Officer, Kennedy bid farewell following Champions Cup semifinals

Jill Officer hugs Jennifer Jones after the Champions Cup semifinals on April 28, 2018, in Calgary. (Anil Mungal)

CALGARY — Saturday’s semifinal draw for the Humpty’s Champions Cup at WinSport Arena was an emotional sendoff for an Officer and a gentleman.

Olympic gold medallists Jill Officer and Marc Kennedy bid farewell to the fans with their teams eliminated from the season finale Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament as they both plan to take steps back from the sport.

Officer, who played second for Jennifer Jones, dropped a 6-4 decision to Kerri Einarson in a battle between Winnipeg teams while Kennedy, now the former third for Calgary’s own Kevin Koe, fell 7-5 to Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L.

It was a grind of a tournament for Jones, who also lost to Einarson during round-robin play Friday, and needed a victory during the morning tiebreaker over Edmonton’s Val Sweeting to secure a playoff berth. The end for Officer was a family affair with her niece Kristin MacCuish throwing lead stones for Einarson.

“I think the last four games could have been the last game,” Officer said. “I actually thought that yesterday against my niece was going to be the last time I played against her but then we met up again today. I guess if I was going to get knocked out by anybody, it was nice that it was Kristin.”

The 42-year-old Officer will stay on board as the team’s alternate and has had one of the most decorated careers in women’s curling. Officer, who began her off-and-on tenure with Jones back when they were juniors, captured the 2014 Olympic gold medal, two world championships plus a record-tying six Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles. She has also earned a record nine Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s championships.

“It’s hard to sum up in just a few words but I’m really grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve had and the experiences, stories and memories both on and off the ice,” Officer said. “All the travelling of the world that I’ve gotten to do and people I’ve met.

“I’m going to really miss being a full member of the team but I just knew I couldn’t do it. I’m happy to still be around, help out the girls and see what other capacity I can be involved in the sport because it’s my community, they’re my people.”

Kennedy, 36, has also had a storied career in men’s play first as a second before moving up to third when he joined Koe’s crew four years ago. The St. Albert, Alta., native claimed Olympic gold on home ice at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, with skip Kevin Martin, and won three Brier and two world championships in total. Kennedy captured his 12th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title two weeks ago at the Players’ Championship in Toronto.

“I’ve been so lucky,” Kennedy said. “I’ve just been very fortunate with tremendous teammates and a lot of luck from the curling gods to have some amazing experiences and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it. It’s hard to be sad with everything I’ve got in my life that came from this wonderful sport. Hopefully, it’s not the end but it’s definitely going to be a big change next year not being on the ice.”

Team Koe second Brent Laing is also moving on returning to compete in his home province of Ontario. Laing, like Kennedy, joined Team Koe in 2014 adding a third Brier and world title to his collection along the way while also representing Canada at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“It’s hard to believe it’s over, to be honest,” Laing said. “It goes by so quick and four years seems like a long commitment and a long time but it’s amazing how fast it went by.

“It was a roller coaster. We had so many highs and so many lows and everything in between. I got to know those three guys really well along with coach [John] Dunn and [fifth] Scotty Pfeifer and we had a great group, great chemistry and lots of success, lots of big wins and lots of big losses. It was a hell of a ride.”

Laing links back up with longtime friend and teammate Craig Savill as the pair team with skip John Epping and third Mat Camm.

“It’s a new challenge, which is always exciting to see,” Laing said. “We’re four good players but you never know until you put a team together what it’s going to be like and how you’re going to operate and the kind of success you’re going to have.

“I’m excited to be heading into a new challenge and obviously super excited to be back with Savill and to see him back out on the ice. I’m excited to have Mat Camm at third, he’s a young guy with a huge upside and John, who’s one of the best skips in the world and a great shot-maker. On paper it looks like we’re good but we’ll have to prove it day in and day out and I’m excited to do that.”

Koe has retained lead Ben Hebert for next season and is adding third B.J. Neufeld from Team McEwen and former skip Colton Flasch at second. Team Carey’s Jocelyn Peterman will take over for Officer at second on Team Jones.

Einarson faces Ottawa’s Rachel Homan in the women’s final after the defending champion shelved Scotland’s Eve Muirhead 9-6.

Homan bounced back down 5-0 after two ends with a three-ender in three followed by steals of one in the fourth and two in the fifth to take the lead. Muirhead was forced to a single in six to tie it but it was all Homan from there with a deuce in seven and an extra steal in eight.

Gushue, who has won all of the titles in the GSOC except for the Humpty’s Champions Cup, goes up against Glenn Howard of Tiny, Ont., in the men’s final.

Howard scored two sets of four-enders to shelve Scotland’s Bruce Mouat 9-5 and reach his first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling final in over four years. Howard captured his 16th and most recent Grand Slam title at the National in March 2014 coincidentally defeating Gushue in the championship game.

The women’s final is set for Sunday at 10 a.m. MT (Sportsnet 360) followed by the men’s final at 2 p.m. MT (Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet ONE). Online streaming is available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).

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