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