Olympic gold-medallist Kevin Martin and his teammates have been spending the autumn months acting as Olympic ambassadors while pursuing their granite-slinging careers.
But this week at the Medicine Hat Arena, the rings have the right of way.
Martin, John Morris, Marc Kennedy, and Ben Hebert, whose Edmonton-based Saville Sports Centre team claimed their Olympic medals at the Vancouver Winter Games in February, kicked off their Canada Cup schedule Wednesday with a pair of runaway victories — an 8-2 thrashing of Quebec’s Serge Reid of Jonquiere, backed by a 7-2 clubbing of youthful Mat Camm of Ottawa.
Each debate was called off after just six ends.
“We got done our last (Olympic-related) appearance last week, so we can focus again,” said Martin.
“We practised a lot last week, which we haven’t done a lot of all fall.
“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.”
Joining Martin in the undefeated bracket following two draws were the Randy Ferbey-Brad Gushue combine with Mark Nichols and Marcel Rocque up front, Manitoba’s fast-rising Mike McEwen of Winnipeg, Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Brier champion of Kevin Koe, who now lives in Calgary.
Ferbey dumped Brandon’s Rob Fowler 7-5 and hammered Reid 8-3; McEwen doubled Camm 6-3 and thumped fellow Winnipegger Jeff Stoughton 11-5, Howard stopped Stoughton 8-5 and then needed a last-rock hit in overtime to subdue Brent Bawel of Calgary 8-7, and Koe defeated Bawel 8-6 before shading Fowler 7-6 in an extra-end nightcap.
The Koe team, with lead Nolan Thiessen sick in bed back in the hotel in the evening, battled from behind against Fowler and needed a cold last-rock draw to the four-foot from the skip, who was looking at two offending counters in the rings.
Martin opened proceedings against Camm with a three-spot, yielded a couple of singles, and ran away with a deuce and a pair of steals. Earlier, he cracked 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 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.
The lives of Koe and his crew — third Blake MacDonald, second Carter Rycroft — 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 and world champion, picked up a theft of three in the fifth end in his afternoon tilt en route to his win over Stoughton, 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 employing long-time 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,” said Howard. “They kept clawing back, and we got a nice deuce in eight to put it out of reach”
Middaugh is joining Howard for three events this winter because of regular 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 Richie’s boots.”
Six-time Brier champ Ferbey of Edmonton has joined forces with 2006 Olympic champion Gushue of St. John’s, NL., for the bonspiel season, but they’ll part company come playdowns time.
“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.”
McEwen arrived at the Canada Cup holding a seriously hot hand, having won ‘spiels at Portage la Prairie, Brantford and Clermont, Que., as well as the Grey Power World Cup of Curling, a Capital One Grand Slam event, at Windsor, Ont.
“This is by far the best start we’ve had to any season,” said McEwen. “Any time you can jump out of the gate and win some events, it’s something to be extremely excited about.”
Directing third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, and lead Denni Neufeld, McEwen put things out of reach for Camm by scoring two in the eighth to go up 5-3, and stealing a point from Camm one end later.
Against Stoughton, McEwen cracked three in the eighth to close it out.
“We knew this game would be a big one in working our way toward the playoffs,” McEwen said Wednesday night.
“I think we’ve had the edge on him (Stoughton) lately. We’ve played four or five times already.”
Since the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Roar of the Rings a year ago at the Canadian Olympic Pre-Trials in Prince George, McEwen figures his team has “gotten technically better, all four of us”.
“We’ve come a long way, mentally and technically, trying to eliminate the variables from our deliveries. Plus I think we’ve become more resilient, with a better aura about how we go about our business. We’ve found a bit of a re-set button. When bad things happen, we can overcome faster. We didn’t have that before.
“I get pretty fired up at myself on occasion. I’m working on dissipating that a little bit.
“You learn from your mistakes, and I think we’re starting to do that, and it’s paying off. The difference between winning and losing is sometimes 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.”