Jeff Stoughton’s Manitobans haven’t been stoking up this kind of curling conflagration at the Tim Hortons Brier since 1999.
“Holy smokes!” exclaimed Kevin Martin, who lost his second game of the piece on Wednesday night at the John Labatt Centre to the Manitoba brushfire. “I hope they cool down!”
Stoughton’s team of Jonathan Mead, Reid Carruthers and Steve Gould stole two in the third end for a 3-0 lead and “we were just ripping everything”.
“The peels were working,” said Stoughton. “Jon was making every double and every runback. It was a simple game but we sure played well.”
So well that a perplexed Olympic gold-medal winner threw in the towel trailing 5-1 without throwing his last rock of the eighth end. He looked like a guy crawling out of the wrong end of a shooting gallery.
“I had nothing,” said Martin. “Dead. I couldn’t get a deuce. I had to get a deuce. The best it was going to be was 6-1. It’s called ‘Time to pull the Velcro’.
The Stoughton team was scored at a collective 97 per cent. The last time a team scored that high at the Brier was Wayne Middaugh’s 2001 crew. Stoughton was the first Brier skip to score 100 per cent since Martin in 2009 and Glenn Howard in 2008.
But it was Mead who made all the spectacular shots.
“Jon was on fire,” said Stoughton. “Anything they threw at us, he threw something back at them.
“It was unbelievable the runbacks both teams were making in the first three ends. It was an outstanding game to start with and we just got on the right side of the inch in the third to get that double steal. He missed the cross-house double to sit three buried and we took advantage of the mistakes and got the win.
“It feels good. We’re in. Thank goodness. We win out we’ll be in that One-Two game. It’s all your can ask for.”
The last time Stoughton skipped at team in the Page One-Two playoff, he went on to win the Brier — at Edmonton in 1999.
“It was nice to play such a great game and have all four of us making great shots,” he said.
Adds an incredulous Martin:
“Jon played great . . . holeeee! He had to have shot 100, I think. (Actually, he was 97). We were trying everything to change the momentum of the game. They were running back everything so well. I thought we had them in a bit of trouble in the seventh. But Jonathan made two doubles there as well.
“Good for him. That’s great. He’s on fire.
“He had the tough shots and he made them all. Man did he curl good. We thought we had them in trouble but by the time Jonathan was through throwing they weren’t in trouble any more. We’d give him just a half-inch. He was making them tonight.
“I threw the way I thought I needed to in the third. But it just floated back all the way. I think it might have even touched it. But, obviously, not enough. That was a big shot.”
Also the game’s telling exchange.
The win left Manitoba atop the standings at 8-and-1 heading into today’s final three draws of preliminaries. Alberta, Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador were 7-and-2 and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs was hanging on by his fingernails at 5-and-4.
The remainder of the field was playing out the string today.
Here’s how the contenders were scheduled to play it out:
Manitoba (8-1) — 9:30 a.m. Newf/Lab (7-2); 2:30 p.m. Quebec (3-6).
Alberta (7-2) — 2:30 p.m. Territories (3-6); 7:30 p.m. Ontario (7-2).
Newfoundland-Lab (7-2) — 9:30 a.m. Manitoba (8-1); 7:30 p.m. Quebec (3-6).
Ontario (7-2) — 9:30 a.m., Territories (3-6); 7:30 p.m. Alberta (7-2).
Northern Ontario (5-4) — 2:30 p.m. New Brunswick (3-6); 7:30 p.m. Saskatchewan (4-5).
The Jacobs gang from The Soo pasted Prince Edward Island 9-2 to stay above water but they’ll need two more wins today to have any chance of a tiebreaker.
“I guess we won’t be hanging our heads in shame now,” said Jacobs. “If we can make it to 7-4 we still have a chance.
“You can just tell that they (P.E.I.) are not into it any more. They’re just out there kind of going through the motions. And we wanted to win pretty badly so that’s why it was 9-2.
“You never want to come to the Brier and bomb. No we have to hope some people bomb for us.”
One more win today for the top four teams would seal Northern Ontario’s fate.
Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Brad Gushue of The Rock tightened the noose on the bulk of the field Wednesday afternoon with key victories.
Bouncing back from an untimely 5-4 morning loss to Jacobs, Howard crushed Eddie MacKenzie’s 11-1 in an abbreviated five-end rout that sparked some controversy on account of a Brier rule that calls for all teams to complete at least seven ends in each game.
Gushue, meanwhile, out-fought New Brunswick’s James Grattan 6-5.
Stoughton executed another litany of clutch shots in a 7-6 extra-end squeezer over Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock.
“These guys just weren’t missing,” said Stoughton of his Green-Machine opposition which has enjoyed an inconsistent Brier, to say the least.
“We had to shoot the lights out. We had to make some great shots just to get into the extra end. The last five we played really solid. We needed it.”
The Manitobans trailed 5-4 in the eighth but turned it around with a critical theft of a pair to take control.
“We had to make every shot perfectly, top button, around the corners, everything,” said Stoughton.
Howard admitted: “We got Eddie (P.E.I.) into trouble in the first end, he missed a draw and then he missed a draw in the next end, so we were up 6-0 and that was sort of it.”
Reports were that Brier rules call for fines of anything from $200 to $500 per player for rule infractions on game completion.
“Maybe it’s a problem,” said Howard. “I don’t know. We’ll have to find out whether or not there are going to make a fuss about it. As a player, it’s better to shake and get off there. But I can understand some issues with fans. They want to watch curling, seven, eight, nine ends and I know TV’s an issue but that wasn’t true in our game. I get that.
“I think a fine is offside. When it’s not a televised game. It’s 11-1. He’s not going to come back. I totally get it. He was very frustrated. He wants to get off the ice. It’s only two more ends. I don’t think it hurt anybody.
“I guess if there’s betting involved there’s a problem down the line,” admitted Howard. “Maybe we should play the whole game. What’s the difference? Why quit after seven or eight? But if we’re allowed to quit at seven? Betting shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
On the matter of Ontario’s own situation:
“We don’t want to get any more losses, obviously. We have to be careful. But I think we can control our own destiny if we win two tomorrow.”
Gushue, who battled to retain control against New Brunswick from the start, said he liked the position his team had taken with two games remaining — against Manitoba and Quebec on Thursday.
“It can get better,” he said. “Things are coming around. I’m pretty optimistic about tomorrow and the weekend.
“We seem to play better in the morning and we’re a little sluggish when we get the morning off,” he said. “I’m glad we’re getting Manitoba in the morning, for sure. I like getting the afternoon off, too.”
In other evening matches, New Brunswick’s James Grattan scored three in the first end and defeated Shawn Adams (3-6) of Nova Scotia 8-5 while Quebec’s Francois Gagne scored four in the third en route to a 10-4 walkaway on Jamie Koe of the Territories.
Koe his third win of the week in the afternoon, scoring in the final end top nudge Jim Cotter’s British Columbians 6-5.
Saskatchewan’s Laycock assessed his team’s week in terms of “one or two mistakes every game”.
“We’ve made small mistakes and the other teams have really jumped on them,” he said. “Small mistakes we’re going to have to tidy up a little bit.”
On the sunrise shift Wednesday, Alberta crushed Saskatchewan 11-3, Gushue’s Rocksters clubbed the Nova Scotians 9-3 and British Columbia’s Cotter (3-5) scored a single in an extra end to nudge Quebec 8-7.