Lefko on curling: Jacobs has big shoes to fill

Brad Jacobs will be one of the youngest to compete for Canada at the world curling championship.

Canada’s dominance in the World Curling Championship is reflected in its wins, which means this year’s representative has the pressure to live up to its predecessors.

Brad Jacobs and his team from Sault Ste. Marie may be rookies in the tournament, which begins Saturday in Victoria, but collectively they will be expected to live up to previous Canadian squads, some playing in it for the first time.

Since the tournament began in 1959, Canada has won it a staggering 34 times, placed second eight times and third six times for a total of 48 medals. Only five times has Canada failed to win a medal.

The standards have been set so high, it’s almost like anything short of winning the whole thing is considered a disappointment.

Scotland and Sweden are tied for second on the list of champions with five apiece.
Scotland is second overall in total medals with 32, while the United States is third with 21.

So that’s why Jacobs’ team, which includes vice-skip Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden, go into this year’s Ford World’s as one of the preeminent favourites, even if they are novices in the tournament.

It’s just the way it is when you represent Canada.

Canada has won the event three years in a row with Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton and Kevin Koe and four of the last five including Kevin Martin in 2008. In the last 10 tournaments, Canada has won it seven times.

The event has taken place 20 times in Canada, and the Canadians have won 14 times and have placed no worse than third in the other six.

Many rookie Canadian skips have won, most recently Koe. Prior to Jacobs, he was the only winner to have emerged from other than the top two seeds after the round-robin.

Jacobs’ team did it from the fourth seed and started each game without last-rock advantage.

At age 27, Jacobs is the youngest skip to represent Canada in tournament history since Kevin Martin in 1991. He was 24.

“We hate to sound like we don’t feel the pressure, but to be honest our team has put in a lot of work and the way we are with one another we try not to feel the pressure,” Fry said in a conference call Monday “That’s one of the reasons we were able to do as well as did in the playoffs in the Brier. We didn’t let that pressure mount; we didn’t let that pressure get to us.

“That being said, we are the focus of the entire country going forward at the Worlds, but I think if we let the pressure get to us and the largeness of this event, it can be detrimental. I think it’s best that we try and focus on the task at hand, and if we are able to take it one game at a time and not push our focus toward the playoffs or winning the event…I think we’ll be able to be successful in the event. I think it’s the teams that let the severity of the championship get to them are the ones that aren’t successful.”

Jacobs’ team beat two former world champions and one Olympic winner en route to climbing from fourth at the start of the playoffs to first. It was a rare achievement for a team to make that kind of quantum leap, even more noteworthy against others that had faced that kind of pressure before. What they showed is a collective desire despite the insurmountable odds.

“What we’re focused on going into Worlds is trying to bring the same intensity, the same will to want to win…as the last six games in the Brier,” Jacobs said. “We reached a point where we never reached before early in our careers. We were so focused. The will to want to win was really quite huge. You could sense it on every game on the team. We understand now what we have to do and focus is one of the biggest things we need to maintain going into the Worlds.”

No one — at least on a national scale and certainly outside of the competitive curling community — really knew of Jacobs’ team until it pulled off its historic win. But if you had followed the World Curling Tour, the evidence was there that this squad was on the verge of doing something great.

In the three Grand Slams played so far on the 2012-2013 World Curling Tour, Jacobs’ team had a second and two fifths. The runner-up finish against Glenn Howard in the Canadian Open may have been a tough loss, but it surely played a role in the mindset it took to place first in the Brier.

Northern Ontario has not had representative in the tournament since Thunder Bay’s Al (The Ice Man) Hackner in 1985. He won it that year, recording his second title in four years. Although he never made it back to the event, Hackner left a legacy for all Northern Ontario curlers to follow.

“It’s been exciting for a lot of curlers and non-curler in this city to have this championship come to Sault Ste. Marie,” Jacobs said.

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League honoured the foursome at a game in which each of the players was given a team jersey with the number 13.

“That was actually really cool because the crowd was on their feet cheering for us,” Jacobs said. “It was a really awesome feeling.”

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