KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- It is one thing to play less than your best against the likes of P.E.I. and New Brunswick at the Brier.
You can get away with shooting just 80 per cent as a skip -- as Jeff Stoughton did through his first four games at the Interior Savings Centre -- and still head into Day 3 of this event unblemished at 4-0 if you're playing the Brier's lesser lights.
But play with fire long enough and eventually you're going to run into a team at the Brier that can pour some gas on the pile and that's exactly what happened to Manitoba's Stoughton against Alberta's Kevin Koe Monday night.
Facing his first real test after a relatively soft early schedule, Stoughton -- who ranked just seventh in shooting percentage among skips coming into the game -- quickly fell behind 4-1 to Koe after just three ends and never did threaten after that, losing both the game -- 10-4 -- and his status as the last remaining undefeated team in the field.
With the loss in his only game of the day, Stoughton fell to 4-1 and he will head into today in a three-way tie for first place with Alberta's Koe and B.C.'s John Morris. Saskatchewan's Steven Laycock is also just a win behind the leaders at 3-1.
Game on now, in other words.
"It was just one of those games -- we were a little bit light or a little bit heavy," Stoughton said afterward. "We missed four shots in a row in the end when they scored three (the third) and you just can't do that."
So how outplayed was Manitoba against Alberta? Well, Alberta played the eighth end with just seven rocks after third Pat Simmons hogged one -- and they were still lying four counters behind cover when Stoughton went to throw his last. Stoughton missed and handed Koe a steal of four, prompting the two teams to shake hands.
The good news for Manitoba curling fans is Stoughton said, that, for the first time this week, he finally felt comfortable with what have been difficult ice conditions at times. "The best thing taking away from this is I felt great," said Stoughton. "I felt a lot better today about the ice and the weight and the throwing. So for me, the confidence level went way up after this game, so it should be really good tomorrow."
Manitoba plays twice today, taking on Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard (2-2) in the morning draw and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy (0-5) this afternoon.
While Stoughton's percentages have been low, he's had way too many difficult shots to make because the rest of his team hasn't been playing well either. Third Jon Mead was fifth in shooting percentage among thirds heading into Monday night, while lead Reid Carruthers had fallen all the way to eighth at his position. Only Mark Nichols was among the leaders at his position, sitting second.
The win over Manitoba was Koe's second of the day, coming immediately after he had beaten his younger brother, N.W.T. skip Jamie Koe, 8-3 on the afternoon draw.