Winnipeg’s top two skips are joining forces to form a powerhouse pairing in the new Olympic cycle.
Mike McEwen is going to throw last rocks for Reid Carruthers, who will continue to call the shots and toss third stones, starting next season. Second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson return in their respective front-end roles.
It was inevitable Carruthers and McEwen would link up on the ice and the stars finally aligned.
“He was in my wedding party for a good reason,” Carruthers said Tuesday. “We’ve been friends for a long time. We’re often referring to each other as ‘frenemies’ because we’ve played in so many big games and matches against each other. We’ve been enemies on the ice because of where we play out of and facing each other in numerous provincial finals or bonspiel matches. We’re very fiery competitors whether we’re on the ice or it’s summertime and we’re actually golfing. We definitely throw lots of jabs and barbs at each other but it’s friendly banter.
“We’re very close friends. It’s kind of a surreal feeling to think that this is actually happening and we’re finally going to give this a chance, give this a go, to curl together. It’ll be interesting to see what can come out of it.”
The 33-year-old Carruthers returned to skipping at the start of the current cycle following a successful stint playing front end for the iconic Jeff Stoughton with Brier and world championships in 2011. The all-new Team Carruthers featured third Braeden Moskowy and Samagalski and Hodgson up front. They captured the 2015 Manitoba championship in their first season together, coincidentally, defeating Team McEwen in the final.
Team Carruthers also claimed a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title at the inaugural Humpty’s Champions Cup and took the Canada Cup in 2016. They earned a second Manitoba title this season, again besting McEwen in the final. McEwen fell ill during provincial playdowns due to chickenpox and only returned for the final after being released from a hospital earlier that day.
McEwen, 37, has played with third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld for 11 seasons and just picked up their seventh career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title this past Sunday in their hometown Princess Auto Elite 10 tournament. Team McEwen won back-to-back provincial championships in 2016 and 2017, after falling in the final five times previously, and came within one victory of representing Canada at the Winter Olympics finishing runner-up to Team Kevin Koe at December’s Roar of the Rings.
Despite losing the provincial final to Carruthers, McEwen made it to the Brier edging Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson for the wild-card spot.
McEwen announced last Tuesday his team will be parting ways after this season while Carruthers also made the news Moskowy had left his squad. Carruthers is completely stoked the partnership is now happening.
“He brings a lot of knowledge, experience and obviously, passion,” Carruthers said. “He’s very passionate about curling. I know he eats, sleeps and breathes curling 24/7. Adding a guy with veteran experience, he’s been doing things exceptionally well in the game of curling for a long time. It’s going to be really interesting to see what’s going to come out of the collaboration.
“There are lots of good and bad from all of our past team experiences that we’ve done right and done wrong and can learn from and grow from. I think there’s going to be a lot of long discussions about how we want to approach it as a new team so that it’s not just Team Carruthers 2.0, it’s actually almost like a collaborated new team approach to the game.”
Going with the David Nedohin-Randy Ferbey or Jim Cotter-John Morris setup with the skip throwing third came about as a result of deciding how to bring out the best possible performance in each other.
“Being a skip and throwing last rock, sometimes you can feel the weight and the pressure of not only being the team leader but also have that last rock fall on your shoulders,” Carruthers said. “It’s not that we’re both not up to the duty, this is just one collaboration we’re going to give a try. I know we’re definitely open to different options but I think the whole idea behind it is what can we do to maximize the most out of each other and this is one way that we felt we could do that is to basically just split the roles.”
One may wonder how two of the top skips in not only the province or country but the world can get along without butting heads over a power struggle, but given they are BFFs helps as does the fact Carruthers is keeping an open mind and trusts McEwen’s judgment.
“Normally, before the skip goes to throw, they’re putting the broom down, they’re bouncing ideas off of the third, working with the third coming up with what the shot is, what line and where the broom needs to go, what weight you need to play and what’s the best shot we should be playing in this situation,” Carruthers said. “With Mike throwing the last rock, it’s going to be very important for me to take more of that third approach allowing him to go with his gut, go with what his gut is saying.
“Also, for me, I had from a time clock management perspective, now that you have two guys who normally take a lot of time before they shoot, it’s going to be important for me to go back to almost how it was with Team Stoughton where I don’t really question where the broom and the weight is, I’m in the hack almost like a front-ender for my shots. If I’m throwing third stones for this team, I feel like I’ve got a pretty comfortable guy in the house to guide what my shots are going to be.”
Team McEwen and Team Carruthers will continue with their current crews for another month with the Players’ Championship in Toronto and Humpty’s Champions Cup in Calgary wrapping up the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season next month. Stoughton threw third and called the game for Team Carruthers this past weekend at the Princess Auto Elite 10 and will be in the lineup once again for the Players’ Championship.