Rexall Place – Marc Kennedy is one win away from representing his country with the Kevin Martin rink at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"Our destiny is in our own hands," said Kennedy, the straw that stirs the drink as the second rocker for the two-time reigning Brier champions and 2009 world silver medalists.
The Roar of the Rings wraps up Sunday, when Martin (2002 Olympic silver medalist) battles the winner of today's 1 p.m. semifinal between Glenn Howard of Ontario and Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba. The 1 p.m. final will be televised live on TSN.
"We're in a good position," said Kennedy, 27, a product of the St. Albert Curling Club who graduated from Paul Kane High School.
At the last Olympic trials in 2005, Kennedy played second for current teammate John Morris as they finished third at 6-3 and in the semifinal bowed out to Stoughton 8-6.
"Those experiences are invaluable, just being able to manage your emotions and manage the nerves and knowing what you can and can't control with all things that are part of such a big event like this," said Kennedy, who led all seconds in shooting percentage that year with a 90 per cent average.
In the men's eight-team draw, the Saville Sports Centre team doubled Stoughton 8-4 in nine ends Tuesday and in Thursday's heavyweight tilt knocked off Howard 8-6, also in nine ends. The entertaining affair determined first place as Howard was undefeated going into the last game before the playoffs. Stoughton avoided a tiebreaker with the Kevin Koe rink of Edmonton for third place by scoring a deuce in 10 against Pat Simmons of Saskatchewan to prevail 8-7 Thursday.
After splitting their first two games Martin and company rattled off five straight victories.
"The whole team, all four of us, have been getting better and better so it bodes well going forward. Hopefully we don't slip up," said Martin, who shot 81 per cent in the round robin for a piece of fifth place amongst skips.
His third, Morris, tied for first at his position with an 88 average. At the front end, Ben Hebert shared top spot for leads with 92 per cent and Kennedy tied for second at 88.
"I didn't feel great the first couple of games. I don't know if it was nerves. There was quite a bit of pressure put on a few of these teams here, so it was just a matter of getting comfortable with the ice, the rocks and the conditions," said Kennedy, whose 79 per cent accuracy rating in the first-place showdown with Howard was the lowest of all the curlers in the game of the week.
Despite falling behind 4-2 after giving up a three ender in four to Howard, Martin roared back with several prime-time shots in the late ends en route to the victory. The shot of the night was a three-point runback in nine with the hammer, igniting a raucous celebration of fist pumping amongst Kennedy, Hebert and Morris in the rings as their team jumped ahead by two. A freeze by Morris set the stage for Martin's heroics. Another key play was the first shot by Howard that picked, which allowed the 2008 world champions to tighten the screws.
"Glenn's got a fantastic team, top to bottom. You just have to play so strong because they're so consistent," Kennedy said.
Earlier in the day, in a too-close-to-call contest with Koe, Martin scored an extra-end 8-7 decision after giving up two in 10.
"Koe has beat us up a few times the last couple of years. It's a good rivalry with them," Kennedy said.
Koe finished fourth overall at 4-3.
"We've played well. We've lost a couple of really tough games where we had every opportunity to probably come out on top and that's the way this competition is. It's not like we're playing bad teams. You make one little mistake and that's all it takes," said third Blake MacDonald, a St. Albert resident for the past year.
The turning point of the round robin for Martin, the number-one seed at the trials, was Wednesday's 9-5 thumping of the Ferbey Four in nine ends. Martin improved to 4-1 with the win, while Ferbey dropped to 3-2. It marked the fourth-straight win by Martin over Ferbey after a loss at the Players' Championship in Grande Prairie in April that snapped a 12-game winning streak by the three-time defending provincial champions. In the last two provincial finals Martin handed Ferbey convincing losses.
"Maybe there is a bit of a mental edge there. We've played really well against them," said Kennedy, who curled 94 per cent against the former four-time Brier champions and three-time world gold medalists. "We feel that we can win every position if we play good and right now we're starting to feel like we're doing our thing."
A three-ender in two and a deuce in four catapulted Martin into a commanding 5-2 lead after five ends.
"The early start set the tone for the whole thing," Kennedy said. "We recognized the ice was a little straighter early on. We had a great second end and a couple of good shots by Johnny. We got a couple of misses early from them and we pounced on them. I think that's the first time all week we pounced on a team."
Ferbey's second, Scott Pfeifer, took the loss to heart.
"It's disappointing the way we started out. Any time you're down 5-2 after five you're not going to come back and win those games too often," said Pfeifer, who learned his craft at the St. Albert Curling Club. "It's just a shame when you've got a big game that means a lot and you come out a little flat."
Pfeifer, 32, shot 83 per cent in the loss.
The loss signalled the beginning of the end for Ferbey, as the legendary rink went down to defeat in their last two games by scores of 8-6 to Howard and 9-4 to Koe in eight to finish fifth overall at 3-4.
Kennedy said it's still a thrill when he crosses paths with Pfeifer, a Bellerose Composite High School alumnus who enjoyed a stellar junior career before becoming of the very best seconds in the world.
"Marcel [Rocque, Ferbey's lead] was my Grade 9 health teacher at Marguerite d'Youville and he said to me before the game, 'It's funny 13 years later where we are,' and it's the same with Scott. It's a great rivalry. We're good friends. You get charged up when you're playing against your buddies for sure," said Kennedy, the first team all-star second at the last three Briers.