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Silent Stoughton a boring Stoughton

C'mon Jeff, shake off those winter blues and entertain us

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SELKIRK -- He's been quiet, almost too quiet.

So Tuesday, on the eve of this morning's opening of the 2009 Safeway Men's Provincial Curling Championship, it seemed an excellent idea to track down Jeff Stoughton and find out if a cat really did get his normally very active tongue.

It turns out Stoughton, who's made a career of saying provocative things prior to this event and then going on to win it, had his tongue in its usual place but is suffering from the same affliction as every other Manitoban in February. He sounds a bit bored.

"There's nothing to give," Stoughton said with a laugh.

"It's really dull."

And then, the same man who outraged all of rural Manitoba in 2000 by suggesting only a team from Winnipeg was good enough to win the province, had this to say:

"We think we have as good a chance as anybody else out here."

And so with that, this piece of major curling news: Someone has abducted Jeff Stoughton on the eve of this year's men's provincials and has replaced him with a body double.

For the uninitiated, Stoughton is famous as one of the best quotes in all of curling -- always reliable for saying exactly what he means and meaning exactly what he says.

His is a frank tone that is refreshingly honest in an era when curling is being 'professionalized' by the diamond carrot every four years of the Olympics.

But his frankness has also got Stoughton in heaps of trouble over the years. In 1999, he outraged purists by saying he was tired of playing for "badges" -- a provocative term to describe the hallowed purple heart that goes with winning a provincial curling championship -- and would rather play for cash instead.

The province's curlers were outraged, but Stoughton went on that year to win the province, the country and came within an extra end of winning his second world title.

Then in 2000, it was rural Manitoba who got mad at him, only to watch as Stoughton once again went on to win the province.

But the years have perhaps softened Stoughton's edge off the ice and he seemed genuinely humble in describing his team's chances to win a 32-team event that he has won more than any other Manitoba skip, with a record six provincial titles.

Stoughton is aware that when the first draw takes to the ice at the Selkirk Recreational Centre this morning, his team will be just one of three top seeds -- Kerry Burtnyk and Mike McEwen are the others -- believed to have the best chances to win the right to represent Manitoba at next month's Brier in Calgary.

And then there are all the other teams, from young hotshots like Reid Carruthers to older veterans like Dave Boehmer and Peter Nicholls who are also eminently capable on any given day.

It is the nature -- and long history -- of this event that the mighty will fall, and the question this morning is which of the mighty will it be this year.

McEwen, who is being hailed coming in as maybe the Next One for Manitoba curling, said he's learned the key is to never get complacent and always remember that everyone here has the one great shot that can turn around a game.

"It gets pretty nerve-wracking when you have an end all set up," said McEwen, "and all of a sudden out of nowhere a guy makes one saver that you never even saw coming."

Of course, it is curling and at the end of the day, there is an acknowledgment by everyone here that it is folly to take any of this too seriously.

An acknowlegement some make more willingly than others.

"We're here," Brandon's Allan Lyburn proclaimed Tuesday, "to drink a lot of beer and have a good time. Because, let's face it, I don't generally play very well at this thing."

Now why couldn't Stoughton have said that?

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2009 C3

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