Saskatoon-based Mike McEwen (photo: Michael Burns, Curling Canada) defeated Niklas Edin 7-6 to advance to Sunday's semifinals at the Nutrien Ag Solutions Western Showdown.
Former teammate and current coach/consultant Brent Laing has noticed skip McEwen's "renewed excitement" to play since teaming up with Colton Flasch and the Marsh twins, Kevin and Dan.
"He's super excited and he's got three really like-minded guys that want to work hard," Laing said. "They're open-minded to make change and to do whatever it takes to get better. I think that has kind of rejuvenated Mike. The team culture is really important and this team seems to have that in spades."
The new foursome has risen to fifth in the Canadian rankings thanks to a recent win at the Original 16 Men's Cash Spiel in Calgary and some solid results this season. McEwen, who entered this week's Nutrien Ag Solutions Western Showdown with a 33-14 record, is someone who has a "quiet determination" but is a "competitor in every way," Laing said.
McEwen finished 3-1 in the triple knockout qualifying round. In their opening game, McEwen defeated Jongduk Park (Gangwon, Korea) 7-5, then went on to lose 6-2 against Catlin Schneider. McEwen responded with a 7-5 win over Japan's Riku Yanagisawa (Sapporo). McEwen won 10-6 against Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller in the B-Qualifiers to reach the playoff round.
"He doesn't let people in very easily, but inside he's as determined and as competitive as anybody I've ever played with," Laing told CurlingZone. "Loves the game as much as anyone, is a student of the game almost to the point of being a bit of a mad scientist at times.
"Nobody thinks more about the game of curling more than Mike. He's always looking for that extra edge."
Kevin, who throws second stones, has been in the house with McEwen while Flasch has been his usual force with the broom. Laing called him one of the best sweepers in the world.
"Kudos to Colton, he'll do anything to make the team better," Laing said. "Literally one of the most open-minded guys I've ever had the pleasure of working with."
The 18-team men's field included American Korey Dropkin, Calgary's Kevin Koe and Saskatchewan own Steve Laycock. The 25-team women's competition started Wednesday at the same venue.
Dropkin plays Schwaller in one semifina while McEwen takes on Switzerland's Michael Brunner.
Laing said one of Team McEwen's main goals over the first half of the season was qualifying for next week's WFG Masters competition on the Grand Slam series.
"Hometown Slam for three of the guys and Saskatoon always does an incredible job," Laing said. "So they really wanted to make sure they played enough to give themselves a chance to do that. They knew they needed to win that spiel in Calgary to get in and they did that.
"So that's obviously a great sign too, that they're winning on demand when they really want to and need to."
The 43-year-old McEwen has made eight Brier appearances over his career, winning bronze in 2017. He also reached the final of the Olympic Trials that year, dropping a 7-6 decision to Kevin Koe.
Flasch won a Canadian junior title in 2011 and made his Brier three years later. Flasch was second on the Koe team that won the 2019 Brier and took silver at the world championship.
Laing said the strong team culture and energy has been exciting for all the guys, but "especially for Mike."
"I know he's been through some ups and downs with team chemistry over the years - including our team last year - so I think this year has been really exciting for him," he said.
The finals are scheduled for Sunday. Live-streaming links and game replays are available at www.curlingzone.com.