The Jeff Stoughton team is breaking up, with all four members going separate ways at the conclusion of this curling season and the Hall of Fame skip saying Sunday his future in the sport is uncertain.
"I'd like to keep curling next year — that's why we're putting this out there now," Stoughton told the Free Press Sunday afternoon. "But it's got to be a good fit...
"We'll see how things play out the next little while," Stoughton continued. "And if nothing comes up, I won't play next year."
Stoughton said his team — third Jon Mead, second Mark Nichols and lead Reid Carruthers — will curl two final cashspiel events this winter — in Grande Prairie, Alta., next weekend and then next month at the Players Championship in Summerside, P.E.I.
Stoughton said the team made the decision to go their separate ways late last week after a disappointing season that saw them fail to make the playoffs at the Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre in December and then lose the 3-4 game to Quebec at the Brier in Kamloops, B.C., earlier this month. They did manage to defeat Quebec in the bronze-medal game.
"We had a lot of success together," said Stoughton. "But we just couldn't get over that hump these last couple years."
'We had a lot of success together. But we just couldn't get over that hump these last couple years'
The team members insisted Sunday the breakup was amicable. "The feelings we have for each other," explained Mead, "are the least of the reasons for doing this...
"I was talking to Mark (Nichols) and I think he put it best: 'This team was put together for a very specific purpose — to win the Olympics. And that didn't happen.' "
Mead said Sunday he remains "very interested" in curling again next year, but like Stoughton will walk away entirely if he cannot find a mix that would allow him to continue at an elite level.
"There's a very small and finite range of options I'd consider in terms of continuing to play," Mead said.
Interestingly, Ontario's Glenn Howard is looking for a new player now after announcing last week his longtime second — and Jennifer Jones' partner — Brent Laing was leaving the team to curl in Alberta with reigning Brier champion Kevin Koe next season.
That could be relevant. Mead is good friends with Howard and previously curled a couple of seasons with current Howard third Wayne Middaugh.
Nichols, meanwhile, said Sunday he has decided to move back home to Newfoundland with his wife Colette, who is expecting the couple's first child this summer.
"It's a family decision. With the baby coming in the summer, we want to be closer to family," said Nichols. "And, to be honest, we miss the Rock."
Nichols moved to Manitoba two years ago specifically to curl with Stoughton after semi-retiring from the game. He said the experience here "rejuvenated" him and he would like to continue curling when he moves home.
"I have no regrets about the decision to move here. I've been proud to wear my Buffalo on my back the last two years."
Mead said when Nichols announced to the rest of the team he was moving back to Newfoundland, it set in motion the chain of events that led to his own decision to leave the Stoughton foursome.
"I figured if there was going to be changes anyway, then I'd like to explore a complete change," said Mead.
Carruthers said he definitely wants to continue curling next season, but he's still deciding at what position. "I'm leaning towards going back to skipping," said Carruthers, who was best known as a skip until he joined Stoughton as a front end player for the 2010-11 season.
The Stoughton foursome with its current team members won the last two Manitoba men's curling championships and also lost the Brier final in 2013 to Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs.
And three of the four team members — Stoughton, Mead and Carruthers — also won a world men's curling championship in 2011.
Stoughton said while he would like to curl a reduced schedule next season, he will only continue to curl if he can put together a team capable of playing at the highest level. "I'm only going to curl if it's to win," he said.
A Manitoba competitive curling scene without Stoughton would be a first in over a quarter century. The 50-year-old Charleswood skip won his first national title in 1988 when he skipped a Canadian mixed champion and took down his first of 11 Manitoba men's titles three years later.
Along the way, Stoughton won Brier titles in 1996, 1999 and 2011 and world championships in 1996 and 2011.
Among the potential new teammates for Stoughton would be Brandon's Rob Fowler, whose longtime third Allan Lyburn has said he's taking next season off. Fowler previously curled second for Stoughton and those teams won Manitoba titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, losing the Brier final in 2009.
The elephant in the room is Winnipeg's Mike McEwen, who has said he won't make any decisions on his team's future until after the cashspiel season is over.
McEwen has lost three provincial finals to Stoughton over the years and a fourth to Fowler and was widely expected to make some personnel changes of his own at the end of this season. McEwen could now poach from Stoughton's old team. Carruthers, for instance, is a proven winner and would make an interesting new third for McEwen, or he could simply stand pat in hopes that being the only constant in a sea of turbulence would be enough to finally get his team that elusive Manitoba title next winter.