Mike McEwen, B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld celebrate with the National championship (Photo: Anil Mungal).

How Team McEwen won the National

November 24, 2014, 11:01 AM

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen didn’t need any flashy four-enders to get the job done and capture the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling National championship Sunday.

Instead, it was an intense and edgy final against Olympic gold medallists — and hometown heroes — Team Brad Jacobs that saw Team McEwen grind out a 5-2 win to earn its fourth career Grand Slam title.

McEwen, third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld have been running on high octane all season long winning four titles through their first four tournaments on the World Curling Tour. When it came time for the Masters earlier this month, however, they were left empty-handed following an 8-6 loss to Team Brad Gushue in the final despite making a jaw-dropping triple takeout to score four that made them viral sensations and landed them on the front page of ESPN.

It’s doubtful ESPN will come calling after this game of singles and steals but at the end of the day, it’s the championship and not Internet celebrity status that teams play for and all four members of the McEwen rink were thrilled to finally punch through and claim the National.

“It feels like a lot of validation of the things that we’re doing as a team,” McEwen said after the win, “and that feels really good.”

It was Team McEwen’s fourth trip to a Grand Slam final since their last major title victory at the 2011-12 Canadian Open and it seemed like a lot of pressure was taken off their shoulders by winning this one.

“We haven’t won a Grand Slam in a little bit now and have been knocking on the door so it feels unbelievable,” B.J. said. “To beat the number one ranked team in the world is a little bit of a bonus.”

Playing in front of the Sault Ste. Marie crowd that was overwhelmingly behind their hometown heroes of Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden didn’t rattle the McEwen team at all.

“There was a huge crowd and a lot of support for curling and their hometown team but it was awesome, it feels great,” Wozniak added. “It was fun to play in front of them even though Jacobs was getting most of the cheers but we were getting some too so it was good.”

McEwen struggled early in the game, giving up a steal in the opening end and settling for one point in the second when he was looking to score three (McEwen came within an inch or two of making it). A blank attempt in the fifth also came up short; McEwen picked up another point to take a 3-2 lead.

“I didn’t feel normal through the first four ends,” McEwen admitted. “I was a little shaky, I wasn’t feeling myself but the boys played so well in front of me that despite me being a little bit off that they hung in there, made a lot of shots in front of me and I was able to make some big ones for the team at the end.”

The momentum shifted in McEwen’s favour when Jacobs blanked the sixth but gave up a steal of one in seven. Jacobs held the hammer — and the fate of the championship — coming home but trailed by two points.

“We had two shots for points early that we missed and we just tried to stay positive through that,” Wozniak said. “The game was looking like it was going to be tight the whole way so we just tried to work the scoreboard in our favour towards the end and we got the fortunate steal late there and things went our way.”

Jacobs had a chance to score two and force the extra end with his final shot in one of those “go big or go home” moments. He went for it but couldn’t knock off McEwen’s shot rock that sealed the championship.

“Both teams definitely wanted to badly win that game,” B.J. said. “You could tell the vibe in everyone was that it’s very important to win this game. It was a great atmosphere. They’re an amazing team and we feel we’re getting to the point where we can challenge all of the best teams all of the time. It was good.”

“It was a little edgy, it was always close so you’ve got to make all of your shots,” Denni added. “My team played really well behind me and we were able to pull it out so it was great.”

The victory also moved up McEwen from second place into the top spot on the WCT’s order of merit rankings, trading places with Team Jacobs. Next on the Grand Slam series is the Canadian Open — running Dec. 9-14 in Yorkton, Sask. — and the team is looking forward to extending their incredible run this season at the triple knockout tournament.

“We’re feeling pretty good and we’re playing really well right now and all year so we’re feeling confident going into it,” Denni said. “It should be a good event.”

“We play a lot of our tour events with triple knockout and the meaning is intensified every game,” McEwen said. “There’s no ‘already qualified and got one more round robin game’ so I like that atmosphere of it. Yorkton, I know the fans will be amazing so it will be a great building to be in. … They will be lots of great curling fans.”