Carruthers, Epping & Laycock book spots in Tim Hortons Brier

Reid Carruthers is heading back to the Tim Hortons Brier as Team Manitoba.

Carruthers captured the coveted buffalo patch by defeating Mike McEwen 7-6 in Sunday’s Viterra Championship final in Winkler.

It’s the fifth career men’s provincial curling championship for Carruthers and his second as a skip. The West St. Paul-based club of Carruthers, third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson claimed the title in their first season together in 2015. Caruthers also won three Manitoba titles with legendary skip Jeff Stoughton and earned Brier and world championships in 2011.

Team Carruthers never missed a beat posting a perfect 7-0 record through the tournament.

McEwen, from Winnipeg, will have another chance to qualify for the Brier — taking place March 3-11 in Regina — via the wildcard play-in game as the runaway leader on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS).

The six-time Grand Slam champion McEwen almost didn’t compete in the final as he was hospitalized Thursday due to a scary case of chicken pox. McEwen missed six games, including Sunday morning’s semifinal win over J.T. Ryan, before making his unbelievable return for the championship match.

Team McEwen persevered as a trio with vice B.J. Neufeld shifting up to last stones and second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld each throwing three rocks. Neufeld remained at fourth in the final with McEwen calling the game but throwing third stones.

It was a cat-and-mouse start with Carruthers hitting for two in the second end and McEwen matching in the third. Carruthers counted another couple in four and McEwen was unable to keep pace settling for a single in five.

Carruthers took one in six and stole a point in seven to establish a 6-3 lead, but McEwen erased the deficit with a deuce in eight and a steal in nine. There was no mistake on Carruthers’s last rock of the game as he hit and stuck around for the winner.

Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock also punched his Brier ticket to represent the home team. Laycock edged former teammate Colton Flasch 9-7 to win his seventh SaskTel Tankard title in Estevan.

Matt Dunstone took over for Flasch on Team Laycock almost a year ago and threw second until a lineup switch prior to December’s Roar of the Rings. Dunstone, who earned two Canadian junior titles as a skip, moved up to fourth stones, Laycock shifted to third while still calling the game and Kirk Muyres slid over from third to second. Dallan Muyres remained at lead.

Toronto’s John Epping earned his first Dairy Farmers of Ontario Tankard defeating 17-time champion Glenn Howard 5-1 in the final in Huntsville.

Howard, from Tiny, Ont., opened with the hammer and blanked six consecutive ends, but it was Epping who got on the scoreboard first with a steal of two in the seventh. After Howard was forced to one in the eighth, Epping tacked three on the board in nine to clinch the championship.

Greg Smith also claimed his first provincial title defeating Andrew Symonds 9-6 for the Newfoundland and Labrador Tankard in St. John’s.

It’ll be the first time Brad Gushue will not represent Newfoundland and Labrador at the Brier since 2006. Gushue, a 14-time provincial winner, captured his first national championship last season and earned an auto-berth to return to the Brier as Team Canada.

Brendan Bottcher successfully defended the Alberta Boston Pizza Cup title with a decisive 9-3 victory over Karsten Sturmay in Spruce Grove.

Bottcher was already up by one in the sixth end when he tightened his grip of the all-Edmonton team game hitting off his own to eliminate Sturmay’s counter and score four.

Kelowna’s Sean Geall scored two in the extra end to edge Vernon’s Jim Cotter 9-7 to take the belairdirect B.C. men’s championship in Parksville.

The remaining provincial playdowns take place next weekend. The winner of the Tim Hortons Brier will represent Canada at the world championship in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 8.

TIM HORTONS BRIER FIELD

Team Skip/Playdown Dates
Canada Brad Gushue
Alberta Brendan Bottcher
B.C. Sean Geall
Manitoba Reid Carruthers
New Brunswick Feb. 7-11
Newfoundland & Labrador Greg Smith
Northern Ontario Feb. 7-11
Northwest Territories Feb. 7-11
Nova Scotia Jamie Murphy
Nunavut Dave St. Louis
Ontario John Epping
P.E.I. Eddie MacKenzie
Quebec Feb. 4-11
Saskatchewan Steve Laycock
Yukon Thomas Scoffin
Wildcard March 2*

* – The top two teams on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) who have yet to qualify for the Brier will face off in the wildcard game.