November 13, 2019

Winnipeg
-7° C, Light flurries

Full Forecast

Close, but not quite ready for prime time at Brier, Manitoba skip says

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/3/2019 (246 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/3/2019 (246 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's no quick fix to the troubles that befell Team McEwen at the 2019 Brier in Brandon last week.

Indeed, far too many shots in crucial situations were botched, but the problems go beyond just a failure to convert on chances.

Team Manitoba skip Mike McEwen pauses for a moment during the 8th draw against team Newfoundland and Labrador last week.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Team Manitoba skip Mike McEwen pauses for a moment during the 8th draw against team Newfoundland and Labrador last week.

For Mike McEwen's crew to wage a legitimate challenge for supremacy at the Canadian men's curling championship, he and third Reid Carruthers simply must be better, moving forward. There can be no confusion of roles and responsibilites; they need to get on the same page.

The 38-year-old Winnipegger said as much Monday.

"I thought Colin (Hodgson) and Derek (Samagalski) were really great shooters all week. Our front end really put is in a position where we had lots of opportunities," McEwen said. "As far as Reid and I developing as a powerful back end, there's obviously things, like team dynamics, where it'll take time for us to get comfortable.

"Even the mechanics, learning to throw more like each other and being able to read ice off of that is pretty big. You could tell which teams out there had that figured out, and that was an area of concern for Reid and I. We recognize we have some work to do to try to mould our game to resemble each other. It's not daunting, it's just something we have to put some time into."

McEwen joined forces with the Carruthers, Samagalski (second) and Hodgson (lead) following the 2018 Brier when neither his old team nor Carruthers made the playoffs in Regina. Despite their tight friendship and long-running on-ice rivalry, getting acquainted as teammates was more of a struggle in Year 1 than had been anticipated.

Happiness mixed with a touch of melancholy

Mike McEwen admits he had mixed feelings watching his old friend and teammate hoist the Tankard trophy Sunday night.

B.J. Neufeld captured his first-ever Canadian men’s curling championship in Brandon. The 33-year-old still lives in Winnipeg but tosses third stones for Alberta's Kevin Koe.

Koe defeated Brendan Bottcher’s Team Wild-Card 4-3 in the all-Alberta final at Westoba Place.

Mike McEwen admits he had mixed feelings watching his old friend and teammate hoist the Tankard trophy Sunday night.

B.J. Neufeld captured his first-ever Canadian men’s curling championship in Brandon. The 33-year-old still lives in Winnipeg but tosses third stones for Alberta's Kevin Koe.

Koe defeated Brendan Bottcher’s Team Wild-Card 4-3 in the all-Alberta final at Westoba Place.

“There was some conflicting feelings there. You’re happy, for sure, for him. That’s 100 per cent. At the same time, you wish you could have done it with him,” McEwen said Monday.

“Playing with Matty (Wozniak) and the two Neufeld brothers (B.J. and Denni) for so long, that’s something we never quite managed to fulfil as a team. We got really close a number of times.”

McEwen and Neufeld played 11 seasons together, losing five Manitoba finals before claiming consecutive titles in 2016 and ’17. They went to a third-straight Brier in 2018 in Regina as the Wild-Card crew.

But a national crown eluded them. McEwen, with B.J. Neufeld, Wozniak and Denni Neufeld, finished fourth in Ottawa, third in St. John’s, N.L. and out of the playoffs a year ago.

“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,” McEwen said.

The foursome lost the 2017 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials final on last shot to Koe. The McEwen teammates went their separate ways after the Regina Brier a few months later.

Sunday’s Brier victory for Koe and lead Ben Hebert came about 11 months after they were left off the medal podium at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Koe recruited Neufeld and Colton Flasch last spring to replace outgoing third Marc Kennedy and second Brent Laing.

Neufeld will wear the Maple Leaf at the world men’s championship in Lethbridge, Alta., March 30 to April 7.

McEwen said he’s looking forward to congratulating his former teammate in person.

