Jason Bell Behind the Bench
Free Press
Why mess with success?
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Why mess with success?

Good day to all.

There was certainly no shortage of sports on the tube over the weekend. The NHL and NBA playoffs are in full force and major-league baseball is plowing ahead, while one of the most stunning finishes in Kentucky Derby history — with a terrific Manitoba connection — happened Saturday. Add in the usual array of golf, tennis and soccer on the small screen and the armchair quarterbacks had a veritable smorgasbord of stuff to watch the last few days.

Not sure how many of you flipped to curling this weekend, but it was great to see Kerri Einarson’s Gimli-based quartet in near-perfect harmony at the Champions Cup, the final Grand Slam of Curling tour event of the season.

Team Einarson celebrate their victory at the Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup event in Olds, Alta on May 8, 2022. (Anil Mungal / Sportsnet)

Up by five after five ends, the Manitobans let Eun-Ji Gim’s team from South Korea back in the game before nailing down the victory with a count of three in the eighth and final end. I love the eight-end affairs, by the way. Time for the World Curling Federation and, in turn, Curling Canada to make shortened games the standard.

The Einarson crew, with third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur, picked up $25,000, a nice way to cap what has been a season of ups and downs for the three-time reigning Canadian champs.

Now, I haven’t a clue (and it’s no one’s biz) how the world’s No.4-ranked team handles its finances — whether the latest prize simply beefs up the team coffers or is immediately divided between the talented throwers. But one has to believe it’s a lot easier to figure out with a committed group than, say, a team that’s ripping apart at the seams.

While just about every elite team in Canada — and even some of the finest squads abroad — will have new lineups for the 2022-23 season, Team Einarson remains firmly glued together for the push to the 2026 Winter Olympics.

And why wouldn’t they? In my view, only one team on the planet — Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg — has been superior to Einarson since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. Three Scotties titles, a bronze medal at the worlds earlier this year and a couple of Slam titles for Einarson's squad. Not too shabby.

Had Canada hand-picked a foursome to wear the Maple Leaf in Beijing in February, Einarson was a sure-fire selection. But that’s not how things operate here, and at the Oly Trials last fall in Saskatoon, Team Einarson picked an awful time to come up flat. I guarantee Einarson, Sweeting, Birchard and Meilleur get a do-over at the next Trials and I wouldn’t bet against them to represent Canada at the 2026 Games in Italy.

(As an aside, I’ve spoken to them, one on one, many times, and each is affable and generous with her time. The Einarson team represents the best of what I’ll miss most about covering curling — the people.)

Jennifer Jones and her remarkable teammates are going their separate ways. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Jennifer Jones and her remarkable teammates are going their separate ways, just months after returning from Beijing without a medal. Indeed, there was some sadness Friday seeing them bow out of the GSOC event in Olds, Alta., particularly when the incomparable skipper and her long-time lead, Dawn McEwen, shared a long embrace. They spent the better part of 16 seasons together and have been to the very top of the mountain, winning Olympic gold in 2014, as well as a pair of world championships and five national Scotties titles.

Jones made big news last month announcing she was joining Altona’s Mackenzie Zacharias and will skip the sensational up-and-comers. It’ll be weird seeing Jones and Kaitlyn Lawes on opposite sides of the house next season, as Lawes guides a new team of Selena Njegovan, Jocelyn Peterman and Kristin MacCuish.

But high-level curling has really become a game of musical chairs as teams work to find the right chemistry, both on and off the ice. It gets to a point where an athlete runs up against a former teammate — someone, perhaps, with whom they’ve shared great joy and sorrow — many times during a big-money weekend bonspiel. So, emotions need to be parked behind the glass almost immediately. That certainly can’t be easy.

I remember talking to Mike McEwen (Yep, Dawn’s husband) a day after the 2019 Brier in Brandon when his old friend and former teammate, B.J. Neufeld, won the championship with the Kevin Koe crew from Alberta.

McEwen and Neufeld had played 11 seasons together, losing five provincial men’s finals before finally staking claim to Manitoba titles in 2016 and ’17, then qualifying for a third straight Canadian playdown in 2018 as a wild-card team. Each time, they fell short at the Brier. Neufeld joined Koe the next season and found immediately success.

“There were some conflicting feelings,” Mike said, at the time. “You’re happy, for sure, for him …100 per cent. At the same time, you wish you could have done it with him. You see a guy that you spent over a decade with finally get a Canadian title, you just wish you could have done it with him. So, happy and a bit of remorse, too.”

Mike McEwen (right) with Reid Carruthers. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press files)

Speaking of McEwen, his West St. Paul team of Reid Carruthers, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson had its swansong a few weeks ago at a Slam event in Toronto. Rumours abound the Brandon product will play out of Ontario with Ryan Fry this fall, yet nothing’s been made official. Carruthers and Samagalski are hooking up with Jason Gunnlaugson and Connor Njegovan.

But if Manitoba does, indeed, lose one high-powered squad, another is sliding in to occupy the space. Matt Dunstone returns to his roots, as he leads a Manitoba team of Neufeld, Colton Lott and Northern Ontario import Ryan Harnden (a 2014 Olympic champion with Brad Jacobs) in time for the 2022-23 curling season — the start of the four-year Olympic cycle.

Rocks already start rolling in just four months. Really.

Jason Bell

— Sports editor Jason Bell

Jason Bell


Sensational siblings: The Park family stole the show in taekwondo at the Pan American Championships in the Dominican Republic. Mike Sawatzky has the story.

Barry, come home: The Winnipeg Jets would be foolish to let NHL free-agent head coach and Manitoba product Barry Trotz slip through their fingers, writes FP columnist Mike McIntyre.

Dire straits: Down 2-0 in a first-round, best-of-five AHL playoff series, the Manitoba Moose have absolutely no wiggle room when they host the Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday night, McIntyre reports.

Local bloodlines: The dam of Rich Strike, Saturday’s winner of the Kentucky Derby, was raised in Manitoba and raced regularly at Assiniboia Downs. George Williams has the story.





Instant success: The upstart Winnipeg Goldeyes’ remarkable 1994 championship season remains a major part of the city’s sports folklore. Declan Schroeder contributed a great piece to the FP last weekend.

Winning out east: A pair of lifelong friends from Morden recently captured a junior hockey title in Prince Edward Islands, of all places, writes Mike Sawatzky.

Perfect performance: Valour FC keeper Jonathan Sirois provided exceptional services in the pro soccer squad’s most recent outing, reports Taylor Allen.

Bombers’ draftees: Just a day before Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie camp begins, here’s a look back at some of the club’s prospects from the recent CFL draft, as reported by Jeff Hamilton.

Familiar waters: After two seasons playing most of their games away from Shaw Park, the Goldeyes are excited to strut their stuff in front of avid supporters. Taylor has the story.



Sonny Leon celebrates after riding Rich Strike past the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Saturday, in Louisville, Ky. (Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press)

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