I recently sat down to create a list of my favourite curling moments of the decade that just ended. What I quickly realized is that developing such lists on your own makes it a completely subjective exercise. Some of the curling moments from the past decade that have stuck with me have found their way on many similar lists over the past couple of weeks while other moments have seemingly only stood out to me.
What I also realized is that when developing a list of favourite moments, you invariably leave out exceptional players and teams that have achieved significant results over the length of the decade but simply didn’t have that one moment that has stood out to me personally.
So, here we go, a recap of some of curling’s biggest moments from the past decade with insight from people that were involved in those moments.
Grab a beverage, find a comfortable chair and join me on this journey through my favourite curling moments of the decade.
“Sing it loud”
Curling is mostly a reserved sport, both on the ice and in the crowd. There will be the occasional cheer or ovation following a key shot at big events but, otherwise, curling crowds are relatively quiet.
However, those in attendance at the 2010 Olympics were your typical curling crowd. In fact, the crowd was so loud in Vancouver that teams started using hand signals early in the week because it was next to impossible to hear what your teammates were saying from the other end of the sheet. To those that spent time at the curling venue that week, it was no surprise that the crowd provided the Vancouver Olympics with one of its most unexpected signature moments.
The reigning world champions from Great Britain were leading Canada 6-5 in the 10th end of a round-robin game that took place on the middle Saturday of the Vancouver Games. Just as Canada’s Marc Kennedy was setting up to throw his first rock of the end a spontaneous rendition of “O Canada” made its way through the crowd. None of the players competing in the three games on the ice that evening knew how to react. Kennedy was caught looking up at teammates Ben Hebert and John Morris while in the hack and quizzically asking, “…you ever have this before?”
It lasted for little more than a minute but it was a moment that spoke to the sense of patriotism that had started to grip our country after what had been a relatively slow start to the home Olympics for Canadian athletes and, for John Morris of Team Canada, it was a moment he will never forget.
“That was one of those moments from my career that I’ll always remember” Morris recently told From the Hack, “…I felt so lucky and privileged to play at a home Olympics. The crowd in Vancouver was electric that whole week but that moment will stick with me forever. I remember looking up into the crowd as they were singing the anthem and thinking how surreal it all.”
A side note to this particular moment is that Kennedy made two nice throws in the 10th end of that game despite all the adrenaline that must have been running through his body at the time and Canada went on to score two points to win the game 7-6.
Early in the decade a young, athletic and somewhat unknown team out of Northern Ontario started making waves on the curling landscape and by the time they arrived in Winnipeg for the 2013 Olympic Trials, Team Jacobs was not only the reigning Brier champions they had also become the poster boys for what irked many curling traditionalists. The team from Sault Ste Marie played with an edge, they celebrated key shots and victories a little more enthusiastically than most teams and they didn’t seem to care what other people thought.
Once in Winnipeg for the Trials, Team Jacobs got on a roll early in the week and their round-robin game against Kevin Martin was a battle of unbeaten teams with the winner earning a spot in the Trials final. With his team down by one in the 10th end, Brad Jacobs could have attempted a relatively easy draw to score one and send the game to an extra-end but he chose to attempt a soft double-runback for two that earned the team a victory and spot in the Trials final. As E.J. Harnden recently recalled:
“Brad was throwing an out-turn on that shot and I was going to be the inside sweeper. I remember hoping that I would have to sweep so that I could have an impact on the shot and, as it turned out, Brad threw it great and both Ryan and I got to sweep it the whole way for a great team shot”.
As good as the game-winning shot was, what many people will long remember was Brad Jacobs sliding back down the ice after handshakes and yelling “Come On” and urging on the crowd to thunderous applause. It was a spontaneous, adrenaline and emotion-filled reaction that we don’t often see in curling and that gave us a glimpse into just how intense the curling trials can be, even for the reigning Brier champs.
“Of all the curling shots that I have been part of, it is the one shot that I remember the most”, Harnden told From the Hack, “… it is the one shot from our curling career that I’ll occasionally go back and watch. It makes me smile and reminds of the electric feeling on our team and in the crowd that evening in Winnipeg”.
