Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 9/2/2019 (482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VIRDEN — Call it Team Carruthers like the program says or go old school and label it Team McEwen after the guy calling the game and tossing the brick. Better still, just go with the team destined to make the Viterra final.
Full marks to the defending champion and No.1 seed this week in Virden, booked into the Manitoba championship clincher Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Tundra Oil & Gas Place. The West St Paul squad of McEwen and Carruthers, along with Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson, was lethal Saturday night in the 1 vs. 2 Page playoff game, blasting Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris 9-2 in just six ends.
That's six consecutive victories and counting after veering a little off-course Thursday against Terry McNamee of Brandon. That surprising loss only fired the engines of one of the world's premier men's teams.
Carruthers meets either Gunnlaugson or William Lyburn of the Granite in the televised finale (Sportsnet). Those two teams collide in the semifinal at 8:30 a.m. (Sportsnet).
It's McEwen's fifth consecutive appearance in the final, a new Manitoba record, and a remarkable ninth in 10 years. Either McEwen or Carruthers (or both, on a couple of occasions) has appeared in 11 consecutive Manitoba finals.
It never gets old, Carruthers said.
"I felt like we were pretty solid, especially the last two days. I’m very happy about how we’re playing, and very excited and nervous about (Sunday)," he said.
"No matter who we’re playing, a lot of these players have played in games like this (before). Experience helps, but it’s not everything. It’s one game, winner-take-all and anything can happen."
The story behind the blowout began even before player introductions. Team Carruthers earned the first-end hammer after pre-game draws to the button and immediately made good use of it, striking for an deuce on McEwen's wide-open takeout.
After forcing Gunnlaugson to a single in the second, McEwen kicked from the hack already lying a pair and a chance for three in the third. But his rock ground to a half before the rings and he settled for a deuce and a 4-1 lead. The gap widened in the fourth end when Gunnlaugson pulled the string on a last-rock draw against two.
Gunnlaugson had no choice but to hit for one in the fifth but surrendered a cheap hammer, and Carruthers closed things out with a knockout count of three in the sixth.
"That draw to the button is big. That first end's big. They had some good execution, we had a few mistakes and weren't able to make the last one to get us out of the end. The next end to come back and get one was OK but you can't keep giving up deuces to a good team and win," offered Gunnlaugson, who is supported by third Alex Forrest, second Denni Neufeld and lead Connor Njegovan.
Neufeld and McEwen were teammates for 11 seasons before Carruthers recruited his close buddy. Neufeld joined the Gunnlaugson gang and brought his dad, coach Chris Neufeld.
"It's definitely ice where you want to be winning. We haven't seen a lot of comebacks," added Gunnlaugson. "We've seen teams get ahead and just keep rolling and winning from there. That's been across the event, so we know we have to come out strong in the first four ends of the morning game and, hopefully, the first four ends of the final."
Carruthers owns the hammer in the championship match, no matter which opponent shows up.
"The stats say it’s important, for sure. You feel a little bit of a momentum when you get that. You know you have the hammer, so it’s a good feeling. I don’t know if it’s a little bit of a mental edge but when you’re playing against a really good team it’s always good to get off to a really good start," he said.
Gunnlaugson will have the last rock in the first end against Lyburn, who is 0-2 in previous semifinals. Playing on Sunday is a new deal for Peters.
Lyburn got the jump on Lott with an opening-end steal of a pair. Up 3-2 after five, the Scottish-born skip chipped in his own red counter and spilled in the shooter for a terrific count of three to gain command. But the sixth-seed surrendered five points over the next three ends to fall behind 7-6.
A brilliant raise to the button helped by third Daley Peters orchestrated the winning deuce and eliminate Lott's talented young team.
"I struggled, got some thoughts in my head. My No.8 rock was just a little straighter and faster, and I just wasn't trusting it and I started to leak some oil late," said Lyburn, who registered a three-victory day after beating David Bohn of Assiniboine-Memorial and Corey Chambers of Lorette earlier Saturday.
"But the experience of young Daley Peters really came through there in the last couple of ends. He just kept telling me, 'It's all good,' and the boys were all behind me."
And what of that perfect bump-back to the button to lie to in 10?
"The shot of our year," said Lyburn. "It's just nice that it's one of those soft touch shots. Daley's known for his big-weight game, so just super proud of him trusting his soft game."
A former Scottish junior champ, Lyburn immigrated to Manitoba in 1992 with his family, who started a dairy farmer in the Brandon area. He's been to a Brier -- the 2012 national playdowns -- in Saskatoon, as the alternate on the Rob Fowler team.
Peters is the son of legendary Manitoba skip Vic Peters, a three-time Manitoba champion and 1992 Brier winner who died in 2016. Daley won a pair of provincial junior crowns junior but is still searching for his first buffalo crest in men's play.
Peters' sister is Liz Fyfe, who will soon compete in her third Canadian Scotties, this time with skip Tracy Fleury in Sydney, N.S.
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"We're playing well, giving ourselves a chance," said Peters. "It's fun to play in these big games and getting into the nitty-gritty of things."
Third-seed Braden Calvert of Assiniboine-Memorial had a disappointing day, losing twice to miss out on the playoff fun.
The Viterra championship all-star awards were handed to to skip Jason Gunnlaugson, third Colton Lott of the Lott team, second Kyle Doering of Lyburn's team and lead Colin Hodgson of Carruthers team.
The Pat Spiring sportsmanship award, voted on by the competitors of the 32-team event, was shared by a pair of curlers, Rob Van Kommer of the Curtis McCannell team from Pilot Mound and Cory Barkley of both the host committee and the Graham Freeman team from Virden.
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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Updated on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 4:37 PM CST: Updated.