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Winnipeg’s McEwen embracing Saskatchewan green in attempt to end Brier drought

Team Mike McEwen Saskatchewan Team Mike McEwen (Saskatchewan) - Curling Canada

REGINA – As Mike McEwen and Team Saskatchewan continue their hunt for the province’s first Brier Tankard in 44 years, the rink from the Saskatoon’s Nutana Curling Club received an extra jolt of motivation after a chance meeting with a curling legend. 

Ernie Richardson, who won four Brier and world titles with his brother and cousins from 1959-63, is curling royalty in Saskatchewan – and all of Canada for that matter.  

“The curling community is fantastic, and he might be the king of the curling community in Canada,” said Saskatchewan coach Brent Laing.

The 92-year-old has been in Regina this week at the Montana’s Brier and has watched McEwen’s foursome – including third Colton Flasch and the front-end duo of twin brothers Kevin and Daniel Marsh – perform right alongside Canada's best at Brandt Centre. 

Team McEwen ran into the Hall of Famer on Tuesday night in their hotel lobby. 

“It was really neat to meet somebody who’s still so passionate about curling, and man is he still sharp,” McEwen said. “He’s quite the individual. It’s really good hearing his words of encouragement and just how invested he still is at his age. He’s in his early 90s and just loves the sport.”

“He’s going to go down as one of the best curlers Saskatchewan has probably ever seen,” Flasch added. “It was really cool meeting him. He’s getting up there in age and he has not lost anything. He’s smart as a whip.” 

Team McEwen improved to 5-1 after a convincing win over Northwest Territories on Wednesday morning before clinching the top seed in Pool B with a victory against last-place Nunavut in the evening. They finish the round-robin on Thursday afternoon against 2-5 Quebec. 

During his brief time wearing Saskatchewan green and meeting legends like Richardson, McEwen, a Winnipegger, is starting to gain a greater appreciation for how much curling is in the blood of those who live in the Prairie province. 

“I think I’m seeing just how deep curling runs in this province. I think we’re feeling it from the fans. It’s just so much broad support,” said McEwen. “I think I expected that to some degree, but it’s exceeded those expectations. It’s wildly exceeded. I wasn’t sure how they would embrace a Manitoban. They’ve been amazing. I’ve played some home Briers, but jeez, this one feels really good.” 

McEwen, 43, is making his ninth career appearance at the Canadian men’s curling championship and is now the only curler in history to skip three different provinces at this event.

He wore the Buffalo for his native Manitoba the first six times before dawning the Ontario red and black as the hometown team at last year’s Brier in London, Ont. He made an impressive run to the playoffs before running out of gas in the 3 vs. 4 page playoff against Alberta’s Team Brendan Bottcher. 

McEwen has embraced the extra attention that comes with skipping Saskatchewan in Regina. The media bench and stands at Brandt Centre are a little fuller when McEwen’s rink is on the ice, but that hasn’t affected his play to this point in the slightest. 

“Mike’s playing really well,” remarked Flasch, 33, who won a Brier title with Team Kevin Koe in 2019. “The look in Mike’s eye, he can’t miss a shot right now.”

McEwen was shooing 91 per cent for the tournament following Wednesday’s morning draw, the best among skips. 

“I’ve seen a confident Mike McEwen. I saw that at the Brier last year too. Mike played really well at the Brier,” remarked Laing, a four-time Brier champ who played for McEwen last season. “I see Mike McEwen the leader of Team Sask., and he’s got a team that really supports him and wants him in that role, and I think that’s good for him.”

McEwen has always been one of the more passionate personalities in curling, wearing his emotions on his sleeve in good times and bad. Being the import player on this new-look squad, McEwen has mentioned numerous times this week how his teammates have allowed him to be “genuine Mike” and how that’s helped his performance.

“I’ve played with great people through my career. But, coming into that tight unit with the Marsh brothers and Colton being such good friends, it’s special. It’s definitely special,” McEwen said. “It reminds me of an older team that I played on a while back.” 

McEwen had some of the best years of his career during his decade-long run with Manitoba’s B. J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld, highlighted by a silver-medal showing at the 2017 Olympic Trials and a pair of playoff appearances at the Brier. 

“These guys get along really well,” Laing said of McEwen’s current team. “They have a great team culture, team camaraderie, and they all know their roles really well. And Mike’s the leader. As he goes, the team goes.”

The Drought 

Richardson skipped Saskatchewan to four of its seven Brier championships, but he wasn’t the most recent to do it.

The answer to that trivia question is Rick Folk, who accomplished the feat when his Saskatoon foursome defeated Northern Ontario’s Team Al Hackner in the 1980 final at the Stampede Corral in Calgary. 

Four and a half decades is a long time and Team Saskatchewan knows what it would mean to the fans of the roaring game in this province if they can find a way to do it. 

“It’s the drought, right? Lots of people in Saskatchewan talk about it and this is a curling hotbed,” said Laing, a 45-year-old native of Meaford, Ont. “To see the fans, they’re dying for somebody to make a run, and whether or not we finish on top of the podium, the fans will be great and will be behind us. I think it would be pretty cool for these guys to be that team that breaks that drought. Kind of like long after I die, and the Leafs win the Stanley Cup. That team will be pretty cool too.”

Coming into this year’s Regina Brier, Saskatchewan was 560-386 over 946 games in the round-robin. They are only 6-16 in the playoffs. 

Team McEwen is hoping to add a few more wins to that total by the end of the weekend.