Loud and proud was the message Marc Kennedy delivered as a Canadian Olympian at Tuesday’s gold-medal calibre celebration at Sturgeon Heights School.
Kennedy and Scott Pfeifer – they rank among Hec Gervais of St. Albert curling lore – were treated to an Olympic-sized sendoff by the enthusiastic and wide-eyed students sporting Canadian colours with handcrafted torches raised in honour of Canada’s rock stars at the PyeongChang Winter Games.
“Thank you to all of you for doing something special for Scott and I for all the unbelievable torches and for everybody that is wearing Canada gear. Thank you so much,” Kennedy said of the podium moment for the curlers on the Kevin Koe rink.
“When Scott and I go to the Olympics and we get to wear that Maple Leaf on our backs we are so proud to be Canadian and we are so proud to represent you,” Kennedy added. “I want you to watch and cheer for Canada and be so proud of where you come from. Scott and I will tell you because of curling we’ve had the chance to travel the world and we live in the best country in the entire world.
“So when you cheer for Canada you’re cheering for us so be very proud and do it with a smile on your face.”
It was also an extra special moment for Kennedy to share with his wife, Nicole, and their two daughters, nine-year-old Aubrey and six-year-old Brechan, who are also Sturgeon Heights students.
“We feel very blessed to be part of such a wonderful school in such a wonderful community. We really don’t realize how lucky we are to have such an amazing school so thank you to everybody for making this such an amazing place,” said Kennedy.
The three-time Brier winner in eight appearances at the Canadian curling classic and two-time world champion provided Vic Rauter style commentary on the game-winning last shot by Koe in the Roar of the Rings final at the Olympic Trials, as second Brent Laing and lead Ben Hebert “they’re actually going to be the real heroes of this shot” dragged the rock towards the button to score the winning point in the 7-6 decision against Mike McEwen of Winnipeg.
“We were pretty excited but we were also very nervous. It was very stressful because we’ve been working really hard for this for four years for this one moment,” Kennedy said.
After the thunderous roar from the student body as the shot was replayed on the video screen, Kennedy said: “One of the best parts of curling is no matter what, whether you win or lose, one of the first things you do after a game is shake the other team’s hands and say, ‘Good game,’ or ‘Thanks for the game.’ We were all excited because we get to go to the Olympics but we shake hands first to show respect for our opponents before we get to celebrate.
“We worked really, really hard for four years to get this opportunity to represent Canada so that’s very cool.”
Kennedy also zeroed in on Hebert’s epic broom throw down the ice sheet after the rock stopped in the winner’s circle of the rings.
“Don’t be like Ben and do that,” he joked.
The assembly, which focused on the curling values of perseverance, dedication, commitment, teamwork, respect for the sport and respect for opponents, reinforced what the Olympics are all about.
“We come from a country where you can have a dream and you can do anything you want when you grow up,” said Kennedy, who brought his Olympic gold medal from 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver curling with the Kevin Martin rink during the show and tell segment. “Growing up I had a dream when I was young of curling at the Olympics and I did it and here I am a few years later and I get a second opportunity to do that so be very thankful and grateful that you are Canadian. I want you all to watch as much curling as possible during the Olympics and cheer Canada on loud and proud.”
Kennedy, a Paul Kane High School alumnus who will celebrate his 36th birthday Feb. 5, reflected on the Olympics after the students returned to their classrooms.
You must be pretty stoked about the Olympics after seeing how pumped these kids are.
Kennedy: “It reminds me more and more of Vancouver and just the lead up to that. It was pretty exciting and now just to see the excitement in these kids about the Olympics is pretty cool so it’s a special thing to be a part of.”
This was a huge deal what the school did for you and Scott.
Kennedy: “It’s awesome, so awesome, and you know what? It’s a testament to the great teachers here and the great staff. We’ve been here for six years now (with Aubrey and Brechan as students) and they’ve known about my curling and supported it a lot and I’ve had a chance to come to talk to a lot of the kids and as you saw they’re fully behind me and Scott.
“It’s also pretty cool my kids are old enough now to kind of know what’s going on and to be hopefully proud of what I’ve accomplished and I love being able to share stuff like this with them because it makes them feel like they’re a part of it as well.”
How big is the cheering section for Team Canada at the Olympics?
Kennedy: “My brother, Glen, is coming and there should 36 to 40 people coming overall which makes the biggest difference in the world. We’ve curled overseas before and it can get pretty lonely and all you have is your teammates sometimes and that can be tough so we’re looking forward to having all those people there to cheer us on.”
Is Canada the team to beat in men’s curling at the Olympics?
Kennedy: “Canada’s won gold the last three times (Brad Gushue in 2006 in Turin, Martin in 2010 and Brad Jacobs in 2014 in Sochi) but the international depth is greater than it’s ever been. In 2010 I think we were pretty confident we were going to walk away with some type of medal. We know how good we can be this time and if we play really well we have a good chance to win the whole thing but we’re going to have to play really well to medal so hopefully we can bring our A game. We’ve been preparing a long time to peak for these weeks in South Korea and I think we’ll put on a good show.”
When does the team go to the Olympics?
Kennedy: “We leave Feb. 3. We’ll be in Japan four days just to practice and get used to the time change and jet lag and then we’re there Feb. 8. The opening ceremonies are on the ninth and we start curling on the 14th.
“We’ll have a little bit of time to get settled and we’re going to watch John (Morris) and Kaitlyn (Lawes) in the mixed doubles and cheer them on and then by that time we’ll be dying to go.”
Is there still a hangover for the team after winning the Roar of the Rings?
Kennedy: “We took a nice break for two weeks to let it kind of set in and then get relaxed and rested and ready. We’ve had two really good events (Continental Cup in London, Ont. and the Meridian Canada Cup in Camrose) just to kind of get your feet wet again and get the competitive juices flowing. We started to play really well in Camrose towards the end of the week so I don’t think our preparation could be any better, which is great. We have no excuses. Hopefully everyone is healthy when we get there and we can just perform.”
Are you getting nervous?
Kennedy: “It’s a nervous excitement and events like this help just seeing how many people are cheering you on and supporting you. You know how many people are going to be doing that back home and that’s what is kind of creating that nervous excitement but once we get out there on the ice we’ll have a job to do.”
Is there more pressure this time to win gold than at the Vancouver Olympics?
Kennedy: “I think it will be OK because honestly I think at the level we’ve been at for a while nobody puts more pressure on us than us. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we want to play our best all the time regardless of whether it’s a club bonspiel or the Olympic Games. We’re going to put that pressure on ourselves to play our absolute best so I don’t think we’re going to feel any more pressure than we usually do. We’re going to have to adapt to everything that goes on around you at the Olympics, all the other events and all the other athletes, so that’s the big adjustment but I think pressure wise we’re ready for it.”
So, what’s going to happen to the Koe rink after the Olympics?
Kennedy: “Oh, I don’t know.”
You will be asked that question a lot (the 2017 Brier silver medallists, 2016 Brier and world champions and 2015 and 2016 Alberta champions were formed in the spring of 2014 with the end goal of representing Canada at the Olympics.)
Kennedy: “I will be ready to answer it once the Olympics are done but a big part of this process is staying focused in the moment and knowing we have a really important job to do and the difference between a gold medal and not medalling is huge. We have a big job to do before we start worrying about anything after the fact.”