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Carruthers defends provincial men's curling title, will head to Brier

THOMAS FRIESEN / BRANDON SUN</p><p>From left, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson, Reid Carruthers, Mike McEwen and coach Rob Meakin are headed to the Tim Hortons Brier as Team Manitoba after defeating William Lyburn 5-3 in the Viterra Championship final in Virden on Sunday. </p>

THOMAS FRIESEN / BRANDON SUN

From left, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson, Reid Carruthers, Mike McEwen and coach Rob Meakin are headed to the Tim Hortons Brier as Team Manitoba after defeating William Lyburn 5-3 in the Viterra Championship final in Virden on Sunday.

VIRDEN — Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers have battled before Briers, during Briers and after Briers — now they’ll compete on a united front.

Two of the game’s finest shooters, together with a world-class front end, will represent Manitoba at the 2019 Canadian men’s curling championship in early March in McEwen’s hometown of Brandon.

Team Carruthers, representing the West St. Paul club, successfully defended the Viterra provincial title Sunday afternoon, registering a 5-3 victory over William Lyburn’s fearless foursome from Winnipeg’s Granite Club in a championship game that began as a yawner but morphed into a nail-biter in the late ends.

The event’s No. 1 seed settled on a formula that finally worked. Carruthers tossed third stones but McEwen called the shots and delivered the final two rocks each end in Virden this week. With Derek Samagalski, second on the squad and a proud Brandonite for the past 18 months, and lead Colin Hodgson, the team won its opener Wednesday, lost its second game Thursday and then rattled off seven consecutive victories to earn the right to don the Buffalo crests.

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VIRDEN — Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers have battled before Briers, during Briers and after Briers — now they’ll compete on a united front.

Two of the game’s finest shooters, together with a world-class front end, will represent Manitoba at the 2019 Canadian men’s curling championship in early March in McEwen’s hometown of Brandon.

Team Carruthers, representing the West St. Paul club, successfully defended the Viterra provincial title Sunday afternoon, registering a 5-3 victory over William Lyburn’s fearless foursome from Winnipeg’s Granite Club in a championship game that began as a yawner but morphed into a nail-biter in the late ends.

The event’s No. 1 seed settled on a formula that finally worked. Carruthers tossed third stones but McEwen called the shots and delivered the final two rocks each end in Virden this week. With Derek Samagalski, second on the squad and a proud Brandonite for the past 18 months, and lead Colin Hodgson, the team won its opener Wednesday, lost its second game Thursday and then rattled off seven consecutive victories to earn the right to don the Buffalo crests.

The ’19 Brier is slated for March 2-10 at Westoba Place.

"It’s going to take a bit of time to absorb this," said McEwen, now a three-time provincial men’s champion. He’s also appeared in a record five straight Manitoba finals. "Going back to my hometown, too, and playing with all the guys on the team who are good buddies and, obviously, Reid and I for a longer period. It feels like pure joy."

McEwen, 38, was born and raised in Brandon — capturing a couple of provincial junior titles and a mixed crown on behalf of the Brandon Curling Club — but moved to Winnipeg 11 years ago.

"(The Brier) is going to be hard, but I think regardless of the outcome this is going to be a lasting experience for us, something that doesn’t come around every day," he said.

Fierce on-ice rivals for more than a decade, McEwen and Carruthers kept knocking heads on the cash bonspiel circuit, the Grand Slam Tour and, repeatedly, at Manitoba championships. Last year, both guided teams at the national playdown in Regina — Carruthers as Team Manitoba and McEwen as the oddly named Team Wild-Card after slipping in on the eve of the event.

The two even met late in the Brier, with McEwen prevailing 8-3, though it mattered little as neither made the Page playoffs.

Carruthers won a world championship in 2011 playing second for Jeff Stoughton but found no success as a skip in two Brier appearances. Clearly, redemption is top of mind with a couple of weeks to prepare.

"It’s time to kick some butt. We’re ready for it," he said. "It felt like we played well this week after we got our lesson from (Brandon’s) Terry McNamee. For us, it’s time to carry that momentum into Brandon, not far down the road."

Carruthers’ only blemish came Thursday in a clumsy defeat to McNamee, a loss he characterized immediately after as an emphatic wake-up call.

"We knew when forming this team we weren’t going to come out and win every game. I thought maybe it’d be a little easier than it was," said Samagalski, who lives just four blocks from Brandon’s sporting hub. "This was the one event that we had circled on our calendar, and if we were able to win, which we did, we were going to have a very successful first year together.

THOMAS FRIESEN / BRANDON SUN</p><p>Former Brandonite Mike McEwen celebrates his Viterra Championship final victory with daughter, Vienna.</p>

THOMAS FRIESEN / BRANDON SUN

Former Brandonite Mike McEwen celebrates his Viterra Championship final victory with daughter, Vienna.

"Now we’re going to head off to the Brier in Brandon and, hopefully, represent Manitoba well and try to win a Brier."

That’s a sixth career provincial men’s title for Carruthers, fourth for Samagalski and third for each of McEwen and Hodgson.

Indeed, the crew experienced some growing pains in its first season together after McEwen agreed to hook up with the trio not long after the week in Regina.

Carruthers started as skip but success did not come in waves on the World Curling Tour and Grand Slam circuit. McEwen has been skipping now for just a few weeks.

"I’ll be honest, it was kind of looking scary this fall to even have this opportunity. There’s been a lot of growth in the last month with this team," said McEwen. I wasn’t sure I was going to get the opportunity to play in a home province Brier and to have it be Brandon, it’s extra special to be part of that.

"To have a community like that wait a long time to get that kind of big championship, I didn’t want to be sitting on the sidelines. I’m not gonna lie, that would have hurt."

In the final, Carruthers blanked the first three ends, picked up a crucial deuce in the fourth and then stole one in the fifth to seize command 3-0 at the midway point. But Lyburn battled back with a huge score of three in the seventh end, generated by some precise shooting from third Daley Peters, to even things.

Carruthers came right back with a pair in the eighth, and Lyburn — who emigrated from Scotland to Brandon when he was in his late teens — couldn’t recover.

"It was an amazing run for us. I’m really proud of the guys," said an emotional Lyburn, who was flanked by Peters, second Kyle Doering and lead Brendan Bilawka. "We were close. One game. If I had won I’d be in tears, too. It’s just 20 years of pent-up feeling that I just wanted to get a Buffalo on my back. We were zoned in. The nerves were gone and it was play time. Ah man, we were close. We were close."

Earlier in the day, Lyburn secured a spot in the final with a 6-2 triumph over Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, the championship’s second seed.

Gunnlaugson won five consecutive games but lost to Carruthers in the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game Saturday night and then dropped the Sunday semi-final.

For Peters, the moment of finally playing in a men’s provincial final struck an emotional chord. His late father, legendary Manitoba skip Vic Peters, won three men’s titles and the ‘92 Brier in Regina.

"It’s pretty cool, I’m not gonna lie. To get the buffalo on the back like the old man had a couple of times, or three times or whatever it was, would be a dream, but just to get to a final is pretty cool," Peters told reporters after the morning semi-final. He won back-to-back Manitoba junior men’s trophies in 2004 and ‘05 but made his first-ever Sunday appearance in men’s play.

"I’ve been playing this game for a long time and (the semi-final) is probably the most nervous I’ve been. I haven’t been in the thick of a provincial hunt in a while."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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History

Updated on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 11:08 PM CST: Edited

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