KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- It was the sixth end of the bronze-medal game Sunday morning at the Tim Hortons Brier and Manitoba third Jon Mead had just cleaned house with a spectacular triple takeout.
Mead seized the moment to have some fun with the crowd, making clear with an exaggerated bow he realized better than anyone it was all much too little and a day too late.
And then a lady in the crowd drove the point home. "Where," the fan yelled, "was that yesterday?"
The barb stung because it was so pointedly true and the crowd tittered nervously as they waited for Mead to react.
Mead just laughed, slid over to the side boards and removed his sliding shoe in a gesture to the fan that said, "Care to give it whirl?"
Still, the question hovered: Where was the Manitoba game that throttled Quebec 9-5 in the bronze-medal game on Sunday the day before when the same teams met in a game that actually mattered, Saturday's Page playoff 3 vs. 4 contest in which Quebec ended Stoughton's quest for a fourth Brier title with a 7-6 victory.
"She was harsh but fair," Mead laughed afterward when asked about his heckler. "I mean, yeah, where was that game yesterday?"
But even more to the point now is where does this Jeff Stoughton team's game go from here, with the 50-year-old skip now a senior by curling standards; Mead telling everyone who will listen that he has to get back to his off-ice career pronto; and second Mark Nichols, his first child on the way this summer, saying he hasn't decided where he's even living next winter, much less whether he's curling?
Stoughton has insisted all winter he wants to curl again next winter, but on his terms: An abbreviated cashspiel schedule and with no commitments beyond the end of the 2014-15 season.
That might interest Mead as he tries to get his career back on track, but it doesn't sound like it's something that would interest Nichols, who said explicitly on the weekend that he has no interest in becoming a part-time curler.
"I'm not doing three or four spiels," Nichols told the Free Press. "I'm either in or I'm out."
That will likely be the reaction Stoughton will get to his plans for next winter from a lot of top curlers, including maybe even his longtime front-ender Reid Carruthers. Because if you're a top Canadian curler and under the age of 50, you're not looking to fool around for a year -- you're already looking right now for teammates that will get you to the 2018 Winter Olympics
If Nichols decides he wants to curl again next winter -- just not with Stoughton -- he would instantly become one of the most sought after curlers in the country. Consider -- Nichols won an Olympic gold medal at third playing for Brad Gushue in 2006 and showed himself such a capable front-end player the last two seasons with Stoughton he was named the Brier's all-star second, a position he's only been playing for a few weeks since switching positions with Carruthers.
Just spit-balling here, but how about a new team next winter that had Mike McEwen at skip and Mark Nichols back at third? Just add a front end to that mix and you'd be in some serious business.
Of course, all this speculation is just that at this point. To a man, the Stoughton foursome insisted this weekend they have yet to have a conversation about the team's future, mostly because, to a man, they genuinely believed they were going to win the Brier this weekend.
And they might have. But a back end in Stoughton and Mead that struggled early in this year's Brier before getting on track with a five-game winning streak to finish the round robin unravelled again in the 3-4 game on Saturday, spitting up a steal of one and two in succession in the fifth and sixth ends to basically gift Quebec the game.
It was a strange ending to a strange event for one of the Brier's all-time greats in Stoughton and you couldn't help but get the feeling that even if he continues to play for another winter or two, we quite possibly saw the end of an era the past week.
And if it was the end, well, Stoughton left us with this: His last rock here on Sunday was a draw to the four-foot, facing three.
And he nailed it.
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