McEwen finding his form at right time Move to Ontario has been ‘a grind’ but things coming together at provincial men’s championship
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Mike McEwen’s first season curling out of Ontario hasn’t gone smoothly and he’s not afraid to admit it.
“Not good. I could try to describe it in a lot more ways, but to sum it up, it hasn’t been good. It’s been a grind,” McEwen told the Free Press over the phone on Thursday.
After competing out of Manitoba for 25-plus years, the Brandon-born skip made a big change this past off-season by forming a Toronto-based team with former Winnipegger Ryan Fry at third, Jonathan Beuk playing second, and Brent Laing at lead.
Unfortunately for McEwen, 42 and now living in Winnipeg, the move has yet to pay off. They’re 20-20 on the year and haven’t reached a single final. In need of a shake up, Team McEwen replaced Beuk earlier this month with Joey Hart. Joey’s father, Richard Hart — an Olympic silver medallist and world champion —also came on board in a coaching role.
McEwen referred to the lineup change as a gut-wrenching decision.
“I knew there would be a learning curve being a new team and all, but, with the individual athletes on the team on paper, we didn’t live up to performance expectations,” said McEwen, who played the last quadrennial with his pal Reid Carruthers.
“Team dynamics, team personalities sometimes just don’t mesh as well as you’d like them to. It just shows there’s a lot more in a great team than just throwing and making shots… The ability and the skill were all there, but the team dynamic type things were not and it doesn’t take much to lose at the top level.”
In the sport of curling, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. McEwen and Co. are currently in Port Elgin competing in the Ontario men’s curling championship. As the No. 17-ranked team in Canada, McEwen’s season comes down to this week as they likely don’t have enough points to secure one of the Brier’s three wild-card spots. McEwen might be finding his form at the perfect time as his rink owned a 3-0 record at the Ontario Tankard heading into their Thursday night game against a winless Alex Champ from Kitchener-Waterloo.
“I knew there would be a learning curve being a new team and all, but, with the individual athletes on the team on paper, we didn’t live up to performance expectations.”–Mike McEwen
McEwen had his biggest win of the season in the second draw as he outlasted Peterborough’s John Epping 7-6. Epping is ranked seventh in the Canadian Team Ranking System. Pat Ferris, Sam Mooibroek, Jason Camm, and Glenn Howard are the other contenders in Port Elgin.
“Adding Joey and Richard Hart to the squad, a new lead (Laing now plays second) and coach, sort of getting our feet under us and that new energy that we have right now, that’s been a huge boost to us,” said McEwen.
“And then, toppling John’s team in our second game, immediately we knew ‘Hey we’re one of the favourites again’ and not just in our competitors’ minds, but in our own minds and that’s a big change for us in terms of mindset. It just sets us up well to have that belief that we can win this.”
McEwen has made it to the Brier on seven occasions — four times as Manitoba’s representative and three times in a wild-card role. After years of battling names like Rob Fowler, Jeff Stoughton, Reid Carruthers and Jason Gunnlaugson for the right to wear the buffalo jacket, it’s been a bit of an adjustment for McEwen to play a provincial playdown elsewhere.
“I actually noticed the first game I had that sort of nervous, anxiety, you know, that little extra energy and jitteriness that I probably haven’t felt for over a decade or so since the first few Manitoba men’s provincials. It’s kind of an interesting feeling that sort of different type of energy for that opening game here,” said McEwen.
McEwen added that one of the main reasons for feeling that was the different format used in Ontario. In Manitoba, there’s 28-plus teams in a double knockout bracket with a playoff round. In Ontario, they split their 12-team field into two groups for round-robin play to decide which four teams advance to playoffs. Ontario also holds its women’s provincials at the same time and place as the men’s.
“We’ve got one new guy in the lineup, but everybody feels like a new player right now. Hopefully, that kind of feeling carries through to a great outcome at the end of this week.”
Ontario provincials wrap up on Sunday. The 2023 Brier takes place in London, Ont., (March 3-12).
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...