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Manitoba racks up 27th Brier title

You want to know how long it’s been since Jeff Stoughton won 11 games at a Tim Hortons Brier? Never mind turning back the clock. Start wading through the pages of the Brier’s history books.

Photo: Michael Burns Photography

Flip back the pages, back, back, back, 15 years, all the way to 1996.

That was the year of Stoughton’s initial Brier victory . . . when he stole the duke in an extra end at Kamloops against a gent named Kevin Martin.

Three years later the Manitoba toe-tucker was back at it again in Edmonton. But he needed just 10 wins to take home the Brier tankard that year.

Since then, it’s been droughtsville for the 47-year-old Air Canada financial systems manager and an assortment of mates.

But something you should know about his guy. He’s Canadian curling’s legitimate poster boy for perseverance.

A dozen long years since his last tip of the tankard and there he was, out in the John Labatt Centre on Sunday night, jumping around and chirping like a schoolboy in front of 8,261 cheering onlookers after winning the latest Brier renewal with a 8-6 final-game victory over Ontario’s Glenn Howard that was far more dominant than the final score would indicate.

“Ohh, it feels awesome, I tell yuh,” Stoughton cried with his usual schoolboy grin.

“The guys (third Jonathan Mead, second Reid Carruthers, lead Steve Gould) played a great game. Jonny made a couple of great runbacks in the first few ends and we made every big shot we needed to make.

“There’s nothing better than this feeling right now. I’ve been saying right from the get-go this is what we were here for and we did it! I couldn’t be prouder of my team. Just . . . just awesome!”

The team’s secret?”

“We played good,” he said. “We made a lot of shots. I mean, that’s all it takes is a simple game. Throw the rock at the broom with the right weight and good things will happen. That’s what we always say. And that’s what we did all week.

“We’ve been close a couple of times since then but we just felt this was our time, that we were going to win this thing. We put a lot of time and work and effort into this, we knew this could be our last chance here, and we took full advantage of it.”

This team certainly did. It exuded confidence like no Stoughton team has in years. It spoke of winning like no Stoughton team has done in years. It finished with 11 wins in 13 starts and ravaged Ontario with a 96-per-cent team shooting percentage that was a Brier record for a championship final.

Stoughton has persistently proved to be best in Manitoba. For eons. But Canada? The years have been ticking by.

“We’ve waited a long time and this has been a long time coming,” he admitted. “We’ve been close in a lot of events. Not that other teams haven’t been close, too. But this has been just a real satisfying week. We’ve felt so comfortable out there the past few days. You want to know something? We weren’t sure how they were going to beat us.

“The last time I felt this comfortable would have been the 2005 (Olympic) trials. We were going on all 12 cylinders there. That was a while ago but this feels just as good.”

And now for the Maple Leaf?

“That is something special! It can’t get any better than to put that Maple Leaf on your back. Representing your country is something you dream of as a curler. It has been 12 years and we’re so looking forward to it. Just a great, great feeling.”

Even though the world championship will be a mere five-hour drive from home?

“Who cares?” Stoughton asked. “It’s the Worlds man! Put the Maple Leaf on our back. We’re just going to rock out to Regina. It’s going to be awesome. I hope a few Winnipeggers will be taking that drive. It’s going to be fun. We know Regina’s a great curling town. We’re going to enjoy every moment.”

Stoughton executed a tap for a second-end deuce, forced Ontario to one in the third, yielded a steal in the fourth end, then finagled another deuce in the fifth when Howard fired a double-kill to cut down on greater damage.

The game turned in the sixth, big-time, when Howard was askew on two seemingly innocent draw shots. Manitoba stole two more and led 6-2.

“It hurts when you throw a good shot and come up emptyhanded,” said Howard. “I don’t know what happened to the curl there, the weight was perfect. I can’t explain it.

“But . . . .kudos to Jeff and the boys, I don’t think God was going to beat them today. They were unbelievable and I give them full credit.”

The home-province team battled back with two in the seventh, Manitoba got that back in the eighth and Ontario again doubled in the ninth but the available pickings were far too late.

Howard has lost track of how many times he’s been involve with a defeat in a Brier final.

“What is that, seven times now?” he asked.

For sure, four of the last six. And three with his brother Russ back in the Nineties.

“I hate it. I absolutely hate it. I don’t have any fun coming second,” Howard moaned. “I‘d rather come 12th. I just don’t like coming second. It feels awful.

“Someone asks: Second again, Glenn, how do you react to that?”

“It sucks. It absolutely sucks. Are you kiddin’ me?”

The win is the second for Mead, the first for Carruthers and the third for Gould. It is also Manitoba’s 27th Brier title.

Mead won the Hec Gervais Playoff MVP Award and Stoughton won the Shot-Of-The-Week for his triple-takeout against Northern Ontario during the fifth end of the Brier’s Draw Seven.

With this victory, Stoughton assured his team of $144,000 from Sport Canada over a two-year period, $40,000 for TV cresting exposure, another $40,000 from Own The Podium for training and competition expenses, Canada’s berth in the 2011 Ford World Men’s, April 2-10 in Regina, a berth in the 2011 Canada Cup, Nov. 30-Dec. 4 in Cranbrook, B.C., and a berth in the 2012 World Financial Group Continental Cup, Jan. 12-15 in Langley, B.C.

Howard’s team also wins $40,000 for TV cresting exposure. Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue takes home $30,000, Alberta’s Martin collects $20,000. Brier teams finishing fifth through 12th drew $7,000 apiece.

The 2011 Brier finished with a total attendance of 113,626.