Team Jacobs went on to win the Olympic Trials and a gold medal for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
“The shot that lifted a province”
The 2017 Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s, Newfoundland certainly deserves its own movie someday because that week played out like a Hollywood script. It started with Brad Gushue, Newfoundland’s favourite son, pushing to bring the Brier to his hometown for the first time since 1972. Gushue, the 2006 Olympic champion, had long been recognized as one of his sport’s best players but had failed to win the national men’s championship in 13 previous appearances. The stage was set. Would the team of Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker be able to win Newfoundland and Labrador’s first brier since 1976 and do it on home ice?
Just like in most Hollywood scripts, this story had a buildup followed by some adversity. Team Gushue got off to a sluggish 2-2 start and in between their second loss and their next game against Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, the team held a meeting where they reminded themselves of how exciting a week this should be for them and encouraged each other to relax a little more and have fun. Whatever was said in that team meeting certainly worked. Team Gushue not only defeated Northern Ontario but also defeated every other team they faced in the lead-up to the championship final where they would face the reigning champions, Kevin Koe and his team from Alberta who were wearing the Canadian colours in St. John’s as Team Canada.
Just like any good Hollywood script, the 2017 Brier had a climactic scene which came on the last shot of the championship final. With the game tied 6-6, Brad Gushue would get a chance to win his first Brier by making a relatively routine draw to the eight-foot. The problem was, the ice had gotten some six feet slower during the game, Geoff Walker was injured and could barely sweep and, oh ya, all that was on the line was a first career Brier title for Gushue and the first title for Newfoundland and Labrador in over forty years.
The climactic scene had all the stereotypical trappings of sports stories told on film. Cameras focused on the main protagonist as he took a deep breath while the arena became eerily quiet. Gushue released the rock, Nichols hurriedly ran halfway up the ice to help Gallant sweep, the crowd noise increased steadily and, just when it looked like the shot would come up short, the sweepers dragged it for the victory by no more than a few inches. The crowd erupted, the players jumped into each other’s arms and the cameras panned into the crowd where family members, tears running down their cheeks, celebrated the fact that their fathers, sons, husbands and boyfriends had just won the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier.
“That last shot felt like it was moving in slow motion,” Brett Gallant told FTH the week following the 2017 Brier, “…by the time Mark joined me halfway up the ice to help sweep, the crowd noise was unbelievable. By the time we got to the hog line, I still wasn’t 100% sure it was going to make it but all I knew is that if we stopped sweeping, we were going to be short.”
The Hollywood script for this movie would no doubt end with members of Team Gushue on stage in the Brier Patch as the Brier Tankard crowd-surfed around the room or it would end with images of Team Gushue’s on-ice celebration after winning the 2017 World Championship in Edmonton a few weeks later.
The Japanese women’s program has been at the forefront of curling’s expansion into Asia from the very beginning. It was a Japanese women’s team that became the first Asian team to compete at a world championship when Midori Kudoh’s team competed at the 1990 world championships in Vasteras, Sweden. The Japanese women were also the dominant force in the first decade of the Pacific-Asia Championship, winning the women’s title nine consecutive times.
Success in the Pacific-Asia region never translated to success at the World Championships for the Japanese women who reached the playoffs only twice in their first 20 appearances and lost in the bronze medal game both times. As such, there was no reason to expect a breakthrough performance when Satsuki Fujisawa and her team arrived in Swift Current for the 2016 World Championships.
What stood out about Fujisawa and her teammates that week wasn’t so much a specific moment or the skill they showed in finishing tied atop the round-robin standings but the fact that their team members seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience of competing at a world championship and did so while smiling through much of their games.
“We tried to maintain a completely serious attitude on the ice at one point, but it didn’t really change our results,” Team Fujisawa’s third Chinami Yoshida told From the Hack, “…we found that smiling helped our spirit during games and we performed better”.
