REGINA — With the pressure to make the playoffs gone, Canada’s Jeff Stoughton says he still has reasons to keep winning at the Ford World Curling Championship.
His Charleswood Curling Club team from Winnipeg remained the only unbeaten country in the 12-team field at 9-0 following victories over Sweden and the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
The host team was assured of a top-two finish when the preliminary round concludes Thursday night. The top four teams qualify for the Page playoff and ties for fourth are settled by tiebreaker games.
Canada concludes the round robin against Yansong Ji of China in the morning and Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud at night.
The last team to go undefeated in the preliminary round at the men’s world championships was Canada’s Mark Dacey in 2004 when it was a 10-team field.
So a perfect record, carrying momentum into the playoffs and the possibility of eliminating Ulsrud, last year’s Olympic and world silver medallist, from playoff contention were Stoughton’s motivations heading into Thursday.
“Just win, baby,” the skip said, echoing a slogan of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. “We hate to lose. We love winning so that’s how we stay motivated.
“We’re not going to let the train stop. We’re going to play hard against China. I don’t know where Norway sits right now. If they’re not eliminated, we want to eliminate them, so we don’t have to play them again.”
Canada had wins over all the teams closest to them in the standings and would thus rank higher in the event of a tied record. Only Scotland’s Tom Brewster at 7-1 Wednesday could finish with a better record than Canada.
Thomas Dufour of France was 6-3. The Swedes were still in the playoff hunt despite the loss to Canada, sitting 5-3 alongside Switzerland’s Christof Schwaller. Germany’s Andy Kapp and Norway were not yet eliminated at 4-4.
The top four teams make the Page playoff and the format rewards a top-two finish with a second playoff life. The first and second seeds meet Friday with the winner advancing directly to Sunday’s final.
The loser can still get to the final via a semifinal win Saturday over the winner of the sudden-death playoff between the third and fourth seeds.
The country that finishes first overall earns the extra bonus of opening that one-two game Friday with last-rock advantage.
Stoughton, third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Steve Gould have won their last four games by four or more points. They’ve trailed on the scoreboard in only one game so far, which was against the U.S. on Monday.
But if it has looked easy for Canada, Stoughton says it hasn’t felt like a stroll.
“Because you want to win so badly, it takes a lot out of you,” he said. “We’ve played five of the last six draws so we’re a little tuckered out.”
Stoughton and Mead have the experience to know a stellar round robin doesn’t guarantee a gold medal. They went 8-1 at the 1999 world championships, but lost the final in an extra end to Scotland’s Hammy McMillan.
“We’ve learned from the past,” Mead said. “We’ve got to stay on top of it because it’s very easy to lose that edge.”
Edin’s young Swedish team was fourth at last year’s Olympics and won the 2009 European championship. They were under pressure early against the Canadians as Stoughton made a delicate tap to score four in the second end and then executed an angle-raise in the fourth to three points and a 7-3 lead.
“They’re playing great of course, but if you just keep making shots, you’ll get your chances,” Edin said of the Canadians. “It’s just a bit tougher against them than anybody else out there. They’re beatable, but you have to play at your best.”