Bittersweet Brier for Kennedy

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St. Albert curler competes in eighth Brier and the third with the Kevin Koe rink and in Sunday's final the Team Canada entry lost 7-6 to Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador in Mile One Centre in St. John's

Losing the Tim Hortons Brier final was a bittersweet feeling for Marc Kennedy.

The St. Albert curler took Sunday’s setback in stride after last year’s Brier victory with the Kevin Koe rink.

“You know what? I don’t find it that disappointing. The result is but at the end of the day we’ve all been pretty fortunate to win Briers and lucky to play on that stage quite often and you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some so when you lose you just have to take it for what it is and keep it in perspective and remember it’s a game that we love to play and just be thankful that we get those opportunities,” a remarkably upbeat Kennedy said Monday morning while boarding a flight to Halifax for the Elite 10 Grand Slam, starting Thursday in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

“If we’re disappointed it’s just that we didn’t win but we’re not disappointed in our performance or like I said the chance to play on that stage in front of a whole bunch of curling fans, we have to consider ourselves pretty lucky.”

The Team Canada entry as the 2016 Brier and world champions – with Kennedy at third, Brent Laing at second and Ben Hebert at lead – were the overwhelming underdogs in Gushue Country, as the hometown Newfoundland/Labrador rink skipped by Brad Gushue pulled off an emotional 7-6 decision in front of a boisterous sellout crowd of 6,471 at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.

It was the first Brier in Newfoundland/Labrador in 45 years and the only winner from The Rock before Gushue’s historic triumph in his 14th appearance was by Jack MacDuff in 1976.

“It was kind of like being in the lion’s den there. You kind of got the feeling of what it would be like to be a the hockey team on the road. It kind of felt like us against the world,” Kennedy said. “But I have to give the fans credit last night. They were obviously cheering for Brad but they were pretty respectful and still cheering some of our shots. It was just a tremendous atmosphere to curl in. It really was.”

Gushue got off to a roaring start with three in the second end and two in five to lead 5-1 but Team Canada rallied with three in six and one in seven to knot it at five.

The teams exchanged singles with the hammer and in 10 Gushue’s last shot was a draw to the eight-foot for the winning point, as second Brett Gallant and third Mark Nichols dragged the rock into the rings. Nichols came out of the house to sweep in place of lead Geoff Walker, who wasn’t able to brush the ice because of a right shoulder injury.

“It was a good game,” Kennedy said. “We were pretty lucky to be in it after the fifth end so no complaints. It was a good fight and good effort by everybody. It’s all good. We’re in good spirits.”

The defending champions slide into the rematch of the 2016 final – 9-5 in nine ends as Team Alberta against Gushue – after grinding out a pair of wins Saturday by scores of 6-2 against Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario in the Page 3-4 playoff and 7-6 in an extra end against Mike McEwen of Manitoba in the semifinal.

Team Canada counted singles in the first two ends and another steal in five made it 5-2 against Jacobs.

The game was interrupted for about 70 minutes by a power outage.

The semifinal was an uphill climb as Team Canada fought its way back from a 5-2 deficit, the big blow was a three-pointer by McEwen in four, to tie it at six with a deuce in 10 and then stole the winning point in the extra end. Koe drew to freeze to McEwen’s stone biting the back of the button with his last rock in 11 and McEwan was unsuccessful with a double runback.

“One thing our team wanted to work on (at the Brier) was not just packing it in once we were down some points and we showed a lot of character and fought to the end in every game and it worked out for us in the semifinal and it worked out for us in a couple of round robin games too that didn’t look like we were going to win. We played our best curling in the last three ends in all of those games and I’m pretty proud of our guys for hanging in there and fighting until the very bitter end and we almost pulled it out,” said Kennedy, who curled 75 percent in the final after going 100 percent in the semifinal and 81 percent in the Page 3-4 game.

Team Canada and Jacobs tied for third at 8-3 in the round robin and the losses for the Koe rink were 5-4 to John Morris of B.C., 6-4 to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta and 7-6 in an extra end to Gushue.

“That’s probably the best we’ve played all year,” Kennedy said of the lineup that is ranked second in the order of merit standings and seventh in the men’s money list at $58,000 on the World Curling Tour.

“The Brier is tough now. There is a lot of parity. Everybody can beat you and we had to play pretty much 10 ends every game and we really battle hard,” Kennedy added. “It sets us up well for the Olympic Trials (Dec. 2 to 10 in Ottawa). We know we have these performances in us on the big stage so all in all it was a great week for us. We learned a lot about ourselves and our team and it’s only going to make us better as we go forward.”

Kennedy, 35, was competing in his eighth Brier and the third with the Koe foursome.

The Paul Kane High School alumnus is a three-time Brier winner, two-time world champion and 2010 Olympic gold medallist.

The alternate for the Koe rink for the second year in a row was Scott Pfeifer, who was inducted into the St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame along with Kennedy in 2011.

Pfeifer, 40, participated in his seventh Brier. The former second for the Ferbey Four is a four-time Brier winner and three-time world champion and Tuesday the Bellerose Composite High School alumnus filled in for Hebert, who was nursing a right knee injury, in the 8-5 win over Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia and curled 71 per cent throwing first stones.

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About Author

Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.