Were it not for Binia Feltscher and her team from Switzerland that defeated Team Fujisawa three times in Swift Current including in the championship final, the team from Kitami would have likely won Japan’s first world curling championship. That said, the 2016 World Championship was the long-awaited breakthrough for the Japanese program.
“The Japanese federation had invested a lot of money, time and effort into developing players and it was nice to see such a young team breakthrough to win a medal at Worlds,” Japanese coach J.D. Lind told From the Hack in late 2016. “When the team got back to Japan, they were greeted by a few hundred members of the media at the airport and coverage of their success provided additional exposure for the sport in a country where there remains so much potential for growth”.
Inspired and encouraged by their breakthrough at the 2016 World Women’s Curling Championship, Team Fujisawa went on to win a bronze medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. The team is currently ranked 6th in the world and have reached the semi-finals at two Grand Slam events this season.
“The Curling Family”
Occasionally, life will throw you a curveball and, in those moments, it is always good to be surrounded by a support network that you can lean on. Over the past decade, the curling world embraced several of their own as they dealt with loss or health issues. Two such occasions stood out to me as I reported on curling over the past several seasons.
In November of 2015, two-time World and Canadian champion Craig Savill was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and the world’s curling family was quick to react as notes of support and encouragement came in from around the curling world.
In the Spring of 2016, the Tim Hortons Brier was held in Savill’s hometown of Ottawa. Savill desperately wanted to attend the Brier but he had a treatment the very week of the Brier round-robin so the chances of him having the energy to attend any draws seemed remote. However, after a visit from some of the players competing in the Brier, Savill accepted an invitation to make his way to the arena and sit on the bench for his former skip Glenn Howard in a game against Team Canada skipped by Pat Simmons.
“Knowing the guys on both teams and how good-natured they are, I suspected they might try and get me to go get into a game,” Savill recently told From the Hack, “but I had no energy at all and had no interest in throwing any rocks.
Team Howard scored four points in the 7th end of their game against Team Canada to take an 8-4 lead. Between the 7th and 8th ends, Team Howard’s Richard Hart informed Savill that they were putting him into the game.
“I was going to say no,” Savill said, “but there was a TSN camera some five feet away pointing straight at me and I surely couldn’t say no live on national television”. Savill got into the game after a couple of practice slides and delivered two perfect rocks.
“Just as I was getting down into the hack, out of the corner of my eye I saw that all the other sheets had stopped playing and were watching me,” Savill recalled, “…I kept telling myself not to fall and then muscle memory took over and I somehow managed to throw a couple of good rocks.”
There were very few dry eyes at the TD Place Arena in Ottawa when Savill entered that game on March 10th, 2016 and it was a moment that no one in attendance will ever forget.
Just two and a half years later, the curling world was in mourning when the world’s top players arrived in North Bay for the Masters Grand Slam. A week earlier, Aly Jenkins a competitive curler from Saskatchewan had died shortly after giving birth to her third child.
During the afternoon draw on Thursday, October 24th, a moment of silence was held for Jenkins. You could have heard a pin drop at Memorial Gardens in North Bay as all the players on the ice and those in attendance stood in memory of Jenkins. What made the moment especially poignant for those of us in attendance was that on the ice at the time were Rachel Homan, Joanne Courtney and Liz Fyfe, who had all recently given birth and who were all roughly the same age as Jenkins. Watching one of these young moms wiping away tears during the moment of silence was enough to put a lump in anyone’s throat.
I had long heard that despite some rivalries, the curling community always supported their own in times of trouble. Watching how both Craig Savill and Aly Jenkins’ family were embraced and supported made me proud to be a member of that curling community.
“Curling Gets Koe’d”
When curling historians look back at the past decade one thing that will stand out is the fact that Kevin Koe not only won four Briers in the decade but that he did it with four different thirds.
“You rarely see curling teams having their biggest successes after they have been together for 7 or 8 years”, Koe told From the Hack back in 2015, “…as difficult as it is to split up with friends and people with whom you’ve gone through so much, it has always seemed to work out well for me.”
