Kevin Koe’s difficult decision to walk away from Team Canada in 2014 has paid off
GANGNEUNG — In 2014, Kevin Koe made one of the toughest decisions of his life, giving up his role as skip of Team Canada to form a new squad that he believed would have a good chance of reaching the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
On Wednesday, when that team played its first game on the ice at the Gangneung Curling Centre, pulling out a workmanlike 5-3 win over Italy, it cemented Koe’s belief that he made the right call.
“I had no regrets at the time,” Koe said. “I didn’t have any regrets even when we didn’t have a great first year and obviously I definitely don’t have any now.”
The Koe foursome, with Marc Kennedy at third, Brent Laing at second and Ben Hebert at lead, was formed in April of 2014. There was significant controversy at the time because word of the new team leaked out before Koe and his Brier-winning team of Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen had even competed at the world championship.
Under the circumstances, the old team didn’t fare well at the worlds and Koe was heavily criticized for walking away from a team that had already earned a return visit to the 2015 Brier as Team Canada.
Simmons moved up to skip, John Morris was added to the lineup and Team Canada won that 2015 Brier, while the Koe team didn’t even make the playoffs.
Simmons and Co. went on to win a bronze medal at the world championship.
“I’m still great friends with those guys and we had a great team,” Koe said. “I didn’t even really question the decision when they went and won the Brier the following year. We had played together a while and I felt it was time for a change for me. Lucky enough we put this team together and this was the farout goal, to get to the Olympics and hopefully do well here.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the beginning.
When the new team was first formed, Koe, Kennedy, Laing and Hebert didn’t immediately gel.
Though they were all world champions and two of them — Kennedy and Hebert — were already Olympic gold medallists, the players all came with different styles and philosophies.
“The biggest challenge was we came from three really successful teams and I felt like Team (Glenn) Howard did things the right way and Ben and Marc felt like Team (Kevin) Martin did things the right way and Kevin thought that his team did things the right way,” Laing said. “We were all right but it wasn’t necessarily the right thing for us, we had to realize that this is the new Team Koe, so how do we do things? We had to figure that out.”
The team came to life in the 2015-16 season, winning the Brier and the world men’s curling championship. They followed that up with a loss in the Brier final to Brad Gushue in 2017. Later that same year, they had wonderful week at the Canadian Olympic curling trials in Ottawa and booked a ticket to the Olympics, edging Mike McEwen in a thrilling final that came down to the last rock.
“Oh yeah, we had it all planned out ... we knew it was going to happen the whole time,” Kennedy joked.
Turning more serious, he praised his skip for sticking to his beliefs during a tough time.
“It was a big risk for him,” Kennedy said. “He knew he was going to take a lot of heat for it. But we built a plan and we can only hope that you follow through on it and we did. Not without some huge ups and downs. It’s been a difficult journey but all the credit to Kevin for making a really, really tough decision and seeing it through with the three of us.”
The Canadians are one of the favourites for the gold medal here, along with Niklas Edin of Sweden. Canada has won a men’s curling medal at every Olympics since 1998 (three gold and two silver) and that means the pressure is on the Koe foursome to perform.
Given their talent, ability to keep their cool and their experience, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“This is what we were built for,” said Hebert, whose team played its second game of the Olympic on Wednesday night
Canada skip Kevin Koe checks his stone’s line during his match against Italy at the Winter Olympics.