KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Two-time world champion Jeff Stoughton needed an extra end to grind out a 7-6 win over the Northwest-Yukon Territories Sunday afternoon at the Canadian men's curling championship.
It might not have been pretty but, with a loss for John Morris and his B.C. squad, Stoughton and Manitoba claimed sole possession of first place as the only unbeaten squad at the Tim Hortons Brier with three straight wins.
"A little surprise we're the only ones," Stoughton said, starting to add they were lucky to win before checking himself.
"We hung in there and battled and made a couple of shots finally in 9, 10 and 11 and got the W," he said instead. "We know we can play a heck of a lot better than that. . . We were just missing too many draws heavy today and finally got it together late in the game. . . . If we're a little off, as we've been, we're squeaking by."
Stoughton is set to play winless New Brunswick Sunday night.
Morris and his B.C. rink fell 7-4 to Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard after Menard jumped into an early lead with a four in the first end, thanks to a packed four-foot that Morris couldn't clear.
"Four was like a blessing from heaven," said the Quebec skip, adding that they thought they might end up with two or maybe three.
"If we can play like we played the first three games, we've got a sniff at making the playoffs," added the 2006 Brier champion, who also won silver at the world championship the same year.
Morris was disappointed in the way he played.
"Those guys were great and we were average and that was the difference," he said. "We have to step our game up a bit for sure. I can call a better game."
It was Menard's second win of the day after beating Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock 7-5 in the morning draw. But Laycock bounced back in the afternoon, beating Northern Ontario's Jeff Currie 6-4.
There is now a four-way tie for second at 2-1 between Menard, Morris, Laycock and Ontario's Greg Balsdon, playing in his first Brier, who took down 2006 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue and his Newfoundland and Labrador rink 7-6.
Balsdon scored two in the 10th end to win 7-6 and was continuing to celebrate just being able to curl for the men's title, after a morning 5-4 loss to Jamie Koe and the Territories, who sat at 1-2, along with Currie and Gushue.
"We're having fun, it's been a blast, we're playing pretty well but the experience has been nothing like we've ever curled before," said Balsdon, a 36-year-old golf pro from Toronto, who works and curls out of the Glendale Golf and Country Club in Hamilton.
Gushue had issues with the ice Saturday but blamed only himself Sunday.
"The ice was good today there was no reason to miss shots," he said. "It's not a hard game if you hit the broom and throw the right way. We can't seem to do either one."
Ice conditions made for a strange end to Saturday night's faceoff between Gushue and Stoughton. Both their final draws finished perhaps five metres from the house.
The villain was a warm air current that heated up one end of the sheet where they were playing. It was decided to cool the arena and shut off air circulating equipment during games to prevent a repeat.
Also in the morning draw, Eddie MacKenzie scored a pair of points in the ninth end to lead P.E.I. past winless Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy 7-5, moving Mackenzie to 1-1. Alberta's Kevin Koe also overpowered James Grattan and New Brunswick 10-1 for his first win and sat at 1-1 heading into the evening draw.