Mike McEwen. File Photo
Mike McEwen has faced some tough opponents in his curling career, but never one quite like this.
The top-seeded skip and two-time defending champ at the Manitoba men’s curling championship has come down with a case of chickenpox, leaving his status for the rest of the event in doubt.
McEwen couldn’t play in his team’s 11-6 win over Richard Muntain, this afternoon.
“The itchiness is kind of setting in, and he didn’t really get a lot of sleep,” third B.J. Neufeld said. “He’s just all-around, really uncomfortable. So he’s heading back to the hospital today, just to make sure everything’s OK and he can get back on the road to recovery.
“Chickenpox at this age I guess can be a little bit more harmful than when you get it as a kid. We’re hoping he can play tomorrow. But we’ll see. We don’t know.”
The team (2-0) doesn’t have an alternate, so played with three players: Neufeld taking over skipping duties, the front end -- his brother Denni and second Matt Wozniak -- throwing three rocks, each.
“The guys played really solid,” Neufeld said. “We feel as good as you could be, down a man. It’s definitely not what you want. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully he can get back.”
If McEwen can’t play this week, it throws the event wide open.
There is a pool of local alternates the team could dip into, but Neufeld says they’ll likely just go with three players.
“Skipping is something I did in high school, so it’s not completely foreign to me,” he said. “That’s what happens in sports. If one goes down, somebody has to step up, and it was an opportunity for Denni, Matt and myself to make some shots that maybe we don’t normally get... you’ve just to grind away and see what happens.”
Neufeld couldn’t recall another time his team went with three players, certainly not at an event of this magnitude.
Team McEwen can grab one of eight qualifying spots with another win, Friday morning, over Dennis Bohn.
No. 2 seed Reid Carruthers improved to 2-0 and can also clinch a spot, Friday morning, against David Bohn.
Fourth seed Pat Simmons is 2-0 and in the same boat. He’ll face No. 5, Willy Lyburn, for the spot.
No. 3 seed Jason Gunnlaugson isn’t so lucky. He’s on the B-side after dropping an 8-5 decision to 19th seed Daniel Birchard of Pembina this morning.
The 25-year-old Birchard sounded surprised to have defeated the more experienced Gunnlaugson.
“He shouldn’t,” Gunnlaugson said. “He beat us, like, three years ago. We weren’t too excited to see him, that’s for sure. But we got him back, and we might get a chance this year, you never know.
“It happens -- you lose an early one. You’ve just got to work harder.”
Birchard moves to 2-0 and will face equally unheralded Travis Bale of Fort Rouge for the fourth qualifying spot on the A-side.
“I’m not too excited, yet,” Birchard said. “But we’ve done better than I thought we would do. Honestly, we just wanted to win one game so we would make it to the second day.”
Gunnlaugson is in better shape than two other top-10 seeds.
No. 6 Braden Calvert and tenth seed Sean Grassie have both gone home after losing their second straight, late Wednesday.
Eight of 32 teams qualify for the playoff round, which begins Friday night and concludes Sunday afternoon.