February 23, 2019

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Carruthers rolling in Virden

<p>Reid Carruthers on the A-side defeat to Brandon’s Terry McNamee on Thursday afternoon: “It was a kick in the butt.”</p>

THOMAS FRIESEN / THE BRANDON SUN FILES

Reid Carruthers on the A-side defeat to Brandon’s Terry McNamee on Thursday afternoon: “It was a kick in the butt.”

VIRDEN — The Carruthers train is picking up steam as it rolls through Virden, but will it keep chugging its way 75 kilometres east to Brandon?

Reid Carruthers and his West St. Paul team, skipped this week by Mike McEwen, has registered four consecutive victories, including three of the ‘must-win’ variety, and is back on track at the Viterra provincial men’s curling championship.

On Friday night, the top-seeded Carruthers crew wasn’t its sharpest but managed to slip past fourth-seed Tanner Lott of Winnipeg Beach 9-7 in playoff-round opener. The defending champion takes on eighth-seed Corey Chambers of Lorette at 9 a.m. for a spot in the four-team championship round. Chambers of Lorette pinned a 6-2 defeat on Steen Sigurdson of Gimli.

Just eight teams remain from an original field of 32 at the Viterra, and then four survivors will play in a Page-format championship round, starting Saturday night.

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VIRDEN — The Carruthers train is picking up steam as it rolls through Virden, but will it keep chugging its way 75 kilometres east to Brandon?

Reid Carruthers and his West St. Paul team, skipped this week by Mike McEwen, has registered four consecutive victories, including three of the ‘must-win’ variety, and is back on track at the Viterra provincial men’s curling championship.

On Friday night, the top-seeded Carruthers crew wasn’t its sharpest but managed to slip past fourth-seed Tanner Lott of Winnipeg Beach 9-7 in playoff-round opener. The defending champion takes on eighth-seed Corey Chambers of Lorette at 9 a.m. for a spot in the four-team championship round. Chambers of Lorette pinned a 6-2 defeat on Steen Sigurdson of Gimli.

Just eight teams remain from an original field of 32 at the Viterra, and then four survivors will play in a Page-format championship round, starting Saturday night.

Sunday’s semifinal (8:30 a.m.) and final (2:30 p.m.) will both be televised (Sportsnet). The last team standing represents the province at the Brier national championship in Brandon, March 2-10.

Second-seed Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris dumped No.6-seed William Lyburn of Granite 8-2 to set up a morning meeting with third-seed Braden Calvert of Assiniboine-Memorial. Calvert blasted clubmate and No. 7-seed David Bohn 8-0 in just five ends Friday night.

Carruthers wore Manitoba colours a year ago at the nationals in Regina, while McEwen was there, too, skipping his former team as the wild-card entry. Neither made the playoffs. Less then a month later, the off-ice buddies and fierce on-ice rivals joined forces.

Carruthers, tossing third stones, said a sudden derailment — an A-side defeat to Brandon’s Terry McNamee on Thursday afternoon — was the jolt the heavily favoured foursome required.

"It was a kick in the butt," he said. Carruthers and McEwen are flanked by second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson. "It puts us on a little different road than we would have been on, but it was a good wakeup call."

Thomas Friesen / The Brandon Sun Files
Jason Gunnlaugson took a direct route to the playoff with three straight victories on the A side.

Thomas Friesen / The Brandon Sun Files Jason Gunnlaugson took a direct route to the playoff with three straight victories on the A side.

The squad tumbled to the B side but immediately registered blowouts over Gladstone’s Jeff Stewart and Ty Dilello of Fort Rouge to set up a rematch with McNamee on Friday afternoon. Rarely is the sequel superior to the original, but McEwen was pretty content after a 6-3 victory to secure a playoff spot.

"I think what it did for us is turn our focus onto some things that we weren’t catching soon enough, whether it be the ice conditions just changing a little bit, a little bit with our throws...," said McEwen. "We were making mistakes and not embracing changing things or having the focus to read the conditions that we needed. It was a bit of a wakeup call."

Gunnlaugson, the championship’s No.2 seed, took the easy route to the playoff with three straight victories on the A side. His crew of third Alex Forrest, second Denni Neufeld, a three-time Brier all-star (2016-18) with McEwen, and lead Connor Njegovan out of the Morris Curling Club has shown no hint of edginess as a favourite here.

Their mechanics are strong and they’ve been tuned in to the ice conditions since their first practise throws Tuesday.

"We kept control all three of our games. We’ve done a good job just staying slightly ahead and playing in our comfort zone," said Gunnlaugson. "It’s definitely important to have good consistency in this event. We’re getting better, we know the ice and rocks more and more, and that leads to confidence."

It’s hard to believe Gunnlaugson hasn’t been to a Brier. And last year’s Friday night play-in, wild-card game in Regina and eventual defeat to McEwen doesn’t quite count.

The guy known affectionately as ‘Gunner’ has been kicking at the door for the better part of 15 years, and not just in Manitoba, either. There was that one-year stint where he lived in Vernon, B.C., and joined forces with Jim Cotter for an ill-fated run for a provincial title on the west coast.

The 34-year-old skip has had some crazy curling adventures along the way. Remember when he was hired by Russia’s sports ministry in 2010 to beef up that country’s Olympic medal hopes four years down the road in Sochi? Well, someone at the Kremlin missed a memo, Gunnlaugson was denied citizenship and was forced to say goodbye to Russia with love.

Back home, Gunnlaugson has been a fixture on the World Curling Tour, a few Grand Slams and the Manitoba men’s championship ever since — yet, his home is not where the buffalo crest roams. But man, he badly wants to bag one.

"With this team we’ve had a lot of great accomplishments but we haven’t had that provincial success," Gunnlaugson said. "So, that would be great to come through in the regional play as well as having good weeks on the cash tour. That would be fun."

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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