Sports

Hollywood story falls just short, Carruthers wins

Paul Friesen, Postmedia Network

Reid Carruthers from the East St. Paul Curling Club won the provincial curling championship Feb. 4.

Reid Carruthers from the East St. Paul Curling Club won the provincial curling championship Feb. 4.

If Hollywood script writers were involved, the patient would have ripped out his IV, jumped off the gurney and arrived at the big game just in time to lead his team to victory.
 

The only part of that crazy story that didn’t happen here, Feb. 4, was the last part.
Skip Mike McEwen, hospitalized for three days with a severe case of chickenpox, made a dramatic return to the final of the provincial curling championship, but it wasn’t enough to get past rival Reid Carruthers and win his third straight title.
Carruthers, the No. 2 seed, needed his last rock of the 10th end to eke out a 7-6 victory, punching his ticket to the Brier in Regina, early next month.
But the guts of this story took place behind the scenes, where McEwen, covered in itchy pox, was hooked up intravenously and taking meds, even to sleep, in an unusually harsh reaction to a viral infection he never had as a kid.
Missing all but the first game and all but counted out of the final by his own teammates, McEwen, 37, was discharged from the hospital Sunday morning and showed up at the arena for the pre-game afternoon practice.
 

“I was almost speechless,” Carruthers said. “I wouldn’t quite say I saw a ghost, but it was that feeling... it makes for one heck of a story.”
Carruthers, who won this thing three years ago, actually had an inkling his buddy might pull it off.
“I had texted him this morning,” Carruthers said. “And got one line back. We normally text a lot, so it made me wonder: does that mean this guy is getting suited up?
“Sure enough.”
 

Carruthers, 33, had another feeling when he saw McEwen: that suddenly he faced a whole new animal.
 

“Now we’ve got to play against the No. 1 team in Canada with their skipper back,” he said. “It’s almost like they had that momentum of just the story behind them.”
The crowd of some 700 in the 1,100-seat Centennial Arena ate it up, showering McEwen with applause for his first slide of practice, and every ensuing chance they got.
 

The pressure, Carruthers felt, was on him and teammates Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson.
They came through -- just barely.
Leads of 2-0, 4-2 and 6-3 vanished, and it was 6-6, coming home.
 

McEwen, calling the game but throwing third rocks, wasn’t his usual self. He even mentioned it to Carruthers early in the game.
 

“You could tell that if Mike was feeling normal they would have put a lot more pressure on us,” Carruthers said. “He played really, really well, considering the circumstances he was put in.”
McEwen’s third, B.J. Neufeld, who’d skipped the team to the final with a performance that earned him all-star recognition, says adding one of the top players in the world, 100 percent or not, was a no-brainer.
 

“It gave us the extra sweeper, it gave us the extra mind during the game,” Neufeld, who is from Gimli, said. “I wouldn’t go back and change that decision. Even with a guy that sat for so long, he still made some key shots. He helped with decisions and where to put the broom, so it was great to have him out there.”
 

The team’s decision was probably made easier by Saturday night’s 7-3 loss to Carruthers in the 1-2 game. Judging by the score in the final, the skipper made a difference.
 

Neufeld called the performance “courageous.”
“Gutsy -- exclamation point,” was Carruthers’ description.
 

You could also use the term “hard-luck.”
This was, after all, McEwen’s sixth loss in a Manitoba final.
This one, while it stings, hurts maybe a touch less than the others, Neufeld acknowledged, because of the drama they overcame this week.
Not only that, they’ll have a second chance at the Brier, through the new wildcard game on the Friday of the national championship.
As the No. 1 team in Canada, McEwen, Neufeld, his brother Denni and Matt Wozniak are in – it’s just a matter of whom they’ll play.
 

The only way this finals loss resembled the worst of McEwen’s other provincial heartbreaks was his decision to not speak with reporters when it was over.
The reason, though, wasn’t bitterness, but exhaustion, both physical and emotional.
 

“He’s weak, he’s got pox all over himself,” Neufeld said. “He’s being pretty vulnerable just being here, just playing the game. He was drugged and on IV’s, and it’s been pretty tough.”
 

It was quite a story, though.
One that may well have another chapter at the Brier.



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