WINNIPEG — It’s just like old times between Reid Carruthers and Jeff Stoughton.
When third Braeden Moskowy left the team earlier this week, Carruthers made a last-minute call reaching out to his former skip Stoughton, who had stepped back from competitive curling in 2015, to help pinch hit during this week’s Princess Auto Elite 10 in their hometown.
Stoughton was pulled back into the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling fold but hasn’t missed a beat.
“He’s still throwing it as pure as he ever did,” Carruthers said Thursday after practice. “I threw with him yesterday too at the Granite [Curling Club]. I don’t fully expect him to make as many shots as he did back when I was curling with him but that’s just because he’s been off the ice. But at the same time, it’s Jeff Stoughton and you don’t ever really expect him to miss. I’m super excited for the event.”
Stoughton skipped a special Select team of legends at the Princess Auto Elite 10 last year and believes the event’s match-play format works to his benefit.
“It’s simpler than a normal game in the sense that there’s not as much pressure on the team to watch the big ends,” said Stoughton, who won Brier and world championships with Carruthers in 2011. “If you give up four or five here, who cares. It doesn’t matter. That’s a nice way to play the game just like last year when we came out and played the Elite 10.
“It’s a little relaxing but you always want to win. There’s no doubt about it. We’re competitors so it’ll be good. Looking forward to it and it’ll be great to throw with Reid for sure.”
Even opponent Mike McEwen seemed a little nervous when he saw vintage Stoughton throwing rocks around in the morning practice.
“It’s funny, he looks the same. He looks exactly the same,” McEwen said with a smile. “That man doesn’t age and his slide looks like he hasn’t left that long ago.”
The tournament is extra special for Carruthers, whose main sponsor is also Princess Auto and he’s been stoked all season waiting for this week.
“I kind of suggested that this might be a good venue for an event like this. The Sportsnet crew was quick to jump on it and they managed to work out a deal,” Carruthers said. “For us to play in the hometown, and I know there’s going to a bus full of Princess Auto crew coming tonight, it’s pretty exciting for us.”
Stoughton has been busy lately managing Canada’s mixed doubles program and helping guide Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris to the gold medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Games when the discipline made its Olympic debut last month.
“It was amazing,” Stoughton said. “The whole Olympic experience is everything that people say it is. You’re part of such a big Team Canada, you’re in the cafeteria with all of your Canadian fellow athletes. You’re looking around at all of these other great athletes from all kinds of sports and different countries. It’s a really cool experience and something I’ll never forget.”
Carruthers split his pair of round-robin games on the opening day of the Princess Auto Elite 10 edging Glenn Howard of Tiny, Ont., in a shootout and dropping a 3 & 2 match to Toronto’s John Epping.
The Brier bronze medallist Epping leads Pool A at six points and two round-robin games remaining Friday.
“We’ll take two wins,” Epping said. “That one was a bit of a Houdini act there but we kind of snuck our way through and yeah, two wins and six points. We’re more worried about points and I think that should at least give us a chance at either a tiebreaker or a playoff spot.”
It was a good day at the office for McEwen who earned a pair of regulation wins to sit on top of Pool B with six points. McEwen clipped Calgary’s Kevin Koe 2 & 1 and then routed Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson 5 & 3 by scoring in the first and rolling away with the steal train swiping four consecutive ends.
Back-to-back Brier winner Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., drew to the button in the extra end to edge Sweden’s Niklas Edin.
Gushue, who is also the reigning world champion, never held the lead until the seventh when he made a laser shot through the port for a double takeout to count and grab a 1-up lead. Edin, who earned silver at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month, matched with a beauty of his own in eight pulling off a runback double takeout to force the shootout.
“We kind of had a few sloppy ends to start and got down by two early on,” Team Gushue second Brett Gallant said. “Then Brad just started making some great shots to keep us in it and we actually got a lead after seven. Nik made a really nice double in eight to make us draw to the button. Luckily, Brad had thrown that out-turn draw path a few times during the game so it was nice practise for the extra point and he put it right on the pin. A good way to finish it. We needed those two points after getting zero earlier today.”
Gallant added they’re looking to ride the high after successfully defending the Brier on Sunday and keep the momentum going before representing Canada once more at the world championship next month in Las Vegas.
“We’re a little bit tired but we’re still trying to have some good games here,” Gallant said. “It’s good to get some more strong competition, strong competitive games before we head to the worlds. We’d like a little bit of rest but we’re going to try and keep it going.”
Match play rules are in effect where teams compete to win the most ends per game by either scoring two or more points (with the hammer) or steal at least one (without the hammer). A new rule at the event is “thinking time” has been changed from 33 minutes overall to four minutes per end although teams also have three timeouts instead of only two.
“It’s tight because we’re the kind of team that seems to use six minutes on a few ends and two minutes on a few ends,” Gallant said. “When you can’t spread them around eight ends, it gets tight a lot. It’s nice to have that extra timeout and you can play an end really quickly if you have to, you can play a few shots really quick, but it’s different for sure.”
It doesn’t seem to have fazed Epping too much, however.
“You definitely have to pay attention to it,” Epping said. “I think it took us a couple ends early this morning but I’m notoriously known as a fast player so time clock never really worries me. I haven’t really thought about it that much.”
NOTES: The Princess Auto Elite 10 is the fifth tournament of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. … Teams receive three points for a regulation win, two points for a shootout win and one point for a shootout loss. The top six teams advance to the weekend playoffs. … The winning team earns an invitation to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.