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Carruthers a class act

Performance off ice makes up for poor results on ice in Brier

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CALGARY -- It's exceedingly rare an athlete impresses me more with their performance off the field of play than on it, but it happened at the Tim Hortons Brier this week with Manitoba skip Reid Carruthers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/03/2015 (2831 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CALGARY — It’s exceedingly rare an athlete impresses me more with their performance off the field of play than on it, but it happened at the Tim Hortons Brier this week with Manitoba skip Reid Carruthers.

Carruthers wasn’t very good in his Brier debut as a skip and his team’s final round-robin record — 4-7 — is one he and Manitoba curling fans generally would just as soon forget.

There’s been worse Manitoba teams at the Brier over the years — Lloyd Gunnlaugson, Brent Scales and John Bubbs all went 3-8 — but not very many, mercifully.

Jeff McIntosh / the canadian press Manitoba skip Reid Carruthers went 4-7 during the Brier round robin.

And you only had to look at the position-by-position shooting percentages at the conclusion of the round robin Friday morning to identify the source of Manitoba’s problems — Carruthers himself.

Despite their poor record, the Manitobans actually shot some very high percentages over the last week. As a team, they shot 88 per cent — tied with first-place Northern Ontario for second best in the field. Colin Hodgson led all leads at 95 per cent, Derek Samagalski was third among seconds at 88 per cent and Braeden Moskowy was third among thirds at 89 per cent.

Those numbers are excellent and I’d be stunned if Hodgson — and maybe Samagalski as well — aren’t named Brier all-stars Sunday.

Only Carruthers struggled among Manitobans, shooting 79 per cent — eighth among skips.

So no, Carruthers wasn’t very impressive on the field of play this week. But off of it? The conduct of Carruthers and his entire team was among the more memorable performances I’ve ever seen — and this was my 16th of these little Canadian men’s curling championships.

As the wheels came off at week’s end — Manitoba lost five of their last six games — Carruthers emerged from the ice after each mounting loss, faced the cameras and took full responsibility on himself.

He made no excuses, he pointed no fingers, he didn’t pout or avoid his accusers; he just stood in there, admitted there was a problem and pointed the finger right back at himself.

If the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, Carruthers is already a long way towards putting this nightmare behind him.

“I’d say it’s more on my shoulders than anybody else. I’m really happy with how the guys played,” was how Carruthers summed things up Friday after a 5-2 final-draw loss to P.E.I. dropped his team to ninth in the final standings.

“Everyone on my team didn’t shoot 100 per cent. But at the same time, they played well enough to win… I just missed some key shots throughout the week. There was a couple games that could have gone our way if I’d made a couple more shots.”

Privately, I’m told Carruthers was the same way all week in the Manitoba dressing room, never once pointing a finger of blame at his teammates or doing anything other than putting this entire thing on himself.

To their credit, Carruthers’ teammates insisted they bore just as much responsibility for their team’s problems as their beleaguered skip.

“We put a lot of effort into having good team dynamics and as a team we obviously didn’t rub them the right way to help Reid,” said Hodgson. “That’s on us and something we’re going to need re-evaluate and get better at.”

Moskowy put it this way: “There’s a lot of games we won this year because of Reid. It’s a team game and your skip might lose you some games, but he’s also going to win you a lot. And that’s been the story on this team this year, for sure.

“He won us a lot of games this year on his own. And there’s no one I’d rather have throwing the last one than him.”

So what went so wrong for Carruthers? A world champion in 2011 as second for Jeff Stoughton, Carruthers found out this week — as all rookie skips at the Brier do — that when things go sideways, there is nowhere to hide.

The lights are bright, the TV coverage coast-to-coast and if you cannot hit the eight-foot, the entire country knows it instantly. That is a terrifying and lonely place to be, and it’s made worse by the marathon nature of the Brier and an 11-game round robin that seems endless if all you want to do is crawl in a hole and hide.

Look, the job description as the curling writer for a paper that has covered every Brier since the first one in 1927 says I’m supposed to rip Carruthers in this space today. He let down his team, he let down the province etc…

But my heart’s not in it. Carruthers knows better than anyone what went wrong this week. And no one feels worse about it than he does.

He’s a good guy, who had a very bad week. I’m giving him a pass. You should too.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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