If Mike McEwen keeps playing like this, Jeff Stoughton's days as the king of Manitoba curling could be numbered.
McEwen, the ascendant 31-year-old skip from Winnipeg by way of Brandon, defeated the veteran Winnipegger Stoughton 5-2 on Sunday afternoon to successfully defend his BDO Canadian Open title at the K-Rock Centre.
Stoughton's rink carried its uneven play from Saturday's hold-on-for-dear-life semifinal win over Glenn Howard into the championship match, coming up short on a second-end draw that set McEwen up to draw for a deuce and a 2-0 lead he would never relinquish.
After McEwen stole one in the seventh to go up 5-2, Stoughton used the new "five-rock rule" being introduced here this week to his advantage in the final end. In an effort to generate offence, teams are forbidden from removing an opponent's stone that is resting in the free guard zone until the sixth stone of each end.
Stoughton was able to get rocks in play on McEwen, who said earlier this week that the new rule was giving him "a headache" while trying to protect late leads. You could almost seeing him reaching for the aspirin as he prepared to throw his final rock with Stoughton sitting three and McEwen needing a double takeout to seal it.
Million Dollar Button
Kingston resident Bill MacCormick, a 25-year curler, won Sunday's Capital One Million Dollar Button quarter-final contest with a draw that came to rest 39 inches from the pin.
MacCormick moves on to the semifinal round during the GP Car and Home Players’ Championship in April, where he'll compete with six other qualifiers for the opportunity to draw to the button for a chance at $1 milllion.
McEwen took a deep breath and calmly nailed the shot, rendering Stoughton's hammer useless.
"You're always one shot away from disaster," is how McEwen described life as a leader under the five-rock rule.
McEwen's clutch final throw earned him his third career Capital One Grand Slam of Curling trophy. It also completed a perfect 8-0 week and burnished the reputation as a closer he's been building since winning each of his first two finals appearances last season.
Stoughton, the reigning world champion, hasn't won a Slam since capturing this event in 2006, and he's still looking for his first victory of the season.
"Average at best," is how Stoughton described his campaign so far. "We haven't won a bonspiel."
Who's No. 1?
Let the debate begin as to who's the best skip in the Keystone Province. Stoughton is still the bigger name in the sport - not to mention the two-time and reigning world champion - but he hasn't won a Grand Slam event in five years. McEwen is running away with the money race on the World Curling Tour, and his rink led the Canadian Team Ranking System by a mile even before Sunday's win, which also landed him a cheque for $25,000 that he'll split with teammates BJ Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld.
On the other hand, Stoughton owns nine Manitoba and three Brier titles, while McEwen has never even played in a Brier. Stoughton defeated him in the final of the provincial playdowns last year, leaving some to wonder whether McEwen's heavy cash-circuit schedule catches up to him at the end of the season.
McEwen seemed to realize as much in the lead-up to this tournament. He admitted to feeling "burnt out" and took a rare week off on the heels of a disappointing showing at the Canada Cup of Curling — the fourth straight tournament in which he failed to reach the final.
He looked refreshed this week, breezing through the round-robin with the only unbeaten record.
"I'm feeling really good," McEwen said. "Kind of caught back a bit what we had on the table in October when we were playing so well."
After defeating Stoughton in the final, McEwen was already thinking ahead to their seemingly inevitable collision in the Manitoba playdowns later this season.
"When it comes playdown time, [Stoughton's] is an amazing team," he said. "He'll be tough to beat.
"I'd love for him to have an off weekend in February."