Kennedy returns to Olympics

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Marc Kennedy is reliving the dream of Olympic glory.

The 2010 Olympic gold medallist from St. Albert will wear the Maple Leaf with pride and purpose with the Kevin Koe rink at the PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea after Sunday’s victorious pressure-packed final at the Roar of the Rings.

Koe’s clutch draw to the four-foot with last shot in the 10th end was the margin of victory in the 7-6 decision against Mike McEwen of Winnipeg at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ont.

“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” an elated Kennedy told the Gazette on Monday from Ottawa. “I consider myself extremely fortunate to have this opportunity again and to do it with some of my best friends. It’s gong to be amazing.”

Kennedy, 35, returns to the Olympics as the third for Koe after serving as the second for Kevin Martin on Team Canada at the Vancouver Winter Games.

“They were both exciting in different ways but I think this one takes the cake,” Kennedy said of winning the Olympic Trials. “It’s a bit more exciting this time to be honest. The first one (2009 Roar of the Rings in Edmonton) was just such a shock. It was very overwhelming the first time. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. This time we had an idea of what the Olympics is about and we’re just so excited.”

Koe and second Brent Laing will make their Olympic debuts while lead Ben Hebert curled with Kennedy and John Morris on the Martin rink that beat Thomas Ulsrud of Norway 6-3 in the 2010 gold-medal game to finish 11-0.

Kennedy described the Olympics as a life-altering experience.

“It doesn’t change who you are but it changes the path in your life and what you decide to do with it. You end up with a new platform to do different things, to reach out to kids, to experience events and places that you never would’ve seen or realized. Opportunities come knocking on your door that wouldn’t have come without being an Olympian so it exposes you to a huge part of the world that you never would’ve had so that’s where the change really comes,” said the Paul Kane High School alumnus.

The Team Canada lineup is based at the Glencoe Club of Calgary and includes alternate Scott Pfeifer of St. Albert and coach John Dunn, a sports psychologist at the University of Alberta.

“They’ve become a huge part of this team. John has us prepared for every game and there is no better fifth man in the world than Scott Pfeifer. He pretty much takes care of everything that we can’t and making sure we’re ready to perform at our best. He’s a huge asset to this team,” Kennedy said of Pfeifer, 40, the alternate for the Koe rink for the third consecutive year.

The Bellerose Composite High School alumnus – a four-time Brier winner and three-time world gold medallist as the all-star second with the Ferbey Four – and Kennedy were among the original six inductees into the St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame in 2011.

“From where we came from together in St. Albert it’s a pretty special moment for a couple of guys from that city,” Kennedy said of the Olympic duo.

The Koe foursome didn’t blink in the glare of the spotlight and the Olympics one shot away with the final knotted at six and McEwen lying two on the side of the four-foot behind cover. It was literally a team shot as Hebert and Laing swept up a storm to drag the rock toward the button and Kennedy bolted out of the house to assist the hurry hard sweepers.

Kennedy described his view of the emotional roller-coaster of a shot that punched the team’s ticket to the Olympics.

“I wanted to make sure we took line out of the equation. There was no reason to get tight to those yellow ones so once Kevin let it go I knew the line wasn’t going to be a problem. I also didn’t think he wouldn’t be heavy. We’ve got two of the best sweepers in the world so I knew he was going to let them sweep it. I could tell by Kevin’s face that it looked good and he liked it but I think half way down the sheet the boys were a little surprised that it wasn’t sliding as well as they thought so there was a little bit of panic that set in at the hog line for me. I wasn’t sure it was going to make it.

“I was reminded of Brad Gushue’s draw last year at the Brier actually (for the winning point in the 7-6 final against Koe), same in-turn draw not looking like it was going to get there, but the boys were dying to sweep that one so I was pretty happy to have Brent and Ben sweeping it.”

The dramatic ending summed up the titanic tussle.

“I don’t think it gets much better. It was just a great back and forth curling game. Both teams played great but both teams had some misses that were costly. It had everything so it was an awesome game to be a part of and a very exciting way to finish,” said Kennedy, who shot 91 per cent in the final. “For me personally it was a huge excitement for the people around me. I wanted to see Brent Laing go to an Olympics. I wanted to see Kevin Koe go. I wanted Scott Pfeifer to go to the Olympics. Those were the people that crossed my mind when that rock was coming into the four-foot.”

Kennedy, a three-time Brier winner in eight trips to the Canadian curling classic, and two-time world champion, let loose with a sigh of relief after a week “that’s been stressful with a lot of anxiety and a lot of tension” for the 2017 Brier silver medallists, 2016 Brier and world champions and 2015 and 2016 Alberta champions.

The Koe rink was assembled in the spring of 2014 with the ultimate goal of winning the Roar of the Rings.

“It’s nice to have it over with and to be the champion is amazing,” said Kennedy, a six-time Brier all-star.

The final summed up the team’s week-long performance to finish first in the round robin at 7-1 for a berth in the final. The only loss was 6-3 to Gushue in the last game before the playoffs, .

“We battled. We put ourselves in a position to win every game and we got some breaks early in the week to win a couple of games. We just kept getting better and better and we adapted to the ice really well. Our best game was probably our last game,” said Kennedy of the team’s 88 curling percentage in the final, compared to 83 per cent for the McEwen team. “I’m pretty proud of the boys for putting in a great effort all week.”

The Olympic participants, along with the Rachel Homan rink as the Roar of the Rings women’s champion, spent Monday and Tuesday in Ottawa with Curling Canada officials going over plans for the Feb. 9 to 25 Winter Games.

“It’s a big unit that gets together to try to win a medal and we’re starting to put the preparations in place,” Kennedy said. “It’s going to be tough. The world level has improved so much over the last 10 years so it’s going to be a heck of a battle.”

Leading up to the Olympics for the Koe rink is the Continental Cup, Jan. 11 to 14 in London, Ont., and the Canadian Open, Jan. 16 to 21 in Camrose.

”We’re all going to take a nice break over Christmas and then get back on the ice and practice and ramp up to head to South Korea but for now we’re all trying to let it sink in and realize the huge accomplishment we just achieved.”

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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.