PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- IT wasn't the start to the Prairie Classic that Jeff Stoughton was looking for, but the Winnipeg skip and his squad will take the split and move on.
Stoughton, third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Mark Nichols stumbled in their first match in Portage la Prairie, falling 5-4 to Russia's Team Evgeny Arkhipov on Friday morning in the biggest surprise of day one. The team squeaked through their second game, edging out Saskatchewan's Jeff Hartung rink 5-4 in an extra end at night.
"It was a little bit of a struggle... we were just struggling a little bit with getting the broom, and the right weight," Stoughton said after the win. "You play poorly, you're going to lose, and we just didn't play well enough this morning... we just have to make more shots, and hopefully we'll get used to it."
By the time three of four draws were done on Friday -- another round was slated to begin at 8:30 p.m. -- four teams were undefeated through two games. Kevin Koe of Calgary, the defending Prairie Classic champion, who threw past Winnipeg's Team Jack McDonald 6-4 in the morning, then bested Brandon's Team Rob Fowler 6-4 in the 5 p.m. draw. Also riding a 2-0 record were reigning world champions Niklas Edin of Sweden, Minnesota's John Shuster (who triumphed over the Arkhipov rink 4-2 in their second game of the day) and Saskatoon's Steve Laycock, who toppled Newfoundland's Brad Gushue 7-5 to push their win streak to two.
For the most part, Manitoban teams fell to tough opponents in the opening games of the four-day tournament, as the first two draws mostly panned out as expected. Some Manitoban teams did find success in their first draw, as Sean Grassie's squad dispatched China's Rui Liu 8-7, Mike McEwen and his crew rounded out Thunder Bay's Brian Adams Jr. 7-6, and the Fowler rink edged out Norway's Markus Hoiberg 3-2.
The Prairie Classic runs through the weekend, with the final games slated for Monday. Thirty-two teams are competing in a triple-knockout format for their share of the $60,000 purse.