Mike McEwen, BJ Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld are going back to the Brier.
The Fort Rouge foursome, who uncharacteristically struggled for the first couple of months of the curling season, successfully defended their Manitoba championship Sunday in Portage la Prairie.
McEwen defeated Reid Carruthers of West St. Paul 8-7 in the final of the 2017 Viterra Championship.
“Feels even better than the first one,” said McEwen. “That's the best we've ever played start to finish in a provincial championship. I knew it still might not be enough. It's a shame that only one of us can go. They're a tremendous team.”
“It's the difference, how much more united we felt after getting to the cliff, feeling like it was done and being able to turn it around,” added McEwen. “It's feels so much more satisfying than even that huge hurdle we had last year which obviously wasn't a small feat for us to get through that, but this feels even better.”
Carruthers, Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson lost just one game all week at Stride Place and unfortunately for the West St. Paul foursome it just so happened to be the last one.
“My team played really well,” said Carruthers who beat McEwen in the 2015 final in Brandon. “I played pretty good during the heart of the week but this is probably the worst game for myself. Not to take away from the way McEwen's team played because they were really hard to beat today no matter how I was playing.”
The pivotal end proved to be the eighth for the second day in a row.
A hit for four by McEwen gave the 2016 champions an 8-5 lead playing nine.
“It kind of came a little bit out of nowhere,” said Denni Neufeld. “I wasn't expecting that we were going to get three or four that end. But a couple of miscues from Reid, his rocks not curling enough on him and going a little deep gave us that opportunity. We jumped on it.”
It was an eighth end pick on his last rock draw attempt that played a role in McEwen's 4-2 loss to Carruthers in the 1-2 page playoff game on Saturday night.
That forced McEwen, Neufeld, Wozniak and Neufeld to set their alarms early Sunday morning for a semifinal match with Trevor Loreth of the Granite.
McEwen dominated winning 8-2.
“We looked at it as a positive getting a chance to play this morning with those rocks that we knew we were going to have in this game.” said Wozniak. “If we're not going to win the semi, we weren't playing good enough to win the final anyways. We looked at it as a positive. Had a great outlook on that morning game and came out and obviously play great.”
The Fort Rouge foursome will be looking to improve on their fourth place finish at last years Brier in Ottawa when they head off to St. John's next month for their second trip to the Canadian Men's Curling Championship.
“It's great to know exactly what it's all about,” said BJ Neufeld. “The little curve balls that we might get, we're going to be a little bit more prepared for them. It's such a long week and I don't think we realized how long it is and how taxing it is. You're standing around so much. We'll be a little bit better prepared to handle it.”
It was McEwen's fourth straight appearance in the final of the Manitoba Men's Curling Championship and he joins Bruce Hudson as the only skip since at least 1945 to play in four consecutive finals. Hudson won the British Consols in 1964 and 1967 and lost the final in 1965 to Terry Braunstein and again in 1966 to Hersh Lerner.
The 2018 Viterra Championship will be held in Winkler.