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Tim Hortons Brier 2013: Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton aims to join elite company

Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton at the 2011 World Curling Championships (CP)

Quite honestly, I thought we might never actually get to talking about curling.

We did get around to it, but between guerilla marketing and acting, Jeff Stoughton had a lot to say.

In fairness, it wasn't the three-time Brier champion who brought up those topics. In fact, when I uttered the phrase "so you think you can act" to him he responded succinctly.

"Oh, crap."

The internet is a wonderful thing and it was there that I'd gotten wind of Stoughton's foray into treading the boards for charity. Okay, the internet could be more wonderful if I actually found video of his live stage performance to attach to this column (a point with which Stoughton might not actually agree). Along with a handful of other local celebrities, he decided to take up the acting challenge and step into a non-curling spotlight, to help raise funds for a Winnipeg theatre company.

Asked how long his performance lasted, the ten-time Manitoba men's curling champion laughed and replied it wasn't long enough to “put the audience to sleep. Any longer and you never know what might have happened," he cracked. "It was really fun. Had three great judges and they critiqued you after just like, you know, on any stupid show like 'American Idol' or 'X Factor' or 'So You Think You Can Dance.' It was really good."

Sounds like Stoughton may have had a tougher time getting through the Manitoba provincial championship than he did his five or six minutes on stage. True, he may have perspired more in those five minutes on stage than he did standing in the rings, as skips aren't really known for the taxing physical chores their teammates routinely tackle in a game.

A team that had been humming ended up being a bit of a surprising champion at the end of the week after a nasty flu bug ravaged vice Jon Mead and lead Mark Nichols.

“We started off our Safeway Championship really well and we were on a roll," said Stoughton of provincials. The rink had been cruising, coming off a victory at the Grand Slam event in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, in January.

"Our first four games we won quite easily and we were playing really well," recalled Stoughton. "After that, the energy was just sapped out of the team because two guys could hardly waddle. Mark even quit the first game (on the Saturday) after six ends. He was done."

It was particularly satisfying for the team that they were able to rally the next day and beat both Mike McEwen in the semi's and Sean Grassie in the final.

"It was a great team effort to grind it out and find that energy and will to win," said Stoughton. "Everyone’s healthy now so we’re looking forward to the Brier," he added with a laugh.

Onward to Edmonton and the relentless test that is the national men's curling championship, March 2nd through 10th at Rexall Place. Apart from the business of blitzing the Brier Patch with a few hundred Team Stoughton beer cozies as part of a team photo contest, there is the matter of chasing a fourth Tankard. If he gets it, Stoughton will join Randy Ferbey, Ernie Richardson and Kevin Martin as the only skips to do so.

"I think later on, when I’m done playing competitively, it would be pretty special to have number four," said Stoughton, before adding that thoughts like that aren't really on his radar at this time. "I think any time you’re competing you want to win. Whether it’s number one or number ten or whatever it happens to be, we’re all competitors and we all want to win."

Number three came just two years ago for Stoughton - his first title since 1999. Last season wasn't so successful, however, with the team getting bounced at provincials.

Looking to recapture the winning formula, Stoughton made a big change to his team heading into 2012-13. After letting longtime lead Steve Gould go, he lured Nichols out of early retirement and asked him to take Gould's old spot. Previously, Nichols had an impressive resume as a vice, having played with Brad Gushue for years and winning a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics.

"It’s working out great," declared Stoughton, when asked how Nichols was handling dropping down to lead. "He’s got a great attitude and he jumped all over the position to be the best lead there is out there and he’s done it. Just an awesome dedication and commitment to the sport by Mark."

"Great player. Great teammate. Couldn’t have asked for anything more."

The team from Manitoba is one of the favourites to finish atop Brier Mountain this year and beyond that, they'll set their sights on the Olympic Trials next December in Winnipeg. Unless Stoughton's really caught the acting bug and is willing to toss it all for the footlights. How did he do in "so you think you can act," anyway?

“Finished third!" he blurted out proudly. "Came in third. I was pretty happy.”

I think it's safe to say that if Jeff Stoughton repeats that standing at The Brier, he won't be nearly so thrilled.

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