Dialled-in Carruthers team locks up spot in Viterra Championship final

Since Thursday, Reid Carruthers and his team have outscored opponents 51-13 in rolling to the final, which goes this afternoon. They face either Jason Gunnlaugson or William Lyburn. (Nathan Liewicki/Postmedia Network)

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VIRDEN — An early blip at the Viterra Championship is just a distant memory now for Reid Carruthers and his dialled-in team from Winnipeg.

The top-seeded Carruthers foursome, with Mike McEwen skipping, reeled off its sixth straight victory Saturday night against second seed Jason Gunnlaugson to book a spot in Sunday provincial men’s curling championship final.

Carruthers lost to Brandon’s Terry McNamee on Thursday but since then his team has outscored opponents 51-13 in rolling to the final.

“I felt like we were pretty solid, especially the last two days,” Carruthers said. “I’m very happy about how we’re playing and very excited and nervous about (Sunday).”

The defending champions will take on either Gunnlaugson or William Lyburn in the final at 2:30 p.m., at Tundra Oil & Gas Place.

Carruthers, who beat Gunnlaugson 9-2 in Saturday’s 1 vs. 2 game, will have hammer in the first end of the final and choice of rocks.

Gunnlaugson lost his only game of the tournament so far but gets another chance in Sunday morning’s semifinal against Lyburn.

“You never like losing and you want hammer against top teams … it’s very important,” Gunnlaugson said. “But on the other hand, if anything, the format punishes the team that goes through the 1-2 game (because they don’t get a second chance) so that’s not us this year and hopefully we can have a great regroup and a good plan coming in to the game (Sunday) morning and be really strong and get back to that final.”

McEwen will play in the final for the fifth straight year — a Manitoba record — and for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Several of those finals featured Carruthers and McEwen going head-to-head, but this year they decided to join forces and are now just one win away from winning their first provincial title together and representing Manitoba at the Brier in Brandon, March 2-10.

It has been a rocky road to this point for the new partners, along with second Derek Samagalski and Colin Hodgson, but things seem to be going very well now.

“It’s a different team right now,” Carruthers said. “It’s understanding the ice. The ice is good, it’s moving lots and with the way it’s moving you have to throw it a certain way and I think we’ve now dialled in what that looks like. I feel like we’re making a lot more shots.”

McEwen was on fire in the 1 vs. 2 game. His team won the draw-to-the button before the game to earn hammer in the first end and used it well, putting up a deuce right away. They scored another deuce in the third and stole two in the fourth for a 6-1 lead that pretty much spelled the end for Gunnlaugson.

“The stats say it’s important to have hammer in the first for sure,” Carruthers said. “You feel a little bit of a momentum when you get that. You know you have the hammer, so it’s a good feeling. I don’t know if it’s a little bit of a mental edge but when you’re playing against a really good team it’s always good to get off to a really good start.”

Gunnlaugson said it’s very hard to come back when the five-rock free-guard zone is in play and the ice is as tricky as it has been this week in Virden.

“It’s just kind of the way the game is,” said Gunnlaugson, who curls with Alex Forrest, Denni Neufeld and Connor Njegovan. “If you look across the line scores in all the provincials, you just see with the five-rock when people get down they just keep going aggressive because they’re forced to, and the other team keeps piling it on and that’s kind of what happened. The other team had some nice rock position, we were chasing a few ends.”

Lyburn won a wild 3 vs. 4 game against Tanner Lott, building up a 6-2 lead through six ends, falling behind 7-6 through nine and scoring two with the hammer in the 10th to advance to the provincial semifinal for the third time in his career.

Though he gave up a steal of two in eight and another steal in nine to fall behind, Lyburn got a brilliant shot from third Daley Peters in the 10th to set up the winning points.

Peters had to hit about three-quarters of a rock, tap it back right to the button and bounce it a little bit for the Lyburn team to sit two behind cover. Lott was never able to recover from that.

“It was just one of those shots, he couldn’t have made it any better,” said Lyburn, who also curls with Kyle Doering and Brendan Bilawka. “It put them in real trouble. I was just super proud of him.”

Lyburn, who lost semifinals in 2012 (Rob Fowler) and 2014 (McEwen), was having all kinds of trouble before Peters’ shot saved the day.

“I struggled, got some thoughts in my head and I started to leak some oil late,” said Lyburn, who had to win three games Saturday to stay alive. “But the experience of young Daley Peters really came through there in the last couple of ends. He just kept telling me, ‘It’s all good,’ and the boys were all behind me.

“It was the shot of our year that we’ve had. It’s just nice that it’s one of those soft touch shots. Daley’s known for his big-weight game, so just super proud of him trusting his soft game.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

AT A GLANCE

Viterra Championship, at Virden, Feb. 6-10

SATURDAY SCORES

Playoff round

A-side

Carruthers 7 Chambers 0

Gunnlaugson 8 Calvert 5

B-side (Loser out)

Lyburn 8 David Bohn 6

Lott 10 Sigurdson 2

2 p.m. Draw

B-side (loser out)

Lyburn 6 Chambers 2

Lott 12 Calvert 3

6 p.m. Draw

A-side

Carruthers 9 Gunnlaugson 2

B-side

Lyburn 8 Lott 7

Sunday games

Semifinal, 8:30 a.m.

Gunnlaugson vs. Lyburn

Final, 2:30 p.m.

Carruthers vs. Gunnlaugson or Lyburn

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