It was a dream come true for Team Jacobs when the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., crew captured the Boost National championship on home ice last season.
Northern Ontario moose calls echoed through the Essar Centre as the stands were filled with family, friends and fans. Although Team Jacobs had a bit of a rocky round-robin, they steadied things just in time to qualify for the playoffs through the tiebreakers and rocket from there right to the final where they defeated Winnipeg’s Team Carruthers 4-2 for their second Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title together.
Team Jacobs was practically at a loss for words following the victory, but second E.J. Harnden was able to describe the feeling with a year of reflection.
“We’re playing all over the province, all over the country and rarely do you get the opportunity to play in a premier curling event in your hometown,” Harnden said last month during the Masters tournament. “There was nothing more that we wanted for ourselves, for the city and for all of our fans than to be able to win that.
“The city of Sault Ste. Marie has been incredibly supportive of our team. I think we’ve been able to kind of turn Sault Ste. Marie from a little bit of a hockey town into a curling town. It’s extremely special to be able to play in front of our hometown, in front of our family, our wives, our kids and to be able to come out with a win, that was pretty cool.”
It’s a feeling skip Brad Jacobs hopes to duplicate next week — minus the stopover in the tiebreakers, of course — as the Boost National returns to Sault Ste. Marie.
“It’s going to be a really special week for us,” said Jacobs, who plays Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson in his first game Tuesday night. “We are the defending champs and get to play in front of our home crowd again. Whenever you get the opportunity to do that it’s always exciting. I’m really just looking forward to playing and hopefully lots of people come out, watch and cheer us on.”
What made last year’s win extra memorable for Jacobs and his cousin Harnden was they were both able to bring their young children out onto the ice during the celebration and let them play around with the trophy.
“I know for myself specifically, it was pretty awesome to be able to have my daughter there. She won’t remember it but I always will,” Harnden said. “To be able to see her there and grab her after the game and hold her, that was a pretty special moment for myself and hopefully we’ll get many more opportunities to play in front of our family, friends and fans moving forward.”
Family and heritage are important aspects of Team Jacobs, which also includes third Ryan Fry and E.J.’s brother, Ryan Harnden, at lead. Growing up the Jacobs and Harnden bros. watched their older relatives represent Northern Ontario at the Brier and followed in their footsteps. The 2013 Canadian men’s champions are now honoured to carry that torch with the whole region from North Bay to Kenora on their back. They’re reminded of that every time they travel out of Sault Ste. Marie Airport where a giant banner hangs to commemorate their gold-medal victory at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“That was the biggest thing when we first started out and really got into the competitive side of curling,” Harnden explained. “We’ve watched the Brier since we were little kids. We watched our uncles, and our fathers for some of us, represent Northern Ontario and we knew the talent that existed in Northern Ontario.
“Unfortunately Northern Ontario didn’t fare so well in multiple Briers over the course of many years, so we almost made it a mission to put Northern Ontario back on the map, to give people something to cheer about and to be able to show to the rest of the country and the rest of the province the talent that exists in Northern Ontario. We’re extremely proud to come from a small Northern Ontario community, have them behind us and represent them as best as we can.”
The Boost National is also the final major test for teams tuning up for next month’s Olympic Trials in Ottawa where the Canadian men’s and women’s teams for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will be determined. With expectations already running high for Team Jacobs, they believe it’s the right atmosphere to get them geared up for that as well as they also aim to repeat as Canada’s representative and defend the Olympic gold medal.
“I think that will be a pretty important event for everyone playing in it especially those going to the Olympic Trials,” Jacobs said. “It is the last major event before the Trials, so everybody is going to want to be playing their best in that event, ourselves included. … That’s why we play, we play to win, and we’re going to go out there and try to do that.”
“Honestly for us, it can’t get any better because we have this event [the Masters] then we have a training weekend in Sault Ste. Marie with our entire team. We get to play at home, see our family and friends, and we don’t have to travel,” Harnden added. “I think it sets up really well for us logistically in terms of being able to play in a premier event before the Olympic Trials and also not having to travel. Being able to do that at home — ramp up the intensity — it’s going to feel a little bit different because we are at home, so there’s a little bit more pressure and focus required. I really don’t believe that it can set us up any better for the Olympic Trials.”