PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE – A month ago they were contemplating breaking up the band but now they’re back to back provincial champs.
Playing in his seventh provincial final in the last eight years, Mike McEwen earned an 8-7 victory to hand Reid Carruthers his first loss of the week. Team McEwen becomes just the fifth team to repeat as Manitoba men’s champions. They join an exclusive list of repeat champions that includes only Jeff Stoughton, Vic Peters, Don Duguid and Ken Watson.
“Feels even better than the first one.” McEwen said. “That’s the best we’ve ever played start to finish in a provincial championship.”
A year ago it was relief when McEwen finally broke thru after losing in five previous finals, but this time it’s jubilation.
“It was almost like we were unshackled.” said McEwen. “The enjoyment level is way higher. It was a lot of relief last year and I think I can speak for the other guys, we really enjoyed this provincial championship like never before.”
The championship game featured four different lead changes and it wasn’t until the eighth end when McEwen seized control, executing a perfect double takeout to score four.
“That’s the ball game right there.” McEwen said. “It was a game that could have gone either way.”
The victory salvaged what has otherwise been a disappointing season for McEwen’s foursome. They even discussed parting ways after a decade together and came really close to splitting up.
“If you took a step we were gonna fall off. We were done. We had to heal a bit as a team and become a bit more human and it was just amazing the turnaround and to see that we actually did care about this team still.” said McEwen. “The difference, how much more united we felt after getting to the cliff, feeling like it was done. Being able to turn it around, it feels so much more satisfying than even that huge hurdle we had last year.”
“We had a chat and decided to give it a good go and sorta change our outlook on this team and it’s obviously paid off.” said McEwen’s second Matt Wozniak.
“We just found a way to support each other, be there for each other and put aside any differences that we had.” said third BJ Neufeld. “And then get some good momentum going and it’s been building for the last couple weeks.”
The game was a rematch of the 2015 final where Carruthers won his first playdowns as a skip. And for Carruthers, he misses out on a fifth purple heart after winning his first three with Jeff Stoughton.
“Ì played pretty good during the heart of the week but this is probably the worst game for myself.” Carruthers said. “Not to take away from the way McEwen’s team played, cause they were really hard to beat today no matter how I was playing.”
McEwen along with third BJ Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld will now look to upgrade on last year’s fourth place finish at the Brier when the bonspiel kicks off on March 4 in St. John’s, NL.
WATCH: Viterra Championship Post Game Report