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After a mediocre first half of the season, Mike McEwen’s new-look team finally found the spark it was looking for at the Ontario Tankard.
Now all four will wear their home province colors at the Tim Hortons Brier March 3-12 in London, Ont.
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Third Ryan Fry said Monday, “It all came together.” “Hopefully we can ride that wave in London and make a bit of noise and see if we can find ourselves playing (last) weekend.”
After making the lineup in the offseason, McEwen, Fry, Brent Lang and Jonathan Beck had a slow start to the campaign.
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The Toronto-based team managed to secure a tankard berth through a last-chance open qualifier. The rink later parted ways with Beck and brought in Joe Hart as lead and father Richard Hart as coach.
The changes worked because the team got immediate results.
“It’s not a team change that was anybody’s fault, it just wasn’t the right chemistry,” Lange said. “Bringing in a young guy like Joe Hart brought a new energy to the team as well as bringing Rich in as coach was huge to keep us on the rails.”
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The additions rejuvenated the veteran squad, which rolled through a solid provincial outing in Port Elgin, Ont. McEwen edged John Epping in the semi-finals before topping Glenn Howard in the final.
“I think it woke something up in Mike, me and Brent,” Fry said. “We were able to really zero in and do well together.”
McEwen, the 42-year-old team import, has skippered the Manitoba entry in four national championships and worn wild-card colors in three others.
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Fry has played for four different provinces at the Brier during his career, while Lang has played for Ontario, Alberta and made one wild-card appearance in 2019. Joe Hart made his Brier debut in 2016 as an Ontario alternate.
“We were super consistent, which gives you confidence going into the final,” said Lang. “Mike hit two big shots to win the semi-final and then we came out and played really well against Glenn.”
Fry echoed those thoughts, adding his captain in the big moments. He added that McEwen can “believe in existence”.
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“When a player has the ability to do that and then performs on top of that, it shows you the character of that person,” Fry said. “For him to show that to our team, I think we’ve wanted nothing more than to be able to lead us to a very good performance in London.
“It drives us to do our best.”
Meanwhile, Hart settled in well with his old teammates by providing energy with strong sweeping skills and an effective draw weight.
Lang said, “I was impressed that his decision-making isn’t afraid to take control and tell you what he thinks.” “He’s almost always right, so that’s great.”
They join a field that includes defending champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, NL, who won the Brier, Olympic bronze and world silver last season. The full list of 18 team entries will be completed next month when the other provincial playdowns are completed.
“Winning The Barrier is as difficult as ever,” said Lang. “But if we play like we played (last) week and especially how we played through the playoffs then we’ve got a shot to be there at the end of the week.”
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Fry pulled double duty in the Ontario playdown. He also serves as a coach for Rachel Homan’s team, which won the women’s title with a win over Holly Duncan.
Fry said of Team Homan, “I really don’t believe there are any better shooters in the game than the four players on the team.” “It’s so much fun to be able to train athletes of that level.”
Homan, Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones, Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville and defending champ Kerry Einarson will headline the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, February 17-26, in Kamloops, BC.
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