‘Cold-blooded assassin’ Kevin Koe off to perfect start at Olympic trials

Team Koe skip Kevin Koe throws a rock during a draw against Team Laycock at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Justin Tang/CP)

OTTAWA — Kevin Koe knows he’s a perfect 5-0 here at curling’s Olympic trials, just don’t ask the Calgary skip to tell you what day it is.

“It’s still mid-week, here. I don’t even know what day it is. Is it Tuesday?” Koe asked, minutes after his team handed Team McEwen its first loss at the Roar of the Rings. “Is that what day it is?”

It is, yes. But to Koe’s point: “We’re still early in the week, so a long way to go still.”

Well, that’s true, and it’s the refrain you’ll hear every day at Canadian Tire Centre: Round-robin play doesn’t wrap up until Friday, and then it’s on to the playoffs, with the final slated for Sunday. There are many games ahead before we figure out who will curl for Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

But certainly getting out to a 5-0 start with three games left in the round robin is the kind of start you’d dream of. And among the men’s teams here, it’s Koe’s Calgary squad that leads the way, the lone team with an unblemished record.

On Tuesday in the afternoon draw, Team Koe — that’s Koe, third Marc Kennedy, second Brent Laing and lead Ben Hebert — pulled out a down-to-the-wire 6-5 victory over Mike McEwen and his foursome, who were previously undefeated.

“Our skip won us that one for sure,” said Kennedy, who was part of Kevin Martin’s Olympic gold medal-winning team in 2010, along with Hebert. “We’re getting breaks and we’re hanging in there and we’re making the shots when we need to. Right now, things are going our way.”

Talk about getting breaks: A couple days earlier, Koe snuck away with a win over reigning Olympic champion Brad Jacobs and his team from Sault Ste. Marie when Jacobs missed a draw with his final shot and Koe stole two for the win. “For Brad Jacobs to miss the eight-foot in the extra end is a one in a million,” Kennedy said. “That’s just kind of the way things have been going, so hopefully they can keep going that way for a few more days.”

Crazy misses have been happening a lot this week. On either side of Koe’s rink on Tuesday, Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg crew stayed undefeated when Casey Scheidegger missed a draw in the extra end, and Jacobs and Co. basically handed a win to Steve Laycock after starting with a steal of four and watching the lead evaporate.

But it’s not only breaks that Koe’s been getting to help him stay undefeated, of course. The 42-year-old, who’s won three Briers and two world championships, has been consistent and steady and he’s made shots when he’s needed to. That steadiness is evident if you see him after a win, too. You might think he’d lost, because you won’t find a grin on Koe’s face. He looks more serious than happy.

Kennedy says the skip is incredibly calm, and he really doesn’t think Koe ever gets nervous. If the team wins a big one, you might see the odd fist pump. “When I played with Kevin Martin, it’s the same thing — they’re so focused on getting the job done, there’s almost no emotion, and I think that’s what you want,” Kennedy said. “He’s a cold-blooded assassin.”

It sure seems that way. Koe swears he wasn’t nervous standing over his final rock in the 10th when the game was tied and the win was in his hands, provided he sneak his rock in between a couple others. “With the frost creeping in, that wasn’t an easy shot,” Kennedy said. “We had the right guy throwing it today.”

Koe shrugged it off as business as usual. “We’ve thrown a lot in that spot, felt pretty confident, I knew what it was gonna do,” he said. “Just had to throw it good and luckily I did.”

Koe curled at 91 per cent on Tuesday, and had an enormous double takeout in the eighth when the team was in trouble to score a second straight single and take a two-point lead.

But as well as they’re curling, the skip believes his team has another gear. “We’ve still gotta play better,” Koe said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet.”

The hope, of course, is that the winning continues and the team peaks in Sunday’s final. It would be a sweet ending for Koe to earn that elusive trip to the Olympics. The best the Yellowknife-born skip has ever fared at Olympic trials came back in 2005, when he won bronze as a third with John Morris.

“It’s gonna take a lot more work,” Kennedy said. “But to see him play like this, to see the mood he’s in, we’ve seen this before where he gets in a zone and plays really well.”

It’s only Tuesday, sure, but Team Koe is certainly off to the best start you could hope for toward punching that ticket to Pyeongchang.