Four straight wins for Manitoba’s Stoughton

Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, a nine-time Brier skip, is off the launching pad at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier with four straight wins — his best Brier start since 2006 at Regina.

Team Manitoba (Photo: Michael Burns Photography)

“We’re making the easy ones, that’s for sure,” said Stoughton following a pair of convincing Sunday victories — 8-3 over Nova Scotia’s unit skipped by Shawn Adams of Halifax and 9-3 over winless Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island. “We’re fortunate that the teams we’ve been playing haven’t been at their best and we’ve been jumping on our opportunities,” added Winnipeg’s Stoughton, who is directing third Jonathan Mead, second Reid Carruthers and veteran lead Steve Gould. “You can always look back and say you could have been a little tighter here or a little less tight there but we’re playing darn good, it’s a long week and your best game has to be Sunday night (in the championship final).” The 47-year-old Stoughton, a two-time champion, has been rated right up there with defending champion Alberta and Ontario as a Brier favourite at the John Labatt Centre. But he doesn’t face off with those teams until Tuesday (Ontario) and Wednesday (Alberta) nights. Manitoba’s only foe today is Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie. “If you can get off to a great start then you know your confidence level is going to be high as you’re going into those big games,” Stoughton assessed. “This is better than being 2-and-2 and having already played them. That way you can’t get back to them, so you’re going to have to get some help.” Edmonton’s Kevin Martin, skipping Alberta’s defender, ran his Brier winning streak to three at London and 29 straight and won his 100th Brier tilt in an afternoon 8-2 clubbing of British Columbia’s Jim Cotter of Vernon. Earlier, the Olympic gold medallist drew cold to the button with his last rock to defeat James Grattan of New Brunswick 8-6. Grattan (1-3) got out of the gate with a deuce and a steal of one but Martin turned the tables and assumed control with a stolen deuce in the eighth end when rubs and a picked rock appeared to sink the New Brunswick hopes. In the final end, Grattan had his foe facing three counters but Martin had the path to the button and strong sweeping. “I’d thrown it (the path) earlier in the game and it was real true,” said Martin who had watched his front-enders Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert drag his rock right to the lid. “If I’m ever heavy they beat me up after the game.” Martin claimed the sheet of ice was “tough and tricky”. “It was tough to figure out where a rock would end up,” he said. “Some would curl across centre, some wouldn’t, some would hang, some wouldn’t, down the same path. We had freezes that under-curled a foot-and-a-half, some that over-curled a foot-and-a-half. We never did figure it out, really. “We had to play a different game. Rather than trying to make shots exactly right, we tried to dumb it down a bit. “It was just an interesting sheet of ice. Really good for the crowd! They had no idea whether we were going to make or miss the shot. Neither did we.” Following the afternoon breeze, reporters asked Martin about how it felt to win 100, a total of 13 wins behind recordholder Russ Howard of Ontario and New Brunswick. “You guys keep reminding me about that stuff,” said Martin, shrugging off the mark. “We’re not done yet, I don’t plan on retiring for a few more years yet and I don’t really want this to be my last Brier, so we’ll see. “This was a big game for us, we played a lot better,” he said, adding he didn’t feel he curled very well in the morning against Grattan. Brad Gushue of St. John’s and Steve Laycock’s Saskatchewan team lost their unbeaten status Sunday night, leaving the top two teams alone with unblemished records. Gushue (2-1) missed a double to score three against British Columbia’s Jim Cotter (1-2) in the ninth end and then left Cotter a free draw for the 6-5 victory in the 10th. “We’re not getting the broom in the right spot on some shots but we’re not throwing it crisply, either,” said Gushue. “We fought back and then let it slip away and the shots we missed in the 10th end were disappointing. “On my shot in the ninth it looked all the way down the sheet like we were going to get three and it didn’t curl at all and went over the top and only bumped them for one. We get three there, we win the game every time.” Cotter was elated with his initial win. “The guys feel like we haven’t been playing too bad . . . I know the scoreboards haven’t shown that. “We are getting better each game. It feels like a steady progress forward.” That left the score deadlocked playing the final frame. Saskatchewan (2-1) ran afoul of Ontario’s Glenn Howard who won two Sunday after a shocking opening loss Saturday when he missed an eight-foot draw for the win. Multiple counts — a deuce, three and four — were the keys in Ontario’s 10-3 victory. Howard, rebounded earlier with a hard-fought 7-4 win over Shawn Adams of Nova Scotia, who remained winless at 0-3. “We’ve been around the block so what can you do?” mused Howard. “You put that in the past and you get up there and start making some shots. The guys keep making shots in front of me and, today, we’ve turned it around nicely. “I was upset with myself. I threw it light. I missed the shot. I don’t like to lose and I don’t like to miss an easy shot. That was a very easy shot. That was hard on me. But the guys are great. They don’t point fingers. We just took it easy. The worst part was it was a long time wait between draws with two off.” Jamie Koe’s Territories charges squared their record at 2-2 on the late shift with an 8-6 extra-end decision over Grattan’s Herringchokers. “We probably could be 4-and-0,” allowed Koe, of Yellowknife. “We could have won the two we lost. We’re playing well enough but just not pulling it off. It’s probably the toughest field we’ve seen but a lot of the same old guys we see here every year. They’re the best teams in the world but we just have to be tough and execute and have good games, keep together and give ourselves chances to win.” Koe said the Brier always is a long, tough pull for the teams from the far north but suggested the mountain isn’t impossible to climb. “You have to play the top teams quite often to learn how to beat them but there’s some advantage,” he said. “But they don’t know us a good as some of the other teams. So we try to switch up the strategy and try to get them into a different game than they’re used to playing and try to disrupt their comfort level. Most of these teams play the standard game, draw and freeze, freeze, freeze, freeze. We’re not going to beat them at that game so we have to try to figure out how to get them out of their normal game in order to have some chance.” Koe said tricky ice should be an advantage for underdog teams such as his. “We’re still looking to have a .500 record, if not plus-.500. We’ve outplayed other teams for the most parts of games but in the end we just have to learn how to win those close games.” Saskatchewan won a see-saw, extra-end 8-7 battle with previously unbeaten Quebec in the afternoon while Gushue was scoring an extra-end deuce to shade Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie 7-5. Montreal’s Francois Gagne battled back from a late 7-4 deficit, scoring a deuce in the ninth and stealing one in the 10th to force an extra end. That forced Pat Simmons, who throws last rock for the Regina crew, to make a shot with his last brick for an 8-7 win, an open draw to the eight-foot. “That was big for us, early in the week, it’s always important to put up the wins, you can’t be (chasing) it all week,” said Simmons. In other morning outings, Quebec’s unsung Gagne kept pace with his second straight win, a 10-3 whipping of Prince Edward Island, while Northern Ontario’s Jacobs stole two points in the 10th end when Koe wrecked on a bold last-rock tying bid to draw the button. It ended 11-8 in favour of the Sault Ste. Marie team that finished third at last year’s Brier renewal in Halifax.