EDMONTON -- Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton won his fifth consecutive game at the Canadian men's curling championship Thursday afternoon, dropping New Brunswick's James Grattan 6-5 to improve Manitoba's round-robin record to 7-1.
The Manitoba win combined with a 6-5 loss by Newfoundland's Brad Gushue to Ontario's Glenn Howard vaulted Manitoba into second place heading into Manitoba's game Thursday evening against Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs (5-3), which was still underway at press time.
After opening at 4-0, Jacobs lost three of his last four games -- including Thursday morning to Saskatchewan -- and limped into the Thursday night's contest against a Stoughton team who have been unblemished since their lone loss back on Sunday evening to Ontario.
Stoughton said the math for his team is simple -- win their final three round-robin games and they will play Saturday in the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game, where the winner advances straight to Sunday's final while the loser gets a second chance in the semifinal. "That's a huge advantage to get the 1-2 game," said Stoughton. "So if we can win out, we're guaranteed the 1-2 game and that's where want to be."
Stoughton has a soft finish to his round robin today, taking on N.W.T.'s Jamie Koe (3-6) this morning and then finishing up tonight against B.C.'s Andrew Bilesky, who only got his first win here Thursday afternoon, 8-7 over N.W.T., to improve to 1-7.
Stoughton says he feels like his team isn't yet playing as sharp as they can and suggested, for the first time this week, that perhaps the ice conditions aren't to his liking.
"There's one or two shots here and there that you'd like back. And the ice is definitely getting straighter with any type of weight. So we're just getting used to very minimal ice on hits. It takes a little while to get used to so little broom when you're throwing on arena ice."
Ontario, on the other hand, isn't complaining about anything these days. Howard remained the only undefeated skip in the standings thanks to a hard-fought victory over Newfoundland Thursday afternoon that improved his team's record to 8-0.
"We just want to keep the pedal to the metal now and keep building on how we're playing," said Howard. "I can't say enough -- my guys were just outstanding in that game."
Ontario second Brent Laing, third Wayne Middaugh and Howard all led the field in shooting percentage at their respective positions heading into Thursday night's draw. Ontario also led in team shooting percentage.
The Newfoundland loss was the second in a row for Gushue, who matched Howard shot-for-shot but was simply the lesser team in a game that dropped his team's record to 7-2 after opening at 7-0.
"We played a good game," said Gushue, "we just came up against a great team that played great...It seemed like every chance we got, we'd make a good shot and then they'd just cap it right away with a good one."
In other games Thursday afternoon, Alberta's Kevin Martin won his third game in a row -- 7-2 over P.E.I. -- to improve to 4-4 and keep his playoff hopes alive.
"Everything's going fine. We just have to keep winning and we'll see what happens," said Martin.
Alberta has a tough schedule to finish. They played Saskatchewan (4-4) Thursday night and then finish their round robin with games today against Newfoundland and Ontario.
Jeff Stoughton's late draw vs Northern Ontario was still in progress at press time. For details see www.winnipegfreepress.com