Mike McEwen is on the mend to start the curling year following off-season surgery on his left knee.
The Winnipeg skip said he underwent the procedure in late May and was looking at a minimum of three months of rehab.
Although McEwen was initially optimistic he’d recover in time for his team’s season opener this week in Oakville, Ont., it’s likely he will not return to the lineup until the end of the month.
“Things are coming along, it’s just taking a little bit longer than I had hoped but every day I’m getting better range and better strength working with a trainer and physio,” McEwen said Thursday in a phone interview. “I’m getting there, so right now the target is for me to come back comfortably at the end of September when the first event will be in Korea. Rather than push things, it would just be a little too much of an ask for me to put it through a competition next week.”
“It’s just been a lot of work building up the muscle again, I just had a lot of muscle loss from the leg being in a brace for four weeks or so,” he added. “Kind of muscular issues to sort out whether it be getting better knee stabilization or a little bit more range of motion from what I was obviously used to. I’m working on getting that back, I’m just not quite comfortable yet to head out into the thick of battle.”
With McEwen out, third Reid Carruthers has moved up to skip while Daley Peters from William Lyburn’s squad subs at third during the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard. Second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson round out the roster.
McEwen, who has won seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles, joined Carruthers’ crew last year ahead of the new Olympic cycle. The longtime friends and former rivals experimented with a variety of back-end combinations during the season before settling with McEwen throwing last stones and calling the game while Carruthers moved into a traditional vice skip role at third.
The team won three World Curling Tour event titles in 2018-19 and captured the Viterra Championship to represent Manitoba at the Tim Hortons Brier. There were major bumps in the road, however, as they missed the playoffs in six consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments and went winless through the Canada Cup.
McEwen isn’t sure when he injured the knee exactly but believes he probably had some wear and tear issues already. After experiencing a tear in January, “it was all downhill from there.”
“I played in quite a bit of pain that just kept building and building through provincials,” he said. “I was going for multiple physio sessions during the Brier just to get through that.”
The 39-year-old McEwen was able to finish out the remainder of the season by subtlely changing up his Manitoba tuck slide to deliver the rock.
“It was enough to reduce the pain and the pressure I was feeling in my knee,” he said. “I was able to alleviate that with a slight change in my slide to finish out the year. At one point after the Brier, I thought that was it as far as playing for the remainder of the season. I was able to finish out at least, got an MRI, was hoping it was just an in-and-out procedure at the end of May, quick trim, but it was a little bit more than that.
“They had to do some stitching of the meniscus, some poking around and try to get it to bleed and heal. Just the meniscus, it’s one of those things that doesn’t have a lot of blood flood and takes quite a while to heal when it’s stitched. In my case, you’ve got to be careful with how much you’re bending your knee, especially into a tuck position. You don’t really want to be doing that until you get beyond three months.”
McEwen believes he will be able to continue to throw with a modified tuck delivery in order to prevent the possibility of re-injuring his knee.
“I was getting to a point where just the amount of forces and torque that I was putting on some of my joints and some of my body — hip and knee — that I probably don’t need to go that far,” he said. “I think what I’ve learned is that there’s a good way to impact that will be better for my body overall. … I am definitely going to pay close attention to where I’m locking in my heel on my leg and stuff like so that so I can hopefully play for a very long time without re-injury.”
It was bad enough McEwen wasn’t able to golf during the summer and enjoy his off-season but now comes the not-so-fun part where he’s forced to watch his team compete while he’s on the sidelines during a crucial starting point.
Team McEwen entered this week No. 16 on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and in jeopardy of missing the first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event, the Masters. Although the major tournament doesn’t take place until the end of October in North Bay, Ont., the cutoff date for qualification is only two weeks away with Team McEwen currently on the outside looking in. The top 14 teams are guaranteed invitations with a 15th spot reserved for a sponsor’s exemption, which the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling could hand to Team McEwen potentially or the series could waive and invite the 15th-ranked team.
Team McEwen is only 2.808 points back of Team Yuta Matsumura for 15th and 8.014 points behind No. 14 Team Scott McDonald. All three teams are competing in the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard as well as next weekend’s stacked field in Cornwall, Ont., for the Shorty Jenkins Classic.
“Probably this next week and a half while the boys are doing battle, I’m going to have to keep myself busy,” McEwen said with a laugh. “It’s something I’m not used to. Lots of guys have had injuries before, I can’t remember something that’s stopped me from being out there on the ice. This is the first time where I’ve had something where I haven’t been able to play through it.
“It’ll be new but it’ll motivate me to get things in order. The boys are troopers and they’re just excited that I am coming back and things are going to be OK. We just want to be smart about it.”