Lefko on curling: The start of something special

Daid Nedohin has joined Edmonton skip Kevin Martin and given his bid at winning the Olympic curling trials new life.

When one member of Kevin Martin’s team left the squad, he recruited a Nedohin.

All puns aside, the news this week that David Nedohin has joined Martin’s Edmonton team hardly came as a surprise. Was there really any other choice? It just took some things to fall into place to make it happen.

Immediately after Martin’s vice-skip, John Morris, announced his decision to leave the squad after seven seasons because he felt it had lost its competitive edge, the one player who logically stood out as his replacement was Nedohin. He had won four Briers and three world championships between 2001 and 2005, playing third for Randy Ferbey but throwing skip stones.

Even though Nedohin has largely been absent from elite-level competition — notwithstanding playing third for Thomas Ulsrud in the recent Players’ Championships in Toronto and wearing those funky pants that the Norwegian skip has made famous or infamous depending on your viewpoint — no one else could have served Martin’s needs.

Not at this point of his career.

Understand that Martin, also known as ‘The Old Bear’, is 46 and in the twilight of his career and his immediate focus is representing Canada in the Olympics next year. He won the championship four years ago and qualified for the Canadian Olympic trials in December by winning the 2011 Canada Cup of Curling. Martin’s team started to decline not long thereafter, hence the decision by Morris to part ways with the other three members. He has since joined Jim Cotter’s team from Kelowna, B.C., as a third who will devise his squad’s strategy. At this point, Cotter’s team has not qualified for the Canadian Olympic trials, but can lock up a spot by finishing in the top two in the pre-trials tournament in Kitchener in November.

As for Martin, who knows how the change in the thirds will change the fortunes of his team? Was the spiral of his team a product of a squad that had started to lose its efficiency? Seven years together can do that, especially when the first five yielded so much success that was reflected in two Brier wins, a world championship victory, an Olympic gold medal and domination on the cashspiel circuit. Adding Nedohin won’t necessarily translate to success.

There were various elite players available for Martin, but Nedohin had everything the skip wanted. He is based in Edmonton and has no desire at this point in his life and career to focus on long-term curling goals. In fact, he had already decided to take the year off from curling to play the role of Mr. Mom, while his wife, Heather, skip of the team that won the Canadian women’s championship in 2012, focused on the trials, having already qualified. Nedohin made his intentions known and you had to admire it, placing the needs of his wife and her dreams ahead of himself and his career.

And then along comes Martin with one of those once-in-a-lifetime offers, which he politely declined. How the union came together is one of those lovely stories that speaks to the fabric of the sport, one that is based on sacrifice and understanding, although the competitive pursuit of some players has been known to break up a marriage. Nedohin’s parents, who live in Phoenix in the winter, volunteered to look after his son and daughter-in-law’s two young children.

Nedohin’s parents will deserve at least an honourable mention if Martin’s team goes on to represent Canada in the Olympics. If Martin’s team wins, Nedohin’s parents deserve a medal of their own.

Nedohin is 39 and has long since passed the point in which he dominated the world as a vice-skip throwing skip stones. The winning history is there. All four team members — and this includes the front end of lead Ben Hebert and second Marc Kennedy — have played in big games and know what it takes to be the best. It all comes down to ability now.

What really makes this arrangement interesting is that there was a time when no one would have ever expected it to happen. Nedohin’s greatest success happened playing for Randy Ferbey, who happened to be Martin’s greatest rival. They not only battled on the ice, they were also at philosophical loggerheads in terms of their viewpoints about the rights of players, specifically as it applied to the Brier. Martin believed the players were the show and should be financially compensated for their time and expense by the Canadian Curling Association, which ruled the sport and kept a tight lock on the profits generated from the Brier. It was the CCA’s belief that the Brier could succeed on its own without high-profile players.

Martin and others of his elite ilk elected not to play in provincial playdowns to focus on growing the fledgling World Curling Tour and its signature Grand Slam events because they could showcase their sponsors with crests on their jerseys and make some money. This coincided with Ferbey’s run of three consecutive Brier wins.

Martin and the other militants were able to eventually negotiate an agreement with the CCA that allowed the players to reap some financial reward from the Brier. You could make the argument that Ferbey benefitted from Martin’s absence in the playdowns, along with some top national teams that were absent from the Brier because they chose not to participate in their provincial playdowns. Who knows if Ferbey’s team would have ever achieved the overall greatness that it did?

Martin did what he felt was right in the best interests of the players, even if some such as Ferbey didn’t embrace the thought. That, however, is in the past. The game has grown exponentially as have the purses, and to a great extent it is because of Martin.

All Martin wants now is the Olympic glory he enjoyed in 2010 and he now has a player he feels can help him accomplish that task. Nedohin contacted Ferbey after Martin reached out to him with the offer. Ferbey told Nedohin he’d be foolish to turn down the chance.

Nedohin was always the best choice. Once he gained approval from the greatest influence in his curling career, Nedohin received support from his parents. This has all the makings of a great movie. All it needs is the perfect ending.

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