Experience matters: Kevin Koe hopes it pays off at Olympic Trials

OTTAWA — When you add it all up, Kevin Koe’s team out of the Glencoe Club in Calgary has a wealth of curling experience that rivals some of the greatest teams ever in the game.

Kevin Koe, Brent Laing, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert have 36 Brier appearances between them. They’ve won the Canadian championship more times than most. They’ve won world championships more times than most. But Kennedy and Hebert have something the two veterans don’t — an Olympic gold medal.

They’ve all taken different journeys to get to this point but now they’re combining their curling prowess in the hope it translates to an Olympic berth.

“There’s no magic,” said Koe. “I’ve been close before as has Brent. And Marc and Ben have won it. You have to play good and get some breaks. Everyone has been trying to peak for this event all year.”

Koe is making his fourth appearance at the trials. Team third, Laing, is making his fifth appearance. He’s only missed the trials once, the first in 1997, but has been to all of the rest of them.

“There have been a lot of losses but hopefully this year is different,” Laing said. “The energy is different. The pressure is different. It’s once every four years. This is the best of the best in Canada and there are crazy ups and downs.”

In preparation for this week, the team has been watching past Olympic trials games. Laing says some of the past games were more painful to watch than others because he was on the losing end of some of them.

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Ben Hebert, Brent Laing, Marc Kennedy and skip Kevin Koe, from left, are pictured at the men’s world championships in 2016. (Georg Kefalas/The Associated Press)

Perhaps the one Laing winced at most, and Kennedy and Hebert enjoyed most, was from the 2009 trials in Edmonton. Kevin Martin was skipping John Morris and the front end of Kennedy and Hebert. Glenn Howard was skipping Richard Hart, Laing and Craig Savill.

Martin and company rolled over Howard 7-3 in Edmonton to win those trials.

Now key members of both of those teams are all together looking to find Olympic berth magic.

Hebert and Kennedy together through it all

While there have been many changes to curling lineups over the years, Kennedy and Hebert have been together through it all.

Their first trials were in 2005 in Halifax. Kennedy was playing second on a team skipped by Morris, Koe was third and Paul Moffatt was lead. Hebert was a spare for the team. It hadn’t been a very strong lead up to those trials for the team so they decided they would approach it with nothing to lose.

“We were big underdogs,” Kennedy said. “We made a decision with John skipping to just have a good time. We said let’s just go have fun. We partied. Next thing you know we were 6-1. Other teams were tight and didn’t play up to their potential.”

They made the playoffs before losing out to Jeff Stoughton. Brad Gushue went on to win the trials and Olympic gold.

But four years later in 2009, Hebert and Kennedy joined forces with Morris and Martin to go on a magical ride to Olympic gold in Vancouver. Kennedy says there are similarities between the Kevins he’s played for. 

“I do see it. When Kevin Koe puts his mind to be a big event he rarely plays poorly. He’s going to be good this week. But even then you need some breaks.”

Hebert says he and Kennedy were spoiled to make it to an Olympics so early in their career and now he wants to help Koe and Laing get the same experience.

“I think for myself and Marc we were spoiled to win our first trials together,” Hebert said. 

“We understand what it takes and are comfortable coming in. Saying that, I really want to get my two other teammates there because they have been two of the best curlers in Canada for a really long time.” 

‘I haven’t felt closer than this’

In 30 years of curling, Laing has won just about everything there is to win in the sport. He’s won three Briers, three world championships and played in nine Canada Cups. He’s a fixture in Canadian curling. But he wants that elusive Olympic opportunity.

“I’m not one to worry about my legacy in the sport. I’ve had a great ride in curling and I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near done yet.”

Kennedy and Hebert are the youthful ones on the team with Olympic experience trying to propel the two vets into the Games.

Laing, 38, says they have as good a chance as any in Ottawa this week to advance to the Olympics and wear the maple leaf in South Korea.

“I haven’t felt closer than this,” he said. “I like our chances. And there are eight other teams who also like their chances so we’ll see how it goes.”

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