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Stoughton team gittin' 'er done

It's been more blue-collar than artistic, but they're 4-0

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton (from left), Jon Mead, Mark Nichols and Reid Carruthers leave the ice after eking one out over the Northwest Territories Sunday.

ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton (from left), Jon Mead, Mark Nichols and Reid Carruthers leave the ice after eking one out over the Northwest Territories Sunday.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- He's won two games in an extra end and barely beat Brier lightweights New Brunswick and P.E.I.

But organizers of the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier don't award points for style, only for wins. And Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton has more of them than anyone else at the Interior Savings Centre heading into this morning.

Stoughton improved to 4-0 with a 7-6 extra-end win over NWT's Jamie Koe Sunday afternoon and then a 9-5 win over New Brunswick's James Grattan Sunday night that was much closer than the final score indicated.

While Manitoba hasn't been dominating -- their extra-end win over NWT came after an extra-end win over Newfoundland Saturday night and they needed a last rock to beat both New Brunswick and P.E.I. in their opener -- the Charleswood foursome has been doing just enough to win, even while playing less than their best.

"It's great. The best part about it is we know we can play a heck of a lot better than that," Stoughton said after the win over NWT. "We struggled with the speed this afternoon. It was definitely a lot faster and there was a lot more curl... We were just missing too many draws heavy today. But we finally got it together late in the game."

Of particular note thus far has been the play of the Stoughton front end, which was reversed just for this event so that former second Reid Carruthers is now playing lead while former lead Mark Nichols is now playing second.

The switch raised questions, but the adjustment through Manitoba's first four games has thus far been almost seamless. Carruthers was shooting 88 per cent -- third among leads -- heading into last night, while Nichols was tied for first in shooting percentage among seconds at 89 per cent.

"I feel like I'm throwing the rock pretty well," said Nichols. "I thought I threw it really well (Saturday night) against Brad (Gushue). It's been a little of an adjustment, but at the end of the day it's the same job -- just make some shots."

"I feel like I'm playing pretty good," said Carruthers. "I know I can play better and there's been a couple misses here and there. But I'm comfortable, that's the most important thing."

Carruthers was instrumental in Sunday's extra end versus the Territories, making a pair of "tick" shots to keep the front of the house clean and leave Stoughton needing nothing more than a draw to the 8-foot with the final rock of the game to secure the victory.

Stoughton needed to make a much tougher final shot to defeat Grattan, who'd gotten hammered 13-5 and 10-1 in his first two games. Trailing New Brunswick 5-4 in the 10th end, Stoughton got a double takeout with the final rock of the game to score an unusual game-winning five-ender.

With the wins, Stoughton is alone in first today followed by B.C.'s John Morris at 3-1. Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta and P.E.I. are all tied for third at 2-1.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland's Gushue, who was widely expected to contend here this week, is 1-3 today and was irate Sunday afternoon with his team's performance in a 7-6 loss to Ontario. "You're not going to win a game when you're curling 60 per cent. No shots being made -- it's just embarrassing, to be honest."

Gushue complained about ice conditions after his loss to Stoughton Saturday night but said he had no excuses on Sunday in the loss to Ontario. "The problem's with the throws. The ice is good today, there's no reason to miss shots. It's not a hard game if you hit the broom and throw the right weight. We just can't seem to do either one."

Gushue third Brett Gallant shot just 63 per cent in the loss to Ontario, while the team combined for a 78 per cent outing. Newfoundland was eighth in team shooting percentage through three games at 80 per cent.

 

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

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