OTTAWA — Don’t call it a breakthrough win for Mike McEwen.
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The Manitoba skip says anyone who’s followed curling for years knows his team is capable of winning the big game.
McEwen proved them right on Saturday, winning the biggest game of his career in Ottawa in the Roar of the Rings semifinal against Brad Gushue.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so comfortable,” McEwen said after the win.
“Being able to handle whatever anxiety was there, I’ve never been able to do it better in this arena setting under that pressure.”
It wasn’t easy, either.
Gushue and McEwen traded brilliant shots throughout the game. His big break came in the eighth end. McEwen forced Gushue into making a difficult double to score one, possibly two points.
Gushue just missed, but it was costly. McEwen stole two points and cruised down the finish to a 6-4 win.
“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Gushue said. “If he plays like that in the final he wins for fun.”
McEwen finished the game curling 88 per cent.
“I thought our patience was key in the first half. We just waited. We wiggled out of trouble at times,” McEwen said. “I came up with some key ones that maybe I haven’t made that good in a while.”
Never been to the big dance
While McEwen doesn’t like the breakthrough word, it’s somewhat fitting for what he’s embarking on.
He’s never played in a final at a Brier or at a trials. He was close at the Brier last year.
In fact, he finished first in the round robin with a 9-2 record. But then the wheels came off. He lost to Gushue in the 1 vs. 2 game. Then, in the semifinal against Kevin Koe, disaster struck.
He was in control of the game leading 5-3 with hammer in the eighth end and gave up a steal of two. The game eventually went to an extra end and McEwen gave up another steal to lose a heartbreaker.
“I wasn’t patient. I was feeling tense that game. I didn’t feel like I had the touch I wanted. There were shot calls that were forcing the issue that cost us,” McEwen said.
“There are lessons to learn from that game.”
In a lot of ways, McEwen says if they don’t get in the way of themselves and become swallowed up by the moment, they’ll win the final against Koe. He hopes some of their past lessons pay dividends when they need it the most.
“I just hope this is our time. We’ve done everything we’ve wanted to do in terms of ticking the boxes to be ready for here.”
Performing under pressure
Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert have 36 Brier appearances between them. They’ve won Briers and worlds — not to mention Kennedy and Hebert’s Olympic gold.
They have the big game experience.
On the other side, McEwen, B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld are walking into territory they’ve never been in before.
B.J. says it still hasn’t hit him that they’re playing to go to the Olympics but he loves what he’s seeing from his skip.
“Mike is a great player,” B.J. said. “He’s had some amazing games but has he had this type of game in this type of moment? Probably not. I’m glad he picked this moment to bring out his best. He’s in a really good place.”
McEwen would agree.
He said he was feeling nerves all throughout the night and into Saturday’s game. But unlike past semifinals, he found a way to push through it.
“It was nice to perform under those circumstances. It’s been a long time coming since we’ve played for a maple leaf and it’s finally here.”
He might not like the word breakthrough, but should Mike McEwen win Sunday night to represent Canada at the Olympics, there’s no other way to describe it.
It would be a breakthrough of Olympic proportion and he’d probably be okay with that.
“I think we can go out there and play free. We just have to go out there and play the shots and the outcome will be what it will be.”