Manitoba was painted blue and red Sunday, two days after the completion of a forgettable football season by the blue and gold Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The artist was Mike McEwen, who sported a blue and red shirt and rode a strong start by his rink to a 4-2 championship victory over previously unbeaten Jeff Stoughton at the World Cup of Curling in Windsor, Ont.
It marks the first Grand Slam of Curling title for skip McEwen and his rink of B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld, who take home a cheque for $23,000 from the first Grand Slam event of the season.
"This is a huge stepping stone for our team and I hope we can stay together and [enjoy] bigger and better things from this point," McEwen, who formed the rink four years ago, told Scott Russell of CBC Sports. "It's really exciting what future we could have."
Ienna closer to $1 million
Louis Ienna is thinking $1 million all the way.
The recreational curler from Tecumseh, Ont., beat five others Sunday in Windsor to advance to the semifinals of the Million Dollar Button contest.
"This is a dream come true," Ienna told Scott Russell of CBC Sports, minutes after placing his one and only shot in the centre of the rink 204 inches from the button, one inch closer than Melinda Partington of Windsor.
Ienna has curled for five years and currently plays in a Friday night mixed league and Wednesday men's league.
He advances to the semifinals at the Canadian Open on Jan. 29 in Oshawa, Ont., where he will get two practice shots.
Should Ienna move on to the Jan. 30 final, he would have the option of throwing one rock unaided for $1 million or throwing one rock with the help of professional sweepers and a skip for $100,000. There are no practice shots in the final.
"One million on my own," Ienna told Russell before a loud crowd at the WFCU Centre when asked which option he would choose in the final.
Sunday's win capped a memorable 48 hours of curling for the 30-year-old McEwen, who evened his career record versus Stoughton at 7-7 and went 7-2 in Windsor.
It started with a 7-6 decision over 2010 Olympic silver medallist Thomas Ulsrud of Norway on Saturday and continued with an 8-3 upset of Olympic gold medallist Kevin Martin in the quarter-finals.
McEwen and company punched their ticket for the final at the WFCU Centre with a 7-2 defeat of Rob Fowler, also of Brandon, when the latter conceded after the fifth end of the semifinal contest.
"We haven't had a day like this for a while," McEwen told reporters afterward. "We have been playing very well all week."
McEwen carried the momentum into Sunday's championship, stealing a point in the second end.
"We were pretty fortunate to give up only a steal of one in the second end," said Stoughton, who hails from Winnipeg. "You always want to make the other guy make the tougher shots and today Mike had the easier shots and we had the tougher ones. They made all the right shots at the right time."
After Stoughton drew even in the third, McEwen regained the upper hand and controlled the match through four ends, leading 2-1.
"We wanted to play a tight game and I thought we had control very early and held onto it throughout the game," said McEwen, the 2003 World University champion. "The adrenaline was really pumping in the seventh and eighth ends, but we were able to maintain our composure."
Trailing 3-2 in the eighth, Stoughton left an open hit for McEwen, who made good on his shot to force his opponent to try to draw the button.
"Jeff usually makes these ones right on but [his teammates] happened to oversweep it slightly and it goes too far, leaving the win for McEwen," said CBC Sports curling analyst Joan McCusker.
"What happens with young teams when they play the giants like [Glenn] Howard and [Kevin] Martin they think they need to take risks early in the game. Today, we saw [McEwen's rink] play very patiently and not take those high-risk shots."
It was McEwen's second victory over Stoughton in two weeks after he prevailed 6-3 in the final of the Canad Inns Prairie Classic on Oct. 25 after falling to Stoughton in the 2010 Manitoba provincial final.
"I don't think Jeff's going away anytime soon or at least not quick enough that I would like," McEwen told Russell, "so I think it's going to be more battles to come. It's going to be really tough provincials this year to get to the Brier."
McEwen on right track
But McEwen's rink is certainly capable of succeeding, according to CBC Sports curling analyst Mike Harris.
"The first two Grand Slams they played in they failed to qualify … [but] after winning one here, you never know," he said. "Once you get the lid off, usually you can win a few more after that.
"They've got a tough road. All [four] of these Slams are very difficult to win. And to get out of Manitoba to the Brier, the road really still goes through Jeff Stoughton at this point."
On Saturday, the 47-year-old Stoughton rebounded from a 4-3 deficit, scoring three points with the hammer in the eighth end, for a 6-4 semifinal triumph over Ontario's Glenn Howard that raised his record to 7-0 entering the final.
The two-time Brier champion then had to find a replacement for Jon Mead, his longtime third, who wouldn't be available for the final after boarding a flight Sunday morning for a business trip to Hong Kong.
Toronto-area skip Greg Balsdon got the call and played second for Stoughton in his World Cup debut.
Both McCusker and Harris said the 33-year-old golf professional acquitted himself well as a fill-in.
"In the eighth end he made two great freezes and gave Jeff an opportunity to win this game," Harris said. "He certainly didn't cost them the game. [But] I'm sure they missed Jon Mead."
The next Grand Slam event is the National from Dec. 16-19 in Vernon, B.C.