Sports

Steel-belted McEwen gunning for three

Paul Friesen

WINKLER - 

Four-wheel drive and snow tires helped Mike McEwen get through the blowing snow to the Manitoba men’s curling championship, here, Tuesday.

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, he’ll slide into Sunday’s final and park himself next to a piece of history.

McEwen and his steel-belted Fort Rouge foursome, including BJ Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld, are gunning for a third straight provincial title this week.

That’s something just one other Manitoba skip has accomplished.

“Let me guess who that is,” McEwen, the grin on his face belying the painful memories the name Jeff Stoughton must bring.

McEwen, of course, became a household name in Manitoba for losing to Stoughton at this event.

Time after time, he’d reach the final (five times in six years), only to limp away empty-handed.

Yet, he persevered.

And now the Brandon native is in a position to do something most of the greats never could, including Don Duguid, Ken Watson, Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters.

“I haven’t really thought about it, because his number is so high,” McEwen said, referring to Stoughton’s 11 provincial titles, overall. “I figure maybe I can beat him in how many finals I’ve been in. That’s the one that maybe I can match or beat Mr. Stoughton in.

“That’s the goal this week -- to get to the final.”

If he does, it would be McEwen’s seventh final. Stoughton reached an even dozen, if you’re scoring at home.

If McEwen is playing Sunday afternoon, he’ll no doubt feel a lot better than he was to start the bonspiel. He was carrying some kind of bug around with him, Tuesday, leaving him with little energy.

With his wife, Dawn, curling for Jennifer Jones at the Canadian women’s championship in Penticton, B.C., McEwen, 37, has been in charge of the home and family, and sounded eager to shift his focus to the rings.

Having their skip a little under the weather is the least of the hurdles his team has dealt with over the years.

The provincial heartbreaks, nearly breaking up, reaching the last two Briers only to lose in the playoffs, once in heartwrenching fashion, and, most recently, a loss in the final of the Olympic Trials – talk about a long, hard road.

“We’ve seen everything and done just about everything,” McEwen said. “We’ve taken different roles in this event over the years. We’ve been the targeted one when we’ve had great seasons, and other seasons we’ve come in as the underdog.

“So we can just about handle everything out there.”

His main competition figures to come from the usual suspects: second-seeded Reid Carruthers, No. 3 Jason Gunnlaugson, the veteran Willy Lyburn, coming in as the fifth seed, and a familiar face from Saskatchewan, in two-time Brier champ Pat Simmons of Moose Jaw.

Simmons, in his first season skipping young guns Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Rob Gordon, is the No. 5 seed.

Simmons hasn’t played in a provincial championship since 2014, when he became the Saskatchewan champ.

Since then he won two Brier titles and became Team Canada in ‘15 and ‘16, while last year he left Brendan Bottcher’s Edmonton-based team in late December.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Simmons said. “It’s obviously a different format but at the end of the day, a provincials is a provincials and I’ve missed playing in these.”

Simmons, of course, has something McEwen wants: a Canadian championship.

McEwen knows he won’t truly be compared to Manitoba greats like Stoughton until he brings home a Brier. Or three.

“We’ve had two good runs and didn’t do as well in the playoff as we would’ve liked,” he said. “There’s a big learning experience on just preparation and energy levels and game management that we kind of slipped up on a couple of times in the playoffs. If we were to get a third crack at a Brier playoff, I would like to think we would do everything right behind the scenes before the games start. We wouldn’t be causing our own downfall.

“I’d like a third crack at it.”

The Brier is in Regina this year.

All McEwen needs to get there is another tough, four-wheel drive through Manitoba.

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia