OTTAWA — Kevin Koe and Rachel Homan have represented Canada in recent years at the world championship, now they’ll get the opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf on the grandest sporting stage of them all.
The Calgary-based Team Koe and Ottawa’s own Team Homan were victorious in Sunday’s Roar of the Rings finals wrapping up the nail-biting nine-day tournament to crown Canada’s men’s and women’s teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Koe edged Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen 7-6 in the men’s final while Homan slipped past Carey 6-5 on the women’s side and sent her hometown Canadian Tire Centre crowd into thunderous applause.
“You plan for this event for four years, so it’s so hard especially in Canada,” Koe said. “You have nine of the greatest teams in the world and there’s just so much pressure to come through and get it done given the circumstances, couldn’t be happier.”
It came down to the final shot in both games, of course, with McEwen and Carey not giving up until the last rock and they could have stolen the victories. Third Marc Kennedy leaped from the house to help second Brent Laing and lead Ben Hebert drag in Koe’s draw to the four-foot circle while facing two counters. No surprise it was a full team effort to save the shot and secure their Olympic spot.
Meanwhile, Homan missed a double attempt that would have finished the game a rock early, however, Carey also needed to move two but could only push one far enough.
Both Koe and Homan are intense sharpshooters and we’ve seen it time and time again all week. They only sustained a single loss each against the top teams in the nation and arguably a tougher tournament to endure than the Olympics itself.
Koe, who went 7-1 through the round robin, had already clinched first place and the bye to the men’s final when he took on reigning world champion Brad Gushue on Friday evening to conclude preliminary play and may have eased off the gas pedal just a touch. McEwen, who finished third in the standings at 5-3, beat Gushue 6-4 in the men’s semifinal and left it all on the line against Koe shooting a sizzling game-high 95 per cent. The hammer advantage coming home for the final frame proved to be the difference-maker for Koe.
Homan and Carey bookended the Roar of the Rings. The 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion Carey came out on top in their opening draw match and sailed through the round robin at 8-0 to advance straight to the championship game. Homan went on a seven-game tear from there for the No. 2 seed and delivered a monster performance in the semifinal to oust 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones 6-3 and set up the rematch against Carey that was no repeat.
Team Koe assembled their super squad exactly for this moment with the skip breaking up his old band that had just won the Brier in 2014 and bringing in Kennedy and Hebert from Kevin Martin’s crew and Laing from Ontario’s Glenn Howard. All of them had won Brier and world titles previously and delivered the goods together in 2016.
Kennedy and Hebert have also been to the Olympics before winning the 2009 trials and capturing gold with Martin at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. You can’t think of a more high-pressure situation than playing for gold in front of thousands of fans clad in red and white.
Homan, third Emma Miskew, and lead Lisa Weagle played together during the previous Olympic cycle with second Alison Kreviazuk, who moved to Sweden in 2014. Edmonton’s Joanne Courtney slid over from Val Sweeting’s club and helped take Team Homan to a whole other level. Homan has won four Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles this quadrennial including an unprecedented three consecutive women’s major championships during 2015-16.
They also claimed the Humpty’s Champions Cup to conclude last season, which required winning a high-profile tournament just to even earn an invitation.
If there were any nerves for Homan playing in front of her family, friends, and fans, she didn’t show it and embraced the warmth of support raising her fists and broom quite a few times following key victories.
Both will have their hands full at the Winter Olympics though. Koe’s top challenger will be the No. 1 ranked team on the World Curling Tour right now, Niklas Edin of Sweden. The two-time world champion and 2014 Olympic bronze medallist was actually in attendance at the Roar of the Rings and was able to sit back and relax comfortably while the top Canadian men’s teams duked it out. Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz is another threat to contend for the medals and who could forget Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud? Throw in American John Shuster and rising star Kyle Smith of Great Britain and you’ve got quite the competition already.
Homan will have to deal with the likes of Great Britain’s Eve Muirhead, Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg, Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni and more but proved back in March at the world championship in China that she’s capable of taking on anyone by running the table undefeated at 13-0.
Miskew just had a one-word answer when asked if her team is ready for the Olympics: “Absolutely.” You’d be hard-pressed to argue against her, too.