The numbers are freakish -- eleven times prior to today, Stoughton has played in the final game of the Manitoba men's playdowns.
And 10 times he has hoisted the trophy afterward.
There's dominating and then there's otherworldy, and the 10-1 record Stoughton will take into today's final is so interstellar it seems safe to say it probably doesn't much matter which of this morning's semifinalists -- fifth seed Willie Lyburn or longtime rival Mike McEwen -- Stoughton plays for the championship.
Now, none of this is to suggest Stoughton cannot be beaten in a Manitoba final.
Indeed, Swan River's Brent Scales memorably proved it can be done in the 2004 final, taking him down with some final-end heroics that stand to this day as the only blemish on Stoughton's resumé of Manitoba finals.
But since that Scales debacle, Stoughton has been quite literally unbeatable, winning all six of the Manitoba finals he's played in the interim.
Which is also, coincidentally, the same 6-0 record he has put together at the Iceplex since Wednesday, making him the last undefeated team in a 32-team field heading into the title game.
Stoughton's most recent victory came Saturday night over McEwen in the page playoff 1 vs. 1 game, and he did it in style -- a 9-5 thrashing that lasted just eight ends and saw Stoughton and his team simply take over after spotting McEwen a 4-3 lead through the first four ends.
It was an all too familiar script for McEwen, who seems to lose the big games to Stoughton at this event, including the 2010 and 2011 finals and the 2013 semifinal.
McEwen was scratching his head Saturday night as he tried to figure out what went wrong this time.
"The first four ends were awesome," said McEwen. "Up to this point, we hadn't lost to them this year, beat them two or three times in a row. So I won't look at it any different. I felt like they just plain outplayed us the last three ends."
And so it goes at an event Stoughton has turned into a personal playground for the better part of two decades now.
So how is it, Stoughton was asked Saturday night, that you so utterly dominate this event, year after year after year?
It is the simplest of recipes, as Stoughton describes it.
"We're playing well, we've got confidence going into finals, we're feeling like we can win the game," he said. "We're looking forward to it. We get hammer and (choice of) rocks -- that's a bit of an advantage, for sure.
"If the guys keep playing, we'll be OK."
Stoughton was asked if an 11th Manitoba men's curling title today would mean any more than last year's 10th one did.
"Probably not," he said. "But we'd love to go back to the Brier."
He said a loss at the Canadian curling trials at the MTS Centre in December left a void for his team they are hoping to fill with a return to the national stage in another form.
"As soon as we sort of got over New Year's and Christmas and all that, we decided to refocus and try to get back to the Brier. We're in a great position -- one game away. And that's what we want to do -- go back and play again in the Brier."
McEwen, not surprisingly, has humbler expectations coming into today.
"All we want to do is get to that final game," McEwen said. "That's all we can ask for."
Ain't that the truth -- especially if Jeff Stoughton is the one waiting for you in that final.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2014 B5
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