“I fully expect to shake his hand at the Granite Curling Club and wish him all the best in Lethbridge."

Manitoba posted a 4-3 record following the initial Brier round robin and then split four games in the championship pool to finish with an overall record of 6-5, two wins shy of qualifying for the four-team Page playoffs.

The team still has two Grand Slam events on the calendar. An upcoming Brier debriefing with all four fellows and their coach, Rob Meakin, is also on the agenda to ensure the collective goal remains the same — the 2021 Canadian Olympic Trials.

"We just need a bit of time to reflect before sitting down and having each of us lay out what this team will require to go to the next level," McEwen said. "I’m very interested to hear what each guy brings to the table. The commitments and sacrifices will be so important moving forward that I just don’t want to confirm something prematurely.

"I think I can say that the guys are all confident in the character and skill of each of our teammates, so I look forward to that meeting coming up."

McEwen kicked off the championship in Brandon with a thrilling victory over Saskatchewan and a rout of Quebec. But if losing to Team Wild-Card the second day of the Brier despite leading 5-0 lead after four ends stung, then surrendering a 10th-end steal for a 7-6 loss to Yukon a day later was catastrophic.

McEwen & Co. was two wins short of qualifying for the Brier playoffs.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

McEwen & Co. was two wins short of qualifying for the Brier playoffs.

Manitoba also controlled a large portion of the game Thursday night against Alberta's Kevin Koe but gave up a deuce to the eventual Brier champion in the 10th end.

"We had some opportunities, at least two or three, that presented themselves and we didn't convert. That would have at least put us in the picture on Saturday and Sunday," said McEwen. "You look at Team Koe as a great example of closing out opportunities. Obviously, he beat us on last rock, and I can think of at last four games where he won on last rock, down one or two with hammer. That's pretty special, how they won and how they did it."

Earlier in the season, the dynamic of two outspoken skips sharing the house — each with his own game plan and reasoning — created some problems, leading to some positional flip-flopping on the back end. They captured bonspiel victories in Toronto, Phoenix and Japan despite some growing pains.

The squad finally settle on McEwen in the traditional role of skip, calling the game and throwing last pair of stones each end, mere weeks before the provincial championship in early February.

The formula worked well in Virden, culminating with a championship victory over William Lyburn. Three weeks later and 75 kilometres to the east, there was no bickering at the Brier, in fact, no overt signs of dissension in the ranks at all.

Carruthers said the collegial relationship wasn't just some show for the cameras.

"I think we're getting to a point where it's getting smoother. Definitely, during different points of the season it was a bit of a challenge. But I feel like we're at a point where we're really helping each other makes shots, and when that process becomes seamless it will be good for both of us," he said.

'We just need a bit of time to reflect before sitting down and having each of us lay out what this team will require to go to the next level,' McEwen said.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

'We just need a bit of time to reflect before sitting down and having each of us lay out what this team will require to go to the next level,' McEwen said.

But he, too, believes, the team as a whole needs some maturing.

"It's hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year. But the biggest thing for us is we did win a few events, so that's a good sign for us moving forward," Carruthers said. "Virden would have definitely been one of the highs for us. We faced some adversity, and I felt like some of the teams at the provincials were probably licking their chops thinking this could be their opportunity to get to the Brier. But we worked hard and came together as a team at the right time and had a really good run at provincials.

"We were a couple of shots here and there away from maybe getting into a tie-breaker at the Brier, so we're not too far off. It's definitely a fine line between the top four that were in the Brier playoffs versus the ones maybe just below it."

McEwen, who was born and raised in Brandon, said he wasn't overwhelmed by the pressure of performing at home.

"I felt really good in the building. It felt like playing in front of a home crowd was really refreshing. We've played in a few Briers where you had potentially a good portion of the crowd cheering against you," he said. "We felt like we were underdogs. We felt very capable but we really knew with the type of season we had and just literally going into the skip and third roles recently, we just didn't have the history to be considered anything but underdogs."

 

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).

Read full biography

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.