WINNIPEG — He made it look easy — again.
Winnipeg skip Jeff Stoughton won his 11th Manitoba men’s curling championship on Sunday, defeating provincial rival Mike McEwen 8-3 in the final of the Safeway Championship at MTS Iceplex.
A pair of 3-enders — one in the first end and one in the final end — bookended the latest triumph for a man who has made the Manitoba competitive curling scene his own private playground for the past two decades.
It was Stoughton’s 11th Manitoba men’s title in 12 trips to the final — and the third time he beat McEwen in the final since 2010.
With the victory, Stoughton and his team — third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Mark Nichols — will represent Manitoba at the Brier in Kamloops, March 1-9.
"It’s pretty exciting to be able to go back to a place where he had some good history," said Stoughton, who won his first of three Briers in Kamloops in 1996. "Hopefully that building is packed and we’re having a great time."
Stoughton said there was also an extra special satisfaction in winning this title after having celebrated a milestone birthday in the past year.
"It’s kind of cool to be a 50-year-old and get to go to the Brier," Stoughton said. "The guys keep bugging me — I get good deals in the buffet line."
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for McEwen, who has now appeared in four of the last five provincial men’s curling finals but lost all four of them — including three to Stoughton in 2010, 2011 and now 2014.
The other loss was to Brandon’s Rob Fowler in 2012.
"I don’t know if they get harder. It gets more aggravating," McEwen said after the game.
"They’re a great team — I’m not going to take anything away from how they played. But we’re a great team too, and I think we deserve to be on the national level.
"But we’ve got a giant to go through in Manitoba. That’s the way it is. It’s just a massive amount of patience on our part and we’re going to have to wait longer."
Stoughton was asked if he had any empathy for the tortured agonies he has put his rival through in three finals.
True to form, Stoughton was blunt in his reply.
"No. You’ve got to play your best at the right time," Stoughton said. "And it’s going to come — it’s just not there yet."
McEwen got a more empathetic hearing, however, from Mead.
"You can see it in their faces — they don’t seem to get any breaks," said Mead, who was sensational on Sunday and showed once again why he is widely considered one of the sport’s premier big-game players. "They got about as little out of some well-thrown rocks today as they possibly could. They deserved a better fate."
In addition to victories over McEwen in three provincial finals, Stoughton also beat McEwen in the 2013 semifinal and in the Page 1-vs.-1 playoff game on Saturday night — a victory which vaulted Stoughton straight to yesterday’s final.
With the loss to Stoughton on Saturday, McEwen had to first beat William Lyburn in Sunday morning’s semifinal just to advance to the final. But he did that and McEwen said after the final that he fully expected to carry a strong performance by his team against Lyburn into the final game against Stoughton.
"I felt good about today. I fully expected to win," McEwen said. McEwen’s optimism appeared well placed — for the grand total of the first half of the first end. But with McEwen rocks nicely placed and an opening end McEwen steal looking like it was in play, Mead jumped all over a miscue by McEwen third BJ Neufeld, triggering a chain of events that flipped the end and ultimately resulted in a 3-ender for Stoughton.
McEwen never recovered and trailed as much as 5-1 after the fourth end. But his team continued to battle and had narrowed Stoughton’s lead to 5-3 after the seventh, only to give up another 3-ender in the eighth that prompted handshakes.
» Winnipeg Free Press