It’s been quite a sleek return to competitive curling for Marc Kennedy.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion from St. Albert, Alta., who stepped back from the sport a year ago, now finds himself right in the thick of things after linking up with Brad Jacobs’s Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., team.
Considering Kennedy filled in as a super spare with the “Soo crew” at the Canada Cup last December and helped them capture that title, it’s no surprise they’ve managed to jump out of the gate to a strong start this season.
“They’re pretty easy guys to get along with,” Kennedy said last month during the Shorty Jenkins Classic. “We’ve had some pretty good chemistry in our event last year at the Canada Cup and have just been building on that. There will still be some growing pains as we go along here but so far it’s a pretty smooth transition.”
It’s actually been “a little bit too easy” according to Jacobs, who said he’s been having a lot of fun playing with Kennedy.
“This is our first event, call it a honeymoon event right, but we’re getting along really well,” Jacobs said. “Rooming with him is easy. Being out on the ice, getting to know his tendencies, getting to know Marc a little bit better is a lot of fun. He’s just a spectacular guy and he’s fitting in really well with everyone on the team.”
Following their runner-up result at the Shorty Jenkins Classic, the new Team Jacobs faced their inevitable first rough patch during the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard earlier this month at High Park Club. Jacobs dropped an 8-7 decision to Kevin Koe, Kennedy’s former skip, to fall into the C brackets of the triple knockout preliminary round. Another loss would have ended their tournament, but Team Jacobs proved to be a resilient force winning five consecutive elimination games including a 6-1 rematch over Koe in the final.
“We’ve been talking about that all week and we’ve talked about [how] we’re going to face adversity a lot over the next couple years, so let’s just get used to it, adapt and try and fight through it,” Kennedy said following the title win. “We’re not going to win anything easy anymore in this game, so this was a really good learning lesson for our team and we really supported each other and stuck through a few tough times and came out on top. It feels good.”
Although a three-point sixth end was the difference-maker on the scoreboard, Jacobs credited Kennedy’s pair of shots in the fifth end that got them out of a jam and set up a blank scenario to retain the hammer and maintain control.
“Marc made first the run double and then another run double to get the blank, it was really impressive,” Jacobs said.
Watching Team Jacobs on and off of the ice and you can tell Kennedy’s cool, calm and collected demeanour has had an influence on his teammates. Although it could also be they’ve just mellowed out.
“I think we’ve all matured a bit,” the 37-year-old Kennedy said. “We had a little bit more fiery tempers when we were younger and not just them, myself included. I think we’ve kind of toned it down as we’ve gotten a little bit older and a little bit calmer. That doesn’t mean we’re lacking intensity or we still don’t really want to win, it’s just a little bit more controlled than it used to be.”
After representing Canada at the Winter Olympics for a second time and winning his 12th Grand Slam title at the 2018 Players’ Championship, Kennedy hung up his curling brush following the conclusion of the quadrennial cycle, in part to heal up a nagging hip injury. He stepped into the lineup on Team Jacobs for the Canada Cup in Estevan, Sask., when then-third Ryan Fry was taking a leave of absence from the squad following an unsportsmanlike incident during a previous event. Team Jacobs sustained just one loss through the week en route to the title to qualify for the next Olympic pre-trials.
When Fry parted ways with Team Jacobs in the spring, Kennedy received the call to come on board full-time and return to the sport.
“Obviously, it made it pretty easy to reach out to Marc having had experience playing with him at the Canada Cup after our team had dismantled,” Jacobs said. “It all just kind of came together nicely and we’re playing really well, so just continuing on from what we did at the Canada Cup but it’s going to be a long year and hopefully, we can continue on with the great play and build off of this event so far.”
The Canada Cup week had a huge impact on Kennedy’s decision not only because they won but also because of the positive vibe all around.
“I had such a great time in Estevan and it was such good chemistry and we played so well,” Kennedy said. “It was a good energy and once I got the call I knew it was a team I wanted to be on if I could, if I was healthy enough to. I got the call in April, so I had a good four months to physically and mentally prep. I’m excited to be on a team I played so well with in December. They’re super good guys and we get along really good.”
Getting back into the groove of things has been a bit of an adjustment for Kennedy, especially since his hiatus was in part injury-related.
“I’ve just got to stay healthy and making sure I’m doing what I need to do to get my hip ready for every game,” Kennedy said. “My warm-ups are a little longer than they used to be but part of me feels like I’ve never left and I’m certainly excited to be here this weekend.”
The fact Kennedy is a rare left-handed thrower hasn’t been an issue as he’s already altered his playing style to fit into a right-handed sport. It’s the reason why he’s been able to help teams win a dozen Grand Slams, a couple of world championships and an Olympic gold medal.
“We’ve had a few team practices together and for the most part our rocks travel down the same paths and I don’t think it’s been too much of an adjustment for where Brad has to put the broom down,” said Kennedy, who captured Olympic gold on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games with skip Kevin Martin. “I can’t use that as an excuse anymore, that’s for sure.”
Jacobs, who earned Olympic gold in 2014, noted Kennedy’s ability to throw the rock very pure and sound for making it easy on him.
“Very rarely does he ever throw a bad stone,” Jacobs said. “He’s very good at communicating to me what his tendencies are, so there’s not a whole lot of work there that we have to do because he’s honest and very forthcoming with that information. …
“All I know is when he comes out of the hack, from my end 140 feet away it’s really easy to read and it’s been easy on the sweepers to judge the release on his delivery.”
Jacobs was already fired up for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling’s Masters — Oct. 22-27 in North Bay — and playing in front of his Northern Ontario fans and has now turned up the dial to max riding a hot streak.
“We know that North Bay and the surrounding area and probably from all over the world, people are going to come and support that event,” Jacobs said. “We’re really looking forward to playing and hopefully, get a lot of cheers, get the crowd going, get the moose calls going and do what we can to entertain everybody that’s there and watching at home.
“Everyday you can just tell everybody is excited to hit the ice and that’s a great feeling. It’s going to be even more so playing in Northern Ontario.”
Yeah, about those moose calls. Kennedy is going to have to start embracing the sound so distinctly tied to Northern Ontario.
“Some people in Alberta aren’t so happy with me but I’m just excited to be a part of this team,” Kennedy said. “Happy to be with these guys and so far, so good.”