McEwen ready for Brier spotlight as host Saskatchewan's skip
A Manitoba curling proverb is "the buffalo feels heavy." Expectations are high for curlers from that province on the national and international stage.
But what about representing another avid curling province that hasn't won a Brier in over 40 years?
Mike McEwen has played in seven Canadian men's curling championships for Manitoba. He's about to experience wearing Saskatchewan colours in Regina at the 2024 Montana's Brier.
The last Saskatchewan team to win a Brier was Rick Folk's in 1980.
McEwen, vice Colton Flasch and front-end brothers Kevin and Daniel Marsh will attempt to end Saskatchewan's drought and do it on home ice March 1-10 at the Brandt Centre.
"Versus adding pressure and anxiety and things like that, I think it actually adds more excitement," McEwen said. "I'm still chasing that childhood dream of winning my first, so having that kind of storyline in the background gets me even more excited."
The 43-year-old from Brandon, Man., skipped a Manitoba team at the Brier seven straight years from 2016 and 2022 — four times as provincial champion and three times as a wild-card entry.
His best record in that span was 10-4 to finish third in 2017. McEwen also lost to Kevin Koe in the Olympic trials men's final that year.
McEwen skipped Ontario comprised of Ryan Fry, Brent Laing and Joey Hart in last year's Brier in London, Ont. They reached the playoffs and lost to Brendan Bottcher in the Page game between the third and fourth seeds.
McEwen has won three straight championships in three different provinces (Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan), which makes him the first man to skip three different provinces at a Brier.
"It's definitely not something I set out to do," McEwen said. "If that's a statistic, a weird one that my name is beside, I guess that's kind of cool. I'm not going to view it as a bad thing."
Curler migration accelerated after 2015 when Curling Canada started allowing teams to import one player from outside the province or territory for playdowns.
Brad Jacobs, who skipped Northern Ontario a dozen years at the Brier, is a favourite to win Manitoba this week.
McEwen is well-versed in competing for a host province, having done it in London and in 2019 in Brandon, Man.
"I'm aware being next door to Saskatchewan how dedicated sports fans are in the province whether it's curling or football," McEwen said.
"Even my mom's got a green Sask hoodie that says 'Mike's mom' on her sleeves, so she's in. Everybody's sucking it up. They're putting on green."
Flasch and the Marsh brothers had a solid 2022 Brier run in Lethbridge, Alta., with third Catlin Schneider. Flasch narrowly lost to eventual champion Brad Gushue in the Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds.
With Fry retiring from curling to coach and Laing mulling his curling future last year, McEwen needed a team. Flasch's team parted company with Schneider and the skip moved down the lineup to make way for McEwen. Three-time world champion Laing is the team's coach.
The new foursome out of Saskatoon's Nutana Curling Club posted a 41-24 record in a heavy schedule of 12 tour events this season. They went 7-0 to win Saskatchewan's championship.
"Should we get into a big playoff game, we're not going to look like deer in the headlights. We're going to be ready for the moment," McEwen said.
McEwen's wife Dawn won an Olympic gold medal in 2014 as well as a pair of world titles playing lead for Jennifer Jones. The curling couple have two daughters: Vienna, 8, and Avalon, 2.
"Not everybody can play as long as Glenn Howard," McEwen said. "Vienna is at the age where she'll remember this into adulthood. I'm excited as a dad to have her have the experience of watching me play.'
"The opportunity to inspire your own kids, that gets me really going. I hope she has a blast at the Brier."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version of a story that moved Feb. 8. Corrects spelling of Catlin Schneider in paragraph 17.