Ryan Fry’s arrival on Team Brad Jacobs seven years ago helped push the rink to curling’s greatest heights. His departure will come at the end of a season that included significant challenges.
A mutual decision to move on came after Fry called Jacobs on Thursday morning.
"We had a conversation that basically consisted of us both agreeing that everyone needs a fresh start and the shelf life of our team had been reached," Jacobs told The Canadian Press on Friday. "It was time for everyone to kind of hit the refresh button."
In a statement Friday morning, the team said the foursome will play two Grand Slam events together next month before Fry explores "alternative options for next season." Jacobs, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden will continue to play together and the search is on for a replacement at third.
"I think everyone is feeling probably mixed emotions," Jacobs said from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. "Both disappointed as well as relieved in a way. I think that’s probably the best way to describe it."
Fry joined the team in 2012 to form a stellar back end with Jacobs, who had arguably the strongest sweeping duo in the game with the Harnden brothers. They won the Tim Hortons Brier in 2013, silver at the world championship and Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
The winning continued into the next quadrennial. The team won the Players’ Championship in 2015 and added three more Grand Slam titles since, including a victory at the Tour Challenge last November.
A low point came a week later.
Fry, playing as a substitute at the Red Deer Curling Classic, was disqualified along with teammates Jamie Koe, Chris Schille and DJ Kidby for what organizers called unsportsmanlike behaviour resulting from excessive drinking.
Organizers said Fry broke three brooms and that the team used foul language and was disruptive to other players on the ice. All four players later apologized and Fry took a leave of absence from Team Jacobs to focus on growth and self-improvement.
He came back in January at the Canadian Open and posted strong numbers after his return. The team won the Northern Ontario playdowns but lost in the semifinal at the Brier last weekend.
"We went through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as a team and I wouldn’t have wanted to do that with anyone else," Jacobs said. "I’m proud of our successes and I’m proud of our failures because we’ve learned a lot from them."
Team Jacobs currently holds the No. 2 position in the national rankings behind Brier winner Kevin Koe.
"After seven amazing years together, which resulted in a Brier win, an Olympic gold medal, multiple Grand Slam titles and being one of the best teams in our sport for many years, we feel as though it is time to try something different — a fresh start," the team statement said.
The decision came "after some reflection and multiple conversations," it read.
"People change, things change, teams change," Team Jacobs coach Adam Kingsbury said from Ottawa. "These guys are competitors. They all want to win, I promise you. I will attest to the fact that those four guys are unbelievable."
Team Jacobs is entered in the April 9-14 Players’ Championship in Toronto and will close out the season at the April 23-28 Champions Cup in Saskatoon.
"What an amazing ride the last seven years have been," Fry said in the statement. "Over that time, Brad, E.J. and Ryan have become some of my closest friends and I wish them all the best moving forward."
Fry said he was excited to pursue new opportunities and added that while "change is sometimes necessary for personal growth and perspective," he’ll always be thankful for time spent with the team.
"We have two events left to play and then they will be joining me at my wedding this May."
Before joining Team Jacobs, the 40-year-old Winnipeg native won four provincial titles (2009-12) with skip Brad Gushue out of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fry also won a Manitoba crown in 2007 with skip Jeff Stoughton.
Fry represented Northern Ontario on six occasions at the Brier.
"You can talk about someone’s seven-year history and their shotmaking performances, but what I’ll certainly always take with me is how good of a person he is," Kingsbury said. "If we judge someone based on one public incident, it’s actually doing a disservice to all of those things.
"So I hope he looks back and he’s proud and I hope the game gives him the respect that he deserves because he’s a hell of a person."
Matt Wozniak and Marc Kennedy played as substitutes on Team Jacobs during Fry’s leave of absence.
"When Ryan returned in January, the dynamic was something that we had to work on," Jacobs said. "But we handled it very well. I think we really bounced back from that as best we could and made the most of the last couple of months.
"I’m really looking forward to heading out on the ice with the guys for the last two events and hopefully ending our team’s seven-year run on a great note."
Curling lineup moves are quite common throughout a quadrennial leading up to a Winter Games.
A team lasting seven years together has become a rarity at the elite level.
"Everything that we dreamed about accomplishing since we were kids — this team did it," Jacobs said. "Obviously we’re very proud of those accomplishments. It was a great run. We had a lot of fun and a lot of success.
"We’ll certainly cherish all of those moments and all of those memories for the rest of our lives."