Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stoughton's world rocked

Brier hopes squashed after improbable loss to Quebec

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- It had the makings of a storybook finish to a Hall of Fame career. At the age of 50, Winnipeg skip Jeff Stoughton could have capped a remarkable curling career this weekend by winning his fourth Brier in the same arena where he won his first one 17 years ago.

Perfect, right?

Alas, someone forgot to tell Quebec.

Stoughton's Manitoba foursome -- third Jon Mead, second Mark Nichols and lead Reid Carruthers -- were eliminated at the Tim Hortons Brier Saturday afternoon with a stunning 7-6 loss to Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard in the Page playoff 3 versus 4 game.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Stoughton foursome, who finished their round robin tied for first place at 9-2 and were riding a five-game winning streak coming into Saturday's sudden-death playoff game, believing they'd positioned themselves well for a long playoff run.

"This sucks," Nichols said afterward. "By the end of the week, I thought we were the best team here. We started off slow, but we were managing to win games... We were going up and up and up and we were playing good.

"But we just didn't have it today. A few sloppy shots -- that's it really. And they played really well. So what are you going to do?"

Stoughton and Mead, in particular, struggled mightily against Quebec and the game ultimately turned in the middle ends when miscues by the Manitoba back end led to a steal of one in the fifth end and two more in the sixth to give Quebec control at 5-2.

How disappointing was the Manitoba back end's performance? Well ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw Stoughton fire a draw to the four-foot out the back of the house, as he did Saturday, giving Quebec that steal of two in six? Or, for that matter, when was the last time you saw Stoughton roll out an open hit, as he did in giving Quebec a steal in five?

The numbers told the story -- and it was written in French: Stoughton was outshot at the skip position 86-80 by Menard, while Mead was outshot 93-81 by his Quebec counterpart, Martin Crete.

"We just didn't execute," said Stoughton. "It didn't work out. And (Quebec) played great. They made all the shots they needed to make."

Stoughton was seeking to join just three others -- Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey and Ernie Richardson -- as a four-time, Brier-champion skip.

With Stoughton now out, the questions Saturday night immediately turned to his future and that of his team.

Stoughton insisted no firm or final decisions have yet been made. "No idea," he said. "We have two Slam events left and then we'll see what happens at the end of the year."

Mead, who's been curling and being a full-time father for the past couple of years, said he's got to start working at a day job again and that will mean less curling -- if he decides to continue to curl at all.

"I still think there's more reasons for us to consider playing than not playing," said Mead. "But there are a lot of moving parts, obviously."

Nichols, who revealed Saturday night his wife, Colette, is expecting the couple's first child this summer, said he hasn't even begun to think about what his curling future holds.

A native of St. John's -- and an Olympic gold medal winner in Torino on Brad Gushue's 2006 team -- Nichols moved to Manitoba in 2012 to curl with Stoughton in hopes of winning his first Brier and getting back to the Olympics.

But two years later, neither of those things has happened and Nichols sounded like he wasn't enthusiastic about sticking around Winnipeg to curl a lighter schedule next season with Stoughton, who's said repeatedly this winter that he'd like to continue curling next year, but not as heavily as in recent years.

"Jeff has indicated he wants to play a little bit still. And if I'm going to play, I'm going to play a lot," said Nichols. "I'm not doing three or four spiels -- I'm either in or I'm out."

While Manitoba has now been eliminated, its Brier isn't yet technically over. The team will play Quebec in the bronze-medal game this morning.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2014 B7

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