It was the archetypal match-up: the upstarts against the veterans; the Red Bull-drinking, super-fit foursome from Northern Ontario versus three-time Brier champion Jeff Stoughton and his Manitoba mates.
One team had to fight its way from the 3-4 playoff game and through a semi-final to reach the championship finale of the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier. The other won the 1-2 game and took a direct route to the final. The smart money was on Stoughton to turn up the heat on his younger rivals and slide to a fourth Tankard.
It turned out the smart money wasn’t so bright.
With a charged-up 27-year-old skip, two brothers and a seasoned third, the Northern Ontario rink of Brad Jacobs, E.J. and Ryan Harnden and Ryan Fry capped their remarkable run at Rexall Place with an 11-4 triumph. It marked only the second time in history that a team coming out of the 3-4 game had gone on to claim the Canadian men’s curling title. (Alberta’s Kevin Koe was the first to do it in 2010.)
The outcome also earned Northern Ontario its fifth Brier and its first since 1985 when Thunder Bay’s Al Hackner defeated Alberta’s Pat Ryan.
“Really overwhelming what’s going on,” Jacobs said of the victory. “I’m so proud of the guys for curling the way they did. We’re Brier champions. It’s a dream come true. This is what we wanted ever since we were kids. “
Jacobs and his team from Sault Ste. Marie had come to northern Alberta intent on taking no prisoners. In 2010, his first appearance as a Brier skip, Jacobs churned out a 9-2 record and won the bronze-medal game. He wanted more. The next two years proved to be discouraging, what with Jacobs failing to make the playoffs both times. He figured the team needed a spark, something or someone to augment their furious off-ice training. The solution was to recruit Fry to play third.
Fry, whose dad Barry won a Brier in 1979, had previously curled for two of the top skips in the game, Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue and Stoughton. Fry’s savvy and shot making proved to be the right ingredients throughout the round-robin play here –Northern Ontario beat Manitoba 9-4 in eight ends – as well as the playoffs.
“We played amazing throughout these playoffs,” Jacobs said. “We were the underdogs the whole way. We never had hammers. To come out and do what we did is just phenomenal.”
Facing the venerable Stoughton, Northern Ontario got some early breaks and exploited them to the fullest. In the first end, Manitoba had the hammer but Northern Ontario wound up stealing two. In the second end, Stoughton missed two throws and surrendered another point. Jacobs was up 3-0 without having the hammer.
In the third, Stoughton adjusted his GPS and made a shot to count two and narrow the gap. But Jacobs answered back immediately with a fourth-end shot that scored three and put his side comfortably ahead. As he watched the stones settle in the house, Jacobs raised his right arm and thrust his index finger in the arm to signify who was No. 1.
“We were behind the eight ball,” Stoughton said of his team’s ice-cold start. “I let that one go [in the fourth end] thinking it was pretty good,. Then Brad made a great shot and that made it difficult to come back.”
The rest of the game was a Northern Ontario countdown. When the bagpipes started playing after eight ends, and the Tankard was carried into the arena by RCMP officers, Jacobs and his teammates snuck a peak before looking away.
For winning the Brier, the Jacobs rink received $40,000 in prize money, $10,000 for wearing the Tim Hortons crest at the world championship (to be held in Victoria later this month) and is also eligible for $184,000 in Sport Canada/Own The Podium funding over a two-year period.
While disappointed over the loss, Stoughton now sets his sights on the Canadian Olympic trials set for Winnipeg this December. The 49-year-old financial systems manager for Air Canada has competed in all four of the previous Olympic trials. He lost in the 2005 final to Gushue, who went on to win Olympic gold in Turn, Italy in 2006.