Canadian men in battle for their Olympic curling lives

United States stage 1st-ever Olympic win over Canada

Canadian men in battle for their Olympic curling lives
Curlers Kevin Koe, left, and Marc Kennedy, right, along with the rest of the Canadian rink are in uncharted territory. © Toby Melville/Reuters

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

A loss to Sweden, no problem. A loss to Switzerland, no panic. But a loss to the United States, the third consecutive defeat for Kevin Koe and his team out of Calgary, and now there's a serious sense of urgency.

"Teams are standing on their heads against us and we're not responding," said lead Ben Hebert. "We better find a way our next two games or we're out of here quick."

The extra-end loss to the Americans Monday stings just a little more — it's the first-time ever a Canadian curling team has lost to the United States at the Olympics.

"I pride myself on making the big ones and I missed a couple in that game," Koe said.

After starting the tournament with four wins, Canada has dropped the last three and now sits in the middle of the pack with a 4-3 record. With just two games left against Japan and Denmark, Canada is now in a must-win situation to guarantee a playoff spot.

"It doesn't take long for things to turn against you if the other teams are playing well, which they are. That doesn't surprise me. We just have to find a way to raise our game a little bit," Koe said.

Finding the fire

The team was visibly frustrated after the loss to the Americans. Koe couldn't remember the last time he lost three consecutive games at a big event. But as bad as things seemingly are right now, the team believes it is a few shots away from returning to form.

"We just have to find a way to come back and win a couple," Koe said. "I don't think we change anything. I think our approach has been fine. We just need to put together some full ends and we're not doing that early in the game."

Losing at the Olympics is something completely new to Hebert and third Marc Kennedy. They were both part of Kevin Martin's gold-medal winning team in Vancouver. They went undefeated to win it all.

"We're going to have to fight for every win and every end and every shot. And if we're going to go down, we're going to go down firing," said Kennedy.

He said the team has played with a fiery attitude throughout the tournament and despite starting with four wins the team didn't ever really relax. Even after three loses, Kennedy doesn't see the need for major changes.

"I don't think the fire will be much different. I just think it's a fine line between a good fire and getting you motivated and a type of fire where you start panicking," he said.

"There's not much you can do at this point. The one thing you don't do is panic."

Pressure mounting?

Canada has won a medal in curling at every Olympics, both on the men's and women's side, since it was reintroduced to the program in 1998.

For many Canadians, when it comes to curling and hockey at the Olympics, it's gold or bust.

Koe and his team know that.

They talked about it coming into the event. They talked about the maple leaf being a target on their back — all of them were embracing it.

But now the world is coming hard for Canada on the curling sheets, and Kennedy said they have to up their game to survive the surge.

"My goal was to get to six wins whatever way possible. We have two games left. We need to win them both. Simple as that," he said.

The skip has been putting some of losses on his shoulders, admitting at times he could be better in key situations.

Now with the stakes a little higher — Koe knows he has to come through for his team.

"It's not like we're missing shots left and right. It's missing one here and there. I have to make a couple big ones."