Kevin Martin and his rinkmates have been spending the fall acting as Olympic ambassadors while pursuing their granite-slinging careers.
But this week at The Arena, the rings have the right of way.
Martin, John Morris, Marc Kennedy, and Ben Hebert, whose Edmonton-based Saville Sports Centre rink claimed Olympic gold at the Vancouver Winter Games in February, kicked off their 2010 Canada Cup schedule in winning fashion Wednesday afternoon at The Arena with an 8-2 thrashing of Serge Reid of Jonquiere, Que., in a game that lasted just six ends.
“We got done our last (Olympic-related) appearance last week, so we can focus again. We practiced a lot last week, which we haven’t done a lot of all fall,” said Martin.
“So it was kind of nice to get back on the ice, get with the coach, throw a bunch of rocks, have time for a coffee when we’re done, and talk about things. I feel pretty good, actually. It’s nice to get back to what you’d call ‘normal’ curling. It feels good.”
In Wednesday’s other Draw 2 results, which opened the Canada Cup men’s competition, reigning Canadian and world champion Kevin Koe of Edmonton edged Calgary’s Brent Bawel 8-6, three-time Brier champion Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., topped two-time Brier winner Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg 8-5, Randy Ferbey of Edmonton nudged past Rob Fowler of Brandon, Man., 7-5, and Mike McEwen of Winnipeg doubled up Ottawa youngster Mat Camm 6-3.
Martin opened proceedings with a deuce in the first end, and wrapped things up early by scoring four in the sixth against Reid, Quebec’s representative at the 2010 Tim Hortons Brier in Halifax.
“It felt good. The ice was moving lots, which we like,” said Martin.
The 2010 Canada Cup has no direct bearing on playdowns for the 2014 Olympics at Sochi, Russia, but the men’s and women’s champions earn automatic berths at both the 2011 Canada Cup at Cranbrook, B.C., and the 2012 Continental Cup at Langley, B.C.
Koe and his team of third Blake MacDonald, second Carter Rycroft, and lead Nolan Thiessen, also based out of Edmonton’s Saville Sports Centre, scored doubles in the second and fourth ends, and then stole two more in the fifth, to start their Canada Cup on the winning side of the ledger.
The lives of Koe and his crew have been utterly transformed since they won their first Brier at Halifax, and followed it up with a world title in April at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
“You keep knocking on the door, playing these top teams, and finally last year we broke through,” said Koe. “With the win, we got some new sponsors, which has definitely helped. But the biggest thing is confidence for our team going forward. Winning the Brier and the worlds, that sends us into the next few years knowing we can win the big one.”
Howard, the 2007 Brier champion at Hamilton, Ont., picked up a theft of three in the fifth end on Wednesday en route to his win over an old rival.
“We broke it open in the fifth when we stole those three . . . which is really rare against Jeff Stoughton and guys of that calibre,” said Howard, who’s using longtime teammate and rival Wayne Middaugh of Toronto as his third this week, alongside second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill.
“Wayne made two pistols, and I lobbed a few in there, and that was sort of the ball game. They kept clawing back, and we got a nice deuce in eight to put it out of reach.”
Middaugh will join Howard for three events in 2010-11 because of third Richard Hart’s work commitments.
“Wayne and I go way back. We’ve been good friends for 25 years, I think,” said Howard. “We’ve had four Briers together, a world championship together. We’ve been opponents the past few years, but we curl in a major league on Tuesday nights, still, today.
“I know how he throws it, he knows me in and out, and he was a perfect fit to fill into Richie’s boots.”
Six-time Brier champ Randy Ferbey of Edmonton has joined forces with 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., for the 2010-11 season, and they made a winning debut in their first major CCA event, squeaking past Fowler thanks to a steal of one in the seventh and two more in the eighth.
“At the end of last year, there were rumours on our team that some people weren’t going to play,” said Gushue, who throws last rocks on the Ferbey team, which includes second Mark Nichols and lead Marcel Rocque, who replaces Ryan Fry at Medicine Hat this week. “There was an inquiry about me playing out west, and we turned the tables and asked him if he wanted to play with us out east.
“We get along great, to be honest. There’s really been little or no conflicts, and the ones that you have, they’re done in five minutes once the next shot is played,” added Gushue. “We’re more similar than a lot of people think, especially out on the ice.
“I respect everything he’s done in the game, and I want to listen and try to learn. I think he respects what I’ve done as well, and is willing to take my opinion. It’s worked pretty well.”
McEwen enters Medicine Hat holding a seriously hot hand, having won spiels at Portage la Prairie, Man., on Oct. 25, Brantford, Ont., on Nov. 22, and Clermont, Que., on Nov. 28, as well as the Grey Power World Cup of Curling, a Capital One Grand Slam event, on Nov. 7 at Windsor, Ont.
McEwen and his Winnipeg-based Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club outfit, including third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, and lead Denni Neufeld, put things out of reach by scoring two in the eighth to go up 5-3, and stealing a point from Camm one end later.
“Better than according to plan,” said McEwen with a laugh. “It’s been an amazing start to the season for us.”
Since the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings a year ago at the Pre-Trials in Prince George, B.C., “we’ve gotten technically better as a team, all four of us. I can’t speak for the other guys, but . . . I think I’ve gotten a lot more resilient,” said McEwen.
“That was a big change for me. You learn from your mistakes, and I think we’re starting to do that, and it’s paying off,” he added. “The difference between winning and losing is sometimes very, very small, and if you want to be a champion, you’re going to have tough losses along the way.
“We all realize that, and we had to learn how to bounce back from some disappointments.”
Draw 3 is slated for 4:30 p.m. MT on Wednesday at The Arena, as the women take the ice again. Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton (1-0) faces Kelly Scott (0-1) of Kelowna, B.C., Krista McCarville (1-0) of Thunder Bay, Ont., meets Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard (1-0), Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin (0-1) squares off against Amber Holland (0-1) of Kronau, Sask., Shelley Nichols (0-1) of St. John’s, N.L., clashes with Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (1-0), and Chelsea Carey (0-1) of Morden, Man., will battle Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink (1-0).