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And with that, one curtain came down as another went up on the Manitoba men's curling scene Thursday night at the MTS Centre.
With a 9-6 win over Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwen simultaneously vanquished a provincial rival who has bedeviled him like no other while at the same time kept his own team alive in their quest to win the men's final of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings and represent Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
With the win over Stoughton, McEwen improved his team's round-robin mark to 3-3 and he can now force a playoff tiebreaker game this morning with the combination of a win by his team over Kevin Koe (1-5) and a loss by John Morris (4-2) to Kevin Martin (5-1).
If it unfolds, McEwen would play Morris in a tiebreaker game this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. for the right to claim the third and final playoff spot this weekend. Brad Jacobs and Martin have clinched the first and second spots respectively.
McEwen, who opened this event at 1-2, said Thursday night a chance to keep his Olympic dream alive today is all that he could ask for under the circumstances.
"We wanted this one bad," said McEwen. "We feel we're playing well enough to give this a run and we're still going to be breathing (Friday morning)... I think we've done all we could and at least we still have a chance (on Friday). That's more than we could hope for after the first two days."
Stoughton, meanwhile, has been eliminated from playoff contention at 2-4 and, at age 50, the winningest men's curler in Manitoba history has now in all likelihood seen his Olympic dream die forever.
"It's disappointing of course," Stoughton said, "but it's not as disappointing as losing the trials final in '05 (to Brad Gushue), just simply because we didn't play well enough this week to get in a position to get there.
"The result is we simply didn't play well enough."
With 10 Manitoba men's titles, three Briers, two worlds and two Canadian mixed titles on his resume, Stoughton was asked if the absence of an Olympics appearance on behalf of Canada would nag at him in the years to come.
"No, not at all. I will look back and see that we had opportunities -- and everything in between -- and it just didn't work out. But I'm not going to be disappointed that we didn't go to the Olympics -- not many teams do. It's just one of those things."
A four-ender by McEwen in the third end had Stoughton down 5-1 as some in a crowd of 8,635 were still settling into their seats. But Stoughton wasn't done, narrowing McEwen's lead to 5-4 at the break when the latter gave up a steal of two when his last rock of the fifth end picked up some debris.
But that was as close as Stoughton would get as another pick -- this time on Stoughton's last rock of the eighth end -- yielded a three-ender for McEwen and finally stuck the fork in a Stoughton team that for years has been the biggest obstacle standing between McEwen and the provincial men's title that still eludes him.
Asked if the win made up for all his losses to Stoughton at the provincials over the years, McEwen laughed. "No. Absolutely not."
Stoughton third Jon Mead -- who returned to the sport in 2010 from voluntary exile to take one last shot at qualifying for the Olympics -- said he will sleep well in the years to come knowing he did everything he possibly could to make his dream happen.
"Personally, I can look in the mirror -- and so can the rest of the guys -- and know we did everything we could. These guys were better -- this week, they were better than us. I have to tip my hat to them."
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