What the record books will not show and what will eventually turn Kevin Koe into a mythic curling figure is that he has turned “one in a thousand, barely there” shots into an art form. Koe has made so many of these shots that you can feel a sense of anticipation in the crowd, whenever he calls for a wide “in-off”, a triple takeout or a double-raise. Koe has made so many of these difficult shots that there is often a collective gasp when he misses.
The irony is that despite his propensity for take-outs, Koe’s two career-defining shots, the one that won him his first Brier in 2010 and the shot that earned his team a spot at the 2018 Olympics, were both draws to the four-foot.
All that said, the one moment that perhaps best illustrates the fearlessness and competitive spirt of Kevin Koe came in the 2017 Brier final in St. John’s. Trailing 5-1 to Brad Gushue in front of a raucous crowd, Koe made a “barely there” double takeout for three in the 6th end that got his team right back into a game that they ended up losing on last rock. It was a classic Koe moment of making something out of nothing to help his team.
“That was obviously a key shot for us”, Marc Kennedy told From the Hack at the time, “…they had taken a big lead and the crowd was really into it…that shot got us back into it and from there things got interesting”.
Since that 2017 Brier final, Koe has won the Olympic Trials, finished 4th at the Olympic Games, added BJ Neufeld and Colton Flasch to his team, won a 4th Brier and finished second at the 2019 World Championships.
The road to curling immortality was a bumpy one for American John Shuster. By the age of 23, Shuster had won an Olympic bronze medal and played in three world championships as the lead for Pete Fenson. After leaving to skip his own team, Shuster twice qualified for the Olympics only to go a combined 4-14 at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Following the 2014 Games in Sochi, Shuster was even dropped from USA Curling’s High-Performance Program.
Showing the resiliency that would serve him well at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Shuster used this as motivation. He created a new team consisting of Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner, won the 2015 and 2017 U.S. Nationals and won the bronze medal result at the 2016 Worlds in Basel.
Despite all these successes, Shuster’s focus seemed to be on returning to the Olympics for some redemption. His team won the Olympics Trials and, after the first four games of the round-robin in Pyeongchang, it looked like they might be on their way to another disappointing Olympic finish. The Americans were 2-4 when they faced Kevin Koe and his Canadian team. Shuster had a record of 0-4 record against Canada in his previous Olympic appearances and his team had a 1-6 record against Team Koe in 2018 Olympic cycle.
The record books will show that the United States defeated Canada 9-7 in that round-robin game. What the record books will not show is how that victory was a breakthrough moment for Shuster and his team that provided them with the momentum needed to go undefeated for the remainder of the 2018 Olympics, including a 10-7 win over the favoured Swedes in the gold medal final.
The victory over the Swedes is what won Team Shuster the gold medal and earned them opportunities such as appearing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. However, it was the round-robin victory over Canada that made the Americans believe in themselves after a tough start and gave them the momentum they needed to eventually qualify for the playoffs. The importance of the victory over Canada was not lost on Shuster who was openly emotional following the game.
“The Olympics have been hard on me over my career,” Shuster told NBC Sports while fighting back tears following the game versus Canada. “To come out here and get a win against the class of the field was very big for our team and gives us momentum going forward. It always feels good to make the last shot and execute”.
Some will argue that Shuster and his team were fortunate to win the gold medal, getting hot at the right time and having other teams make mistakes at key moments during games. The bottom line is none of that matters. Team Shuster won a gold medal by making shots when they had to, by being opportunistic and by scoring more points than the other team…and all started with that round-robin victory over Canada.
“Canada gets a pep talk”
Most elite Canadian curlers did not pay much attention to mixed doubles before the discipline was added to the Olympic schedule. Even then, many of Canada’s top players were clearly focused on their men’s and women’s teams and paid little attention to mixed doubles unless they were at the Continental Cup.
