Canadian curlers still feeling the heat despite win

Kevin Koe’s rink set for playoff push to keep golden streak alive

Canadian curlers still feeling the heat despite win
The 2018 Winter Olympics have been quite the struggle for Kevin Koe and his Canadian rink. © Aaron Favila/Associated Press

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

Once upon a time Canada would show up for international curling events and more times than not they would dominate the field.

Canada has medalled at every Olympics in curling — including six gold medals. Canadian men have won curling gold at three consecutive Games.

Just look back to the world championships last year. Rachel Homan and Brad Gushue both went undefeated to capture titles for Canada. They made it look easy.

There was also that undefeated golden run by Kevin Martin at the 2010 Olympics. And don't forget four years ago when Jennifer Jones swept away the competition.

But the curling times are quickly changing.

Take for example Kevin Koe's competition so far at the Olympics. It looked like they were rolling along — they started with four wins. Then they lost to Sweden, followed by defeats to Switzerland and the Americans — Canada's first-ever loss to a U.S. curling team at the Olympics.

"It's actually hard to believe how good the teams are, the quality of shot-making and strategy," third Marc Kennedy said. "This might be, other than a shot here or there, the best we've played as a team and we're grinding out to get into the playoffs."

Canada was finally able to stop the slide after defeating Japan 8-4 Tuesday morning in South Korea. It was a must-win for the team, now sitting with a 5-3 record and tied with Switzerland and Great Britain for the final three playoff spots.

"For the future of Canadian curling, teams are really going to have to learn how to grind. We got used to the comfort of always being in control. I don't think that's the way it's going to be anymore," Kennedy said.

Not getting the breaks

In all three of Canada's losses the team felt they were playing great — the problem was the other teams were playing just a little bit better.

"It happens. That's why you can only control what you can control. Skips get hot and other teams get hot against you. It's happened this week for sure," second Brent Laing said. "But every game you get a chance or two and when you get them you have to capitalize."

Laing says they've been missing shots at key moments but were finally able to make them count against Japan, something he says they know they'll have to do the rest of the way if they want to win gold.

"If you're going to play in the top events against the best teams you're going to get guys that go out there and don't miss a shot."

With these games as tight and tense as they are, Laing says their Canadian experience of having to battle in the past could be the difference.

"We've been around this game too long to panic. We had a good team meeting after the loss to the U.S. and said we just have to keep doing the same things we're doing."

Clutch shooting

As the games take on more importance, Koe's team likes its chances.

In fact, Kennedy believes the bigger the game, the better everyone will play.

"I think we're close. I can feel it out there. To be honest, Kevin, in my opinion, is the best big-game player in the world," Kennedy said.

Koe has been candid at times throughout the tournament, putting the blame on his shoulders in a couple of cases after missing key shots.

"I pride myself on making the big shots in pressure moments," he said. "There weren't many I missed out there today. I feel good. I just have to keep bringing it."

Kennedy sees that focus in Koe's eyes — the same look he's used to seeing when he plays his best.

"I think you're going to see him get to that level that has won us so much. He's the right guy. I know he is."

The skip seems bolstered by his team's support. He shot 96 per cent in their win against Japan — a game they badly needed.

"We control our own fate. If we win [Wednesday] we're into the semis and that's all we could ask for," he said.