McEwen rink eyes Olympic qual­i­fier

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - MIKE SAWATZKY mike.sawatzky@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @sawa14

IKE McEwen has been around long enough and he’s learned not to fret too much about re­sults early in the curl­ing sea­son.

As one the top con­tenders vy­ing to rep­re­sent Canada at the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics, he has big­ger fish to fry.

“It was a pretty good start, we made the fi­nal in our first event in Septem­ber,” the Fort Rouge skip said ear­lier this week. “One re­ally good re­sult and a bit of a mixed re­sult. Not to worry, it’s early. Now we’re ramp­ing up to play three re­ally big events in the next four weeks.”

In Septem­ber, McEwen and rink­mates B.J. Neufeld, Matt Woz­niak and Denni Neufeld reached the fi­nal of the World Curl­ing Tour’s AMJ Camp­bell Shorty Jenk­ins Classic in Corn­wall, Ont., be­fore los­ing to for­mer Cana­dian and Olympic champ Brad Ja­cobs. Last week­end, McEwen’s gang fin­ished

11th at the Col­lege Clean Restora­tion Classic.

McEwen, whose squad will play the Canad Inns Classic in Portage la Prairie be­gin­ning to­day, has been big on build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and one of the best re­sumés in the sport.

Af­ter los­ing his fifth pro­vin­cial fi­nal in six years in 2015, McEwen broke through with his first Man­i­toba ti­tle in 2016 and an­other in 2017. Two trips to the Brier fol­lowed, in­clud­ing last spring’s first-place fin­ish in the round robin be­fore he was forced to set­tle for bronze in the play­offs.

McEwen’s team is now firmly es­tab­lished as one of the sport’s heavy hit­ters and their ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence should play a big part in how they pre­pare for the road ahead, which will cul­mi­nate with the Roar of the Rings Olympic qual­i­fier Dec. 2-10 in Ottawa.

“This is our 11th year to­gether, so for us, it’s re­ally about the plan­ning stage of it,” McEwen said. “How do we put the best ver­sion of our­selves out there? So sched­ul­ing goes into that.

MWe def­i­nitely don’t play as much as we used to... but we try to be re­ally sharp at each event we are at­tend­ing. “I’m not con­cerned about out­come at this point, but hav­ing said that, Portage is im­por­tant to us. It’s one of the events we iden­ti­fied in our sched­ule as tak­ing very se­ri­ously and tak­ing a test run on how we pre­pare for our pre-game and post-game meet­ings.”

McEwen’s chief ri­val on the Man­i­toba scene is Reid Carruthers of West St. Paul, the man who beat him in the pro­vin­cial fi­nal in 2015. McEwen out­lasted Carruthers in the 2017 pro­vin­cial fi­nal, but both rinks will be strong con­tenders in Ottawa.

“This is the first time that three of my play­ers have been in an Olympic tri­als,” said Carruthers, who was a mem­ber of Jeff Stoughton’s team at the last Olympic tri­als. “I know how tough it can be on the mind and body. I want them to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence the best they can, and if it works out our way and we get on a roll and beat some amaz­ing teams, you might find your­self in the fi­nal on Sun­day. But build­ing too much em­pha­sis on it is some­thing I tried not to do.”

Team Carruthers, with rink­mates Brae­den Moskowy, Derek Sa­m­a­gal­ski and Colin Hodg­son, is start­ing its fourth sea­son to­gether.

“We’re typ­i­cally one of the teams, for what­ever rea­son, that starts a lit­tle bit slow,” the 32-year-old Carruthers said. “But the last cou­ple of events we’ve played pretty well and we’re turn­ing the cor­ner and head­ing in the di­rec­tion we want to be. It’s small steps. We want to peak for De­cem­ber, ob­vi­ously. For us, it’s stick to the process. We’ve been work­ing re­ally hard in the off-sea­son and lots of prac­tices, so I’m sure the re­sults will fol­low.”

For McEwen, now 37, the years of at­ten­tion to fit­ness will al­low his squad to fo­cus on re­main­ing strong dur­ing a marathon event such as the Olympic tri­als.

“Our ap­proach is def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent than the last time around,” McEwen said. “Hav­ing a Brier or two has def­i­nitely shown us what it takes to win a big event — like a Brier or a tri­als. And not hav­ing gone through those big, long events, the Brier or th­ese tri­als, which will be over nine days long, if that’s your first exposure to that length of com­pe­ti­tion, I think that would be a bit of a chal­lenge.

“I feel like this is the first tri­als where we’re re­al­is­ti­cally pre­pared and have the abil­ity to win. I couldn’t say that the last time around.”

Carruthers has the same sort of ex­pec­ta­tions for his rink and they have the sup­port of Dan Carey, who is be­gin­ning his third sea­son as the team’s coach, and fifth man Craig Sav­ille. Carruthers be­lieves he and his team­mates can’t help but be in­spired by Sav­ille’s re­mark­able story of re­cov­ery from Hodgkin lym­phoma, with the cancer now in re­mis­sion.

“Curl­ing teams are built on four-year cy­cles and we wanted to be the best ver­sions of our­selves in year four,” said Carruthers, who won last year’s tour event in Portage. “Each year, we’ve taken a few things to fo­cus on, work on and get bet­ter at. At the end of last year, sweep­ing, tech­ni­cal, how we’re throw­ing the rock is right on par with where I’d hoped we’d be at. And now we’ve got a few lit­tle things to tweak to put our best foot for­ward in Ottawa.”

Should an Olympic berth elude them in the four-man event, Carruthers and McEwen will have the pos­si­bil­ity of the mixed-dou­bles com­pe­ti­tion in their back pocket. Carruthers, along with team­mate Joanne Courtney, won the sil­ver medal at the world cham­pi­onship ear­lier this year and they have qual­i­fied for the na­tional mixed Olympic tri­als, slated for Jan. 3-7 in Portage. Mean­while, McEwen and his wife, Dawn McEwen, the lead on Jen­nifer Jones’ defending Olympic cham­pion rink, are vir­tu­ally cer­tain to be awarded a berth for the mixed tri­als.

TREVOR HA­GAN / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mike McEwen watches as Reid Carruthers sets up a shot at the Viterra Cham­pi­onship in Portage la Prairie in Fe­bru­ary.

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