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Stoughton juggles lineup for Brier

Lead Nichols drops to second, Carruthers to take his place

From left: Jeff Stoughton, Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Mark Nichols. Moving Carruthers and Nichols is about letting each play to their strengths, Stoughton said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

From left: Jeff Stoughton, Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Mark Nichols. Moving Carruthers and Nichols is about letting each play to their strengths, Stoughton said.

Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton is juggling his lineup for the upcoming Brier.

While the players will remain the same as they were at MTS Iceplex earlier this month when Stoughton won his 11th Manitoba men's curling championship, Stoughton told the Free Press Thursday night his front end in Kamloops next month is going to see lead Mark Nichols moving down to second while second Reid Carruthers is going to move up to lead.

It's a startling move for a team that just won a provincial title in a province as tough as Manitoba and even more so because it's being orchestrated by Stoughton, whose teammates and their positions have sometimes been measured in decades over his long career.

What's more, the lineup change is being made less than two weeks after the Stoughton foursome proved unbeatable in winning the Manitoba championship, going undefeated through the 32-team field.

But after meeting as a team following their recent provincial title, Stoughton said the decision was made as a team to reverse the front end in the belief it will better position both Nichols and Carruthers to play to their strengths.

"Our hope is that this will give Reid a better chance to show that great touch that he has," Stoughton explained Thursday night, "while at the same time giving Mark a chance to show why he was considered one of the best hitters in the country just a couple years ago."

Nichols, of course, won an Olympic gold medal in 2006 as third for Brad Gushue and was well known for his runbacks and takeouts at that position, something he hasn't been able to showcase the past two winters as a lead for Stoughton, where most of the shots are draws.

Similarly, Carruthers came up in the game as a skip and was known for having good draw weight, something that he'll be able to use much more often as lead.

"Basically, we're hoping that this might give us even that one or two per cent advantage that can put us over the top at the Brier," said Stoughton.

Stoughton stressed the move is in no way a reflection on the play this season of Carruthers, with whom Stoughton won a world championship in 2011 as his second. "This is a team decision and Reid is totally on the bandwagon," said Stoughton.

"We basically looked back at our whole season and there were some wins, but there were also some losses, especially obviously the Trials," said Stoughton, referencing his team's failure to make the playoffs at December's Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre, where Brad Jacobs won the right to represent Canada in Sochi.

"And so basically, we're hoping that maybe by shaking things up a bit, we can get a spark or a lift as a team."

Carruthers left no doubt how he felt about the position change with this Tweet from his personal account last night: "You just can't cage an animal! So we said let the man hit!!! @MarkNichols_NL #Bam #Smash #Explosion #GraniteEverywhere #Destruction."

Stoughton said the foursome has been practising as a team at their new positions for the past week and are committed to the new configuration. "We're committed to this through the Brier. We're not going to be switching back after a couple games or anything like that," said Stoughton.

While it is not uncommon for struggling teams at the Brier to juggle positions during the event and even insert a fifth player into the lineup, it is extremely rare for a team from a major curling province such as Manitoba to change their lineup between winning the province and competing at the Brier.

"Yeah, I'm not sure if I've seen it done quite like this before," said Stoughton.

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

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