Jeff Stoughton can finally exhale.
The Winnipeg skip defeated Glenn Howard 4-3 on Sunday to win his first Capital One Canada Cup of Curling and book a spot at the Roar of the Rings Olympic trials next December in Winnipeg.
“It’s been a tough grind this last week and I’m really proud of the guys,” Stoughton said. “I think it’s going to hit us in the next week that we finally did it and we don’t have to worry about anything at all for the rest of the year. Of course we want to go back to the Brier, but I think it’s going to be less stressful because we’ve got this spot. So yeah, it’s a relief.”
Howard, meanwhile, overcame an 0-2 start to get to the title game after beating Mike McEwen 9-6 in Saturday’s semi-final.
Stoughton was the best team all week and earned a bye to the final after a 5-1 record in the round robin.
“It’s great that we peaked and performed at the right time at the right place,” said Stoughton, who had never advanced to a Canada Cup final before.“ It’s a great feeling.”
In the women’s final, Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton defeated a Jennifer Jones rink from Winnipeg skipped by Kaitlyn Lawes by a count of 6-4.
The men’s final was a low-scoring affair as both teams made some great shots to limit their opponent’s chances at a big end.
Howard’s Coldwater, Ont., rink scored two in the seventh to tie the game 3-3 and forced Stoughton to make a superb final shot to blank the end to retain the hammer in the ninth.
“We had our chances,” Howard said. “To force him to one in nine would have been huge. He got his blank and Mark (Nichols) made two great pick shots in 10.”
Nichols is Stoughton’s lead and the former third for Brad Gushue’s gold-medal Olympic team. He moved to Winnipeg to joined Stoughton rink this season and in the 10th end he made a pair of perfect picks on a pair of guards to open up the house for Stoughton’s final shot.
“As soon as we signed Mark on, we said our first objective was to win the Canada Cup,” Stoughton said. “When he makes those it makes my job a lot easier. Though now the pressure is really on me because I should hopefully have a pretty easy shot to win the game.
“Mark’s been making those all year. He’s been phenomenal. We’ve been keeping track and he’s only missed it once.”
Neither side missed many shots all afternoon with Howard’s foursome shooting 88 per cent and Stoughton’s checking in at 87 per cent.
“It was a great game,” said Howard, whose team secured a spot at the Olympic trials for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, last season. “I’m proud of the boys. We started off rough this week and we came back. I’m really happy for Jeff and the boys too. They’re a great team and they deserve to go to the trials.”
Lawton, meanwhile, was ecstatic to have clinched a spot at next year’s trials.
“It’s huge,” Lawton said clinching a spot. “You count points all year — the last couple of years — to get that berth. We don’t have to worry about counting points, and where you’re ranking ... For sure, that feels really good.”
Lawes is handling skip duties for Jones’ rink after she gave birth to a baby girl two weeks ago and is also recovering from knee surgery.