Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stoughton ignores jeering fans, makes Brier playoff

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EDMONTON -- Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton has hoisted the Tankard on the final Sunday of three different Canadian men's curling championships over the years.

Each of his three Brier titles was unique in its own way, of course, but the path Stoughton took to the final was identical every time -- the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game.

Three times in nine previous Briers, Stoughton has played in the 1 vs. 2 game -- the highly coveted match that sees winners advance direct to the final and losers get a second chance in the semifinal. And three times, Stoughton has gone on to win the Brier.

All of which is the backdrop to why it was so absolutely imperative here on the final day of the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier round-robin on Friday that Stoughton do enough to qualify his team for this afternoon's 1 vs. 2 game against Ontario's Glenn Howard (2:30 p.m. CT, TSN).

Stoughton made that task more difficult than it needed to be with a 7-5 loss to NWT's Jamie Koe on the Friday morning draw, but even with that unexpected loss -- Stoughton's second in a row -- Manitoba still needed only to beat a truly woeful B.C. team (1-9) skipped by Andrew Bilesky on the final round-robin draw last night to clinch that coveted 1 vs. 2 berth.

And they did beat Bilesky 6-5 to nail down second place, but it was much tougher than anyone expected in a game that saw B.C. force an extra end when Stoughton rolled out his game-winning last rock of the 10th end, much to the delight of the crowd at Rexall Place who needed a Manitoba loss for Alberta's Kevin Martin to advance to a tiebreaker game.

But Stoughton disappointed them. As a crowd utterly devoid of class jeered Stoughton in an unprecedented violation of all known curling-crowd etiquette, Stoughton cooly drew the four-foot with the final rock of the extra end and then pumped his fist at the crowd.

Stoughton was asked afterward if the crowd's behavior was acceptable curling conduct. "Well...," Stoughton paused. "It was pretty tough. It was interesting. It was hard to calm down and relax for my last shot... What can you say, it worked out well for us."

While the winner of Stoughton-Howard advances to Sunday's final, the loser will get a second chance in Sunday morning's semifinal against the winner of this evening's 3 vs. 4 game between Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Newfoundland's Brad Gushue.

Northern Ontario and Newfoundland finished with the same 8-3 record as Manitoba and all three teams had identical 1-1 round-robin records against each other. That put a second tiebreaker in play -- the cumulative distance of all the pre-game draws for hammer the teams did during the round-robin -- and Manitoba narrowly won that battle.

Stoughton was asked why he's had such uncanny success over the years through the 1 vs. 2 game. He said it was a matter of simple arithmetic.

"I think it's just simply that you're only two wins away when you're in the 1 vs 2 game," said Stoughton. "Basically, all you have to do is win two before you lose two. It's just a shorter path."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 C7

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