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Fowler playing underdog role again

Former champ lurking, should give Stoughton, McEwen trouble

Brandon's Rob Fowler has represented Manitoba at four of the last seven Briers. He's looking book a return trip this week at the Safeway Championship.

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Brandon's Rob Fowler has represented Manitoba at four of the last seven Briers. He's looking book a return trip this week at the Safeway Championship. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

At a Safeway Championship where almost all the attention is focused on whether Jeff Stoughton will win his 11th Manitoba men's curling championship or Mike McEwen wins his first, Brandon's Rob Fowler seemingly has everyone right where he wants them once again.

No one in recent memory has thrived in the role of underdog more than Fowler, who was virtually ignored all the way to a Manitoba men's title in 2012. Once again, he's skipping in the shadows this week where the dominant narrative continues to centre on the record-setting legend that is Stoughton and the hard-luck upstart that is McEwen.

That doesn't leave much room at the MTS Iceplex this week for what is also a pretty compelling story in Fowler, who has represented Manitoba at four of the last seven Briers -- the first three (2007, 2009, 2010) as second for Stoughton and the last one as skip of his own team.

Fowler said that's fine with him, noting that all the attention being heaped on Stoughton in particular is richly deserved, giving his dominance of this event in recent years and his particularly strong play over the past month, including the recent Continental Cup in Las Vegas.

"If that's the way you want to go with it, Jeff has won this thing six out of the last eight years," said Fowler. "So how do you not pick him to be the favourite? He's the clear-cut favourite. He's hot after Vegas, but at the end of the day, if you can work yourself into a game against him on Saturday or Sunday, we know we can beat him because we beat him before. So that's where we want to be at the end of the week."

Fowler beat Stoughton in the 3 vs. 4 Page playoff game in 2012, en route to a memorable Sunday that saw him beat Willie Lyburn in the semifinal and then stun the heavily favoured McEwen in the final.

Proving he was no fluke, Fowler went on the next month to finish the Brier round robin in second place at 8-3, before losing the 1 v.s 2 game to eventual champion Glenn Howard of Ontario and the semifinal to Kevin Koe of Alberta.

So, can he put together a run like that again?

"Yeah, for sure," he said after a 7-4 win over Gladstone's Geoff Trimble. "That's the goal at the start of every year. Obviously, this year we wanted to be in the Roar of the Rings and we came a couple games short of getting there. So the focus shifted to this and that's our goal here this week."

Fowler's Olympic dream died at a pre-Trials event in Kitchener, Ont., a few weeks before the Roar of the Rings, where Sault Ste. Marie's Brad Jacobs won the right to represent Canada in Sochi.

With that disappointment now behind him, Fowler said his team -- third Allan Lyburn, second Brendan Taylor and Derek Samagalski -- are playing carefree these days.

"I think we're maybe a little bit more relaxed. We played eight out of the 10 weekends in the fall, which was more than we normally play and frankly maybe we played a little bit too much.

"So having had a break and getting back to a bit of a practice routine and training has I think relaxed us. Now, we obviously want to win, so we'll just go out and enjoy the process and have some fun doing it."

While their win over Trimble wasn't exactly dominating -- they were clinging to a 5-4 lead before breaking things open in the ninth end -- Fowler said that too is maybe a good omen for his team this week.

"In 2012, we started off a lot like we did today," he said. "We didn't play our best game at the start of the week, we played our best game at the end of the week. Other years, we were dominant early and weren't that way on the weekend.

"So, you just kind of got to pick up momentum as you move forward and play your best at the end."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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