EDMONTON -- He's still got some heavy lifting to do -- the names Howard and Martin once again stand in his way -- but Jeff Stoughton & Co. are inching closer to a coveted and elusive Olympic berth.
Stoughton knocked off Pat Simmons 8-7 in the final game of the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials Roar of the Rings Thursday night and, in the process, has advanced to Saturday's semifinal where he'll meet an old nemesis in Glenn Howard.
Kevin Martin edged Howard 8-6 in the battle for first place Thursday night, grabbing top spot with a 6-1 record. He will now await the winner of the semifinal. Sunday's final will send Canada's representative to the Winter Olympics in February in Vancouver.
And if all this feels a little familiar, it is: Stoughton beat Howard in the Brier semifinal last spring before falling to Martin in the final.
"We were the last three last year in the Brier and hopefully we can win the last two instead of losing the last one," said Stoughton. "No one's given us much of a chance here. They're all looking forward to a Howard-Martin final, so all the pressure's on those guys to perform. We're still the underdogs here so it's a great position for us.
"We have nothing to lose because no one expects us to win. I think we've got the advantage in that sense."
Stoughton needed some help in both of his wins Thursday. He knocked off Wayne Middaugh in an extra end in the morning when the Toronto skip wrecked on a guard in the 10th end and then was heavy on a draw in the extra end in a 7-6 win. Against Simmons he scored a deuce in the 10th when his opponent's last rock was wide.
"That was fun. Great game," said Stoughton of the win over Simmons. "I mean, Pat's team came to play and we had to be at our best and we pulled it out. The guys played great and we're looking forward to Saturday.
"We just didn't want to have to play (Friday). It's great to have a day off and a little bit of rest. We'll throw a few rooks, but we're really looking forward to Saturday. It's just going to be awesome.
"We've played well all week," Stoughton continued. "We've had a couple of games... we should have beat Howard and I just buffooned my last one and against Martin we just had a tough break. We only have to beat those guys once and we've got it."
The event also came to a close for Jason Gunnlaugson's Beausejour crew of Justin Richter, Braden Zawada and Tyler Forrest in a 9-4 loss to Middaugh. And although the young squad finished 0-7, they became the darlings of the event because of their youthful exuberance and -- perhaps, more than anything -- they were fresh faces among a familiar bunch of skips.
"You learn lots of things about how the event works and dealing with everything and how you have to manage your week," said Gunnlaugson. "Also, you just really see exactly where you have to get to. You watch Martin play Howard out there and that's exactly where you have to be... they're not perfect but they're damn close. If you're making mistakes more than a couple times a game you're not going to win against those guys."
As they left the ice, Gunnlaugson's team drew a standing ovation from the 9,000-plus in attendance at Rexall Place.
"Just thanks so much to the fans," Gunnlaugson added. "They've been so great. It's been a lot of fun. It's the best possible 0-7 week you could ever have, that's all I gotta say."
somebody monkeyed with the script C4