JEFF STOUGHTON began his pursuit of an 11th Manitoba men's curling championship with an 8-1 thrashing of Burntwood's Grant Brown Wednesday at the Safeway Championship at the MTS Iceplex.
Stoughton, the defending champion, got a big break in the first end when Brown squandered a chance to take a 3-0 lead, crashing out front on what was a routine tapback and handing Stoughton a steal of one instead.
Stoughton went on to steal seven more points over the next three ends and Brown conceded after finally scoring his single in the fifth end.
"We had our chances the first two ends. We had a chance for three in the first end, a chance for a couple in the second end. And I didn't make them," lamented Brown. "You're only going to get one, maybe two, chances against those guys.
"It was downhill from there."
Stoughton knew after the game that he'd gotten a bit of a break against Brown. "I was bad the first couple of shots. I just got caught a little on the ice," he said. "It just didn't work out for them."
Stoughton was asked if he'd have liked a tougher game for the opener of his title defence.
"No," he said with a grin, "I've always said I will take any game where I'm eight up coming home. I don't need any close games. Why do you want to have those?"
Brown said his team's performance against Stoughton spoiled what was otherwise an opportunity they'd been looking forward to. "The guys were excited. It's always great to come down here (from Thompson) and play a world champ. Two of my guys it's the first time here, so it's even more exciting for them."
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With Stoughton's victory, all three of the top seeds at this year's men's curling championship recorded victories on opening day, with second seed Mike McEwen and third seed Rob Fowler also winning earlier in the day.
But the day was not without its upsets at fourth seed -- and last year's runner-up to Stoughton -- Sean Grassie fell in his opener, losing 6-5 to Dauphin's Greg Todoruk.
"They played a great game and we just weren't our very best," said Winnipeg's Grassie. "We couldn't quite get the rolls or the rocks in right spots...We played well enough to probably win most outings but they played really well."
The opening loss for Grassie was in stark contrast to his performance last year at this event, when he went undefeated all the way to the final before losing to Stoughton in the only game that really mattered.
"If we can go the same way as we did last year and have just one loss," laughed Grassie, "we'll take that."
Grassie plays 2002 Manitoba champion Mark Lukowich in a B-side elimination game at 8:30 a.m. today.
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The first teams to be eliminated from this 32-team competition fell in four B-side games on the 8:15 p.m. draw Wednesday.
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