PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — Jeff Stoughton stepped into the hack for his final shot of the sixth end against Reid Carruthers in the Princess Auto Elite 10 quarterfinals Saturday and knew he had no shot to score.
With an empty house and just the one rock to follow, Stoughton couldn’t get two points to win the end in the match play game. Well, if you can’t score at least give the fans a show and that’s exactly what Stoughton did as the two-time world and three-time Brier champion pulled off his spin-o-rama move. It was vintage Stoughton. The crowd roared in delight as the rock stopped right at the back of the button.
The 53-year-old Stoughton, who stepped back from competitively curling two years ago, proved he’s still got it and not just with his trademark shot. Stoughton and his Elite 10 Select team won their first three games — against Steve Laycock, Brad Gushue and John Morris — to qualify for the playoffs. It wasn’t until he ran into former teammate Reid Carruthers that things grinded to a halt. Carrurthers scored a 2-up victory over Stoughton to finish the round robin Friday night and won the rematch 2-and-1 in the quarterfinals.
Still, Stoughton believed the week went really well and his one-time return was a lot of fun.
“I don’t think a lot teams or people expected us to win a game and we rattled off three in a row and the only time we got two-down was against Reid, so we were in every game,” Stoughton said. “That’s the whole idea of the match play. It gives us guys who haven’t played that much a chance because we can just sort of lump them in there.
“We had a blast. The crowd was great and [so were] the volunteers and the communities behind the event. What can I say? The guys opened arms and even though we beat a couple of them it was okay.”
David Nedohin, who played third on the Elite 10 Select, said the goal for the week was to just make sure they were respectable and able to still hang with the best in the game.
“As soon as we got a couple wins under our belt that was probably as much as we hoped for, so to win three games was great,” he said. “I think the competitors in us always want to win more and we probably looked at [Friday night’s] game as a bit of a letdown but that happens when you don’t play very much. So if you had said, hey, you can get to the quarterfinals in this event and have a really good game in the quarterfinals with a team that played really well, I know we would have taken that. It was a fantastic event and probably the last time I’ll get to play in one of these, so it was a lot of fun.”
“We were coming here for a chance to play on Sportsnet and in front of a good crowd and on good ice and against the best teams and that’s what it was all about,” Nedohin added. “To do that and play well, even though we lost today we had a good game it’s just literally the wrong side of an inch on a couple shots. It was good. We were really pleased with it.”
When a few teams declined their invites to the Princess Auto Elite 10, Stoughton was contacted to assemble an all-star team of legends to help fill out the field. Stoughton’s Elite 10 Select squad featured a who's who of the game’s best. On top of three-time world and four-time Brier champion Nedohin at third, one-time world and three-time Brier winner Nolan Thiessen threw second stones and 2006 Olympic gold medallist Jamie Korab kicked things off at lead. Altogether the quartet have also won 11 Grand Slams. If there’s a title, chances are someone in this group has won it including world juniors and Winter Universiade.
Nolan Thiessen, David Nedohin and Jamie Korab at the Princess Auto Elite 10 in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. (Anil Mungal)
One of the challenges they faced was gelling and clicking together in a short span of time with four round-robin games in two days (plus playoffs). It can take teams a whole season to finally find their rhythm together. Nedohin said it was easy since they all knew what they were doing and trusted Stoughton to make the right calls.
“If you start to complicate it then you start second guessing,” Nedohin said. “You only learn somebody’s tendencies over a year or more playing together, so in this case it’s just like trust Jeff that he puts the broom in the right spot and hopefully you throw what he asks for and it turns out.
“You try and keep it really simple. We haven’t played enough to really be at the level of a lot of these teams in terms of communication but you just try and keep it as basic as you can. We’re all good friends and just as far as how we communicate on the ice and how we got along was great.”
Although it had been a while since they've thrown competitive rocks, the Elite 10 Select benefitted from the match play format as it meant if they gave up a big end or two it wouldn’t be game over yet. Even if they coughed up an eight-ender in the first, they would still be only 1-down and just a deuce or steal away from making it all square.
“We all know the strategy and the game plan so it was pretty simple that way,” Stoughton said. “Not a lot of hits thrown here, so you don’t have to worry about weights that much. It’s mostly taps or big peel-weight shots. It was pretty simple. These guys are awesome and easy to play with, that’s for sure.”
Stoughton was also able to add another chapter to his road stories having to make a quick trip to the hospital Saturday morning after his cheek had swollen up and he wasn’t quite sure what exactly was wrong.
“They think it might be some abscess but nothing hurts so I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Figure it out when I get home they said.”
“He played really well, obviously, and it didn’t affect him at all,” Nedohin added. “We were glad that we had a skipper for the game.”
The four now step back from the game again although one has to wonder if they would consider making another appearance on a team like this.
“It was an honour to be asked to put a team together and I think there’s other guys who can do it as well,” Stoughton said. “I would consider it but it’s probably just once in a lifetime and that’s good enough.”
“It’s hard to say no to something like this, but at the same time it would have to be with the right group of guys again and in an event like this that we can compete in terms of this format,” Nedohin added. “These teams train too hard for us to compete in regular curling but in this format we have a chance. Skins is something that we know very well. I’ll never say never but my guess this was my last game on TV.”
Jeff Stoughton tosses his broom into the crowd after his quarterfinal loss Saturday to Reid Carruthers at the Princess Auto Elite 10 in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. (Anil Mungal)