For their part, John Morris and family friend Rachel Homan played a few events together on the World Curling Tour and lost in the final of the 2017 Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship to Homan’s teammate Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers. Many expected the duo to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympics but, there was a hiccup. In a decision that Morris did not agree with at the time, Curling Canada informed players that no athlete would be allowed to compete in two different disciplines in Pyeongchang. As such, when Homan’s team won the Olympic Trials in Ottawa, Morris was left without a partner.
Luckily for Morris, 2014 Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Lawes was available and, after starting 2-3 at the mixed doubles Olympic Trials, the new partners went on a winning streak that led them to the Olympics in Korea.
The Canadians stumbled out of the gate in Pyeongchang, although the Norwegian team they played in their first round-robin game was one of the best teams in the world heading into the Olympics. Lawes and Morris then went on a run, going undefeated for the remainder of the round-robin and setting-up a semi-final rematch against the Norwegians.
Kaitlyn Lawes played very well during the round-robin, but she struggled in the first half of the semi-final even though Canada led 3-2. The Canadian curling “Twitterverse” was all aflutter with panic at Canada’s slim lead due, in part, to uncharacteristic misses by Lawes. It was almost as if John Morris could feel the tension building in Canada when he went over to Colleen Jones of CBC Sports for an interview during the 4th end break. What he did in the space of a little over a minute during that interview was put a country at ease and perhaps share insight into what he had told his partner following that 4th end.
“Here’s the thing with mixed doubles,” Morris told Jones in that mid-game interview, “…it’s an 8-end game and I’d much rather have a better ending than a good start. Were going to have a solid four ends here and we are going to win the game. She may have struggled a little bit, but I have nothing but faith in Kaitlyn, she is a terrific player and she’ll be alright.”
Perhaps it was a coincidence but the Canadian curling “Twitterverse” seemed to calm down after that mid-game pep talk and, more important for Canada, Lawes picked up her game and the Canadians outscored the Norwegians 5-2 in the second half to win 8-4. Team Canada went on to defeat Switzerland in the final to win the first-ever Olympic mixed doubles gold medal. As a side note, both Lawes and Morris finished atop the rankings at their positions during the Olympic competition, Lawes shooting a combined 76% while Morris shot a combined 82%.
“A gold medal collision”
The last “moment” to make my list consists of two shots that took place in the same game, some 20 minutes apart. They weren’t the most difficult shots ever but what made them so special is that they occurred in the pressure-filled championship final at the 2018 World Women’s Curling Championship in North Bay.
The two teams facing each other weren’t new to pressure situations. Team Hasselborg of Sweden was coming off a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics and their opponents, Team Jones of Canada, was one of the more accomplished teams in the history of women’s curling.
Both the Swedes and Canadians started cautiously in the final, but the action picked up and the two teams were tied 4-4 through 8 ends. What followed next were three ends that included shots, both good and bad, that will long be remembered by those in attendance at North Bay’s Memorial Gardens and those watching on TV.
The drama started in the 9th end when Jennifer Jones made a tricky run-back for two points. The Canadian crowd erupted to a point that the scaffolding where the media bench was located started shaking.
“I knew the path well for that shot so I was fairly confident that we could make it even though it was a fairly long run-back,” Jones told the media after the game.
Team Hasselborg could have easily been rattled after Jones’ shot and the crowd reaction but they showed the composure one expects from a more experienced team, coming right back with two points of their own in the 10th end. Hasselborg sent the game to an extra when she made a double take-out that had to come perilously close to a guard and made it look easy.
Under the pressure of a world championship final the shot by Jones in the 9th and by Hasselborg in the 10th both provided great drama. Unfortunately, the game was decided by a strange ending. With her first rock of the 11th end, Jones came up 10 feet short of the hog line while trying to place a guard. Team Canada’s error left Hasselborg with an opening but she flashed on a hit that would have left Sweden lying one and buried.
It was a shocking end to a championship final that provided both Canadian and Swedish curling fans with moments that will be remembered for a very long time.
So, that does it for my favourite curling moments of the last decade. There were so many great moments throughout the past ten years that someone could likely write their own list and not include any of the moments I just outlined.
Here’s to another terrific ten years!