The Viterra Championship to crown Manitoba’s top men’s curling rink begins next Wednesday, but one of the usual favourites won’t be on the pebbled ice in Neepawa.
After making 14 straight appearances at the provincial men’s curling championship, Mike McEwen’s streak will end next week.
McEwen is curling out of Ontario this season, and he already punched his ticket to the Brier last weekend. Team McEwen won the Ontario men’s tankard to salvage what’s been a highly disappointing season so far.
“Not that many ups though, a few too many downs,” said McEwen.
You can’t even call it a roller-coaster season for McEwen and his new foursome in their first year together. They didn’t make a final in their first eight bonspiels of the season, and their ranking fell so low, they didn’t qualify for the last two Grand Slam of Curling events.
“I would say we ended up being not a greater sum than all of our parts,” McEwen said. “We were just kinda individuals, and not making each other better.
“The shot-making went down, the communication wasn’t where it needed to be, and just all those little things, we started basically not executing.”
They had to win a last-chance qualifier just to get into provincials, and despite being a four-time Manitoba champ, McEwen’s confidence was at an all-time low heading into the Ontario tankard.
“I’ll be honest, I was a little bit nervous, a little bit jittery the first game,” he said. “I felt a lot of self-doubt. Do I still have it? Can I still perform at a high level? And that doesn’t lead to playing very well when you’re questioning your own abilities.”
But after making a switch at the lead position by bringing in Joey Hart just a week before the playdowns, McEwen went on a heater, winning eight of their nine games to claim the Ontario title. Now he’ll be wearing the Ontario patch at the Brier after making seven prior Brier appearances playing out of Manitoba.
“I think it’s going to feel strange,” said McEwen. “But in a good way. Change is good.
“We’ve never felt better. We feel kinda like we got an adrenaline shot into us.”
McEwen’s career-best finish at the Brier was a third-place showing in 2017. He’s still on the quest for his first Brier title, but the now 42-year-old isn’t sure how many Briers he has left.
“Time’s ticking, I’m no Glenn Howard,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve got quite that time. Realistically it’s ticking for me – 42 is getting on the long tooth kinda thing. So who knows? I’m not going to take any more for granted that’s for sure.
“My best years and most of my years are behind me. There’s not a long window to do this.”
While the rest of Manitoba’s top curlers are gearing up for one of the biggest weeks of the year, McEwen will only be an interested observer.
“It’s really strange,” said McEwen. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to watch.”
The Viterra Championship will be held at the Yellowhead Community Rec Centre in Neepawa, Man., Feb. 7-12.
The 2023 Tim Hortons Brier will be held March 3-12 at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont.
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