Kennedy hears Roar of the Rings

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St. Albert Curling Club product focused on Olympic trials with Kevin Koe rink

The Roar of the Rings is growing louder for Marc Kennedy.

The St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame member and third for the Kevin Koe foursome hears the call of the Olympic trials every day as the countdown continues to determine the Canadian teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“It’s coming up fast,” said Kennedy of the Dec. 2 to 10 Roar of the Rings in Ottawa for the 2016 Brier and world champions. “The Roar is in the back of our minds but we’ve got lots of big events before that. We’ve done a good job of focusing on one event at a time and the next major focus being the Brier in St. John’s.”

The first men’s rink to qualify for the Trials as winners of the Home Hardware Canada Cup in December of 2015 was formed in the spring of 2014 with the end goal of representing Canada at the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The journey of peaks and valleys has been an adventure for Kennedy and his rinkmates of Koe, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert.

“It’s mentally taxing. You’ve got to remember that we do it because we love the game but the four years going into a Trials there is a lot of ups and downs. It’s a major rollercoaster of wins and loses and struggles and victories and you really do feel every emotion you could imagine when it comes to sports in that four-year period,” said Kennedy, a 2010 Olympic gold medallist curling with Kevin Martin, John Morris and Hebert who will compete in his fourth Trials.

“The good thing with our experience is that we’ve been through it before so we know not to get too high when the times are good and not get too low when things are bad, just kind of even keel, and most importantly be able to perform at the big events and that’s something we’ve been able to do as a team since we put the team together. That experience makes a big difference so we’re relying on that in times of struggle and I think deep down we know we’re going to be OK because we’ve always seemed to get up for the big events when the pressure is on.”

Koe is ranked seventh on the World Curling Tour money list at $58,5000 as the sixth-highest Canadian rink behind first-place Niklas Edin of Sweden at $139,469.

In nine tour stops, Koe is 34-19 with victories at the Shorty Jenkins Classic at Cornwall, Ont. in September to start off the season and the Red Deer Curling Classic in November.

Koe was also a semifinalist at the Direct Horizontal Drilling Fall Classic in October at Portage la Prairie, Man.

The last event was the Meridian Canadian Open in early January at North Battleford and the team’s 2-3 record included losses in the last three games.

“It’s been a struggle, not that we’ve played that poorly but guys have played really well against us,” said Kennedy, a three-time Brier winner and two-time world gold medallist.

“We haven’t all had our A game at the same time. We’ve often had one guy struggling at different times, not one guy in particular, just all of us at different weekends so we really haven’t put it all together and some of that might have been expected. We don’t have the same sense of urgency because we have a Brier spot and we have a spot at the Trials but it doesn’t mean we haven’t been trying our butts off, we’re just not getting the results we’ve been hoping for.

“But now that we’ve kind of got through our tour season our next focus is the Brier.”

Kennedy, who turns 35 on Feb. 5, is going to his eighth Brier and third in a row with Koe, Laing and Hebert. The trio have the same number of Brier wins as Kennedy and at worlds Koe and Hebert each have two gold medals and Laing won three.

As the defending Brier champions, Koe and company bypass the Boston Pizza Cup provincials Feb. 8 to 12 in Westlock

The Pinty’s All-Star Curling Skins Game next weekend in Banff is the last major bonspiel for Koe before competing as Team Canada at the March 4 to 12 Brier in Newfoundland.

“It’s a little different as Team Canada. The biggest difference being we don’t get many competitive games in February. Provincials were always a good lead up if you were to win to be prepared for the Brier,” Kennedy said. “It’s a bit of a struggle for us this year to get those competitive games leading up to the Brier. We’ve got a plan for some good practice and we’ll try and put together some game scenarios so that we’re ready to go come March.”

The recent Continental Cup in Las Vegas proved promising for the upcoming Brier.

“We started to see some really positive signs there,” said Kennedy, who celebrated back-to-back Brier triumphs in 2008-09 with Martin, Morris and Hebert. “We’re just trying to build towards the big events but we’re hoping to put it all together at the same time. It’s not just a switch you can flip on anytime you want but we’re going to do what we’ve always done and prepare as well as we can and hopefully get a few breaks and play well when we need to.”

Meanwhile, the Paul Kane High School alumnus hosts the second annual Marc Kennedy Classic U18 Junior Bonspiel, presented by Sarasota Homes & Realty, March 23 to 26 at the St. Albert and Jasper Place curling clubs.

Last year’s 40-rink draw featured 10 competitive and eight intermediate male teams, eight competitive and five intermediate female teams, one competitive and three intermediate mixed teams and five recreation teams. The curlers ranged in age from 10 to 17.

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Jeff Hansen

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