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 the foursome will wear home province colours at the March 3-12 Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ont.
"It just all came together," third Ryan Fry said Monday. "Hopefully we can ride that wave into London and make a bit of noise and see if we can find ourselves playing on the (last) weekend."
McEwen, Fry, Brent Laing and Jonathan Beuk endured a slow start to the campaign after forming the lineup in the off-season.
The Toronto-based team managed to secure a Tankard berth via a last-chance open qualifier. The rink later parted ways with Beuk and brought on Joe Hart at lead and father Richard Hart as coach.
The changes worked as the team got immediate results.
"It's not a team change that was anybody's fault, it just wasn't the right chemistry," Laing said. "Bringing in a young guy like Joe Hart brought a new energy to the team and also it was huge to bring in Rich as coach just to keep us on the rails."
The additions rejuvenated the veteran squad, which rolled through a solid provincial field in Port Elgin, Ont. McEwen edged John Epping in the semifinals before topping Glenn Howard in the final.
"I think it kind of awoke something in Mike, myself and Brent," Fry said. "We were able to really zero in and put together a good performance."
McEwen, the 42-year-old team import, has skipped the Manitoba entry at four national championships and worn wild-card colours at three others.
Fry has played for four different provinces at the Brier over his career while Laing has played for Ontario, Alberta and made a wild-card appearance in 2019. Joe Hart made his Brier debut as an Ontario alternate in 2016.
"We were super consistent, which gives you confidence going into the final," Laing said. "Mike made two huge shots to win the semifinal and then we just came out and played really well against Glenn."
Fry echoed those thoughts, adding his skipper delivered in the big moments. He noted that McEwen can will "confidence into existence."
"When a player has the ability to do that and then perform on top of that, it shows you the character that a guy has," Fry said. "For him to show that to our team, I think we have nothing but the utmost confidence in him to be able to lead us to a very good performance in London.
"It inspires us to want to be at our best as well."
Hart, meanwhile, settled in nicely with his older teammates by providing energy with strong sweeping skills and effective draw weight.
"I was impressed with how his judging was in terms of he's not afraid to take control and tell you what he thinks," Laing said. "He's almost always right, so that's great."
They join a field that includes defending champion Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., who won the Brier, Olympic bronze and world silver last season. The full list of 18 team entries will be completed next month when other provincial playdowns are completed.
"The Brier is as hard as ever to win," Laing said. "But if we play like we did (last) week and specifically how we played through the playoffs then we've got a shot to be there at the end of the week."
Fry pulled double duty at the Ontario playdowns. He also serves as a coach for Rachel Homan's team, which won the women's title with a victory over Hollie Duncan.
"I truly don't believe that there are any better shooters in the game than the four players on the team," Fry said of Team Homan. "It's very fun to be able to coach athletes that are at that level."
Homan, Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville and defending champ Kerri Einarson will be some of the headliners at the Feb. 17-26 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kamloops, B.C.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press