The next major curling competition for Marc Kennedy is close to home.
The decorated St. Albert rocker is the third for the rink skipped by Brad Jacobs as the defending Home Hardware Canada Cup champions and the seven-team men’s draw starts today at Leduc Recreation Centre.
Up for grabs at the 15th Canada Cup, a Season of Champions event on the Curling Canada circuit, is a coveted berth at the 2021 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings in Saskatoon to determine the Team Canada rep at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and a $40,000 winner’s cheque, an increase from $14,000 last year.
“I’m super excited. Leduc is a big one with the Olympic Trials' spot on the line so it’s going to be a higher intense event,” Kennedy said in a phone interview Sunday morning from the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic, a World Curling Tour event at Penticton Curling Club.
“But the best part for me is I get to have some friends and family come watch. For my wife, Nicole, and the girls (Aubrey and Brechan) they get to watch me play live and it doesn’t happen very often anymore. We haven’t played a lot of events close to home so when they have the chance, when the girls are not at school or cheerleading, they’re going to be coming to watch a couple of games and I’m really looking forward to that. It will give me a little bit extra energy out there.”
His brother Glen and their mother, Connie, will be joined at the Canada Cup by the spirit of Kennedy’s father, Don, who died at the age of 66 on Oct. 13. Don was instrumental in the curling careers of his two sons from the Little Rocks program at St. Albert Curling Club through the competitive juniors ranks. Don also coached Marc in football in the early years for the southpaw quarterback.
“He was a good coach and I feel closest to him when I’m on a curling ice to be honest. Our bond and our connection came from our love of sport and of curling and being out there feels good and I know it’s where he wants me to be,” Kennedy said.
Team Jacobs, based out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., plays today at 2 p.m. against Glenn Howard and 7 p.m. against Kevin Koe, Thursday at 9 a.m. against Matt Dunstone and 7 p.m. against John Epping and Friday at 9 a.m. against Brendan Bottcher and 2 p.m. Brad Gushue.
The Canada Cup website is available at curling.ca.
The first time Kennedy curled with Jacobs and the front-end tandem of E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden was at the 2018 Canada Cup in Estevan, Sask.
The trio were the 2014 Olympic gold medallists and 2013 Brier champions with Ryan Fry on the team.
In Estevan, the 5-4 win against Koe in the final guaranteed Team Jacobs a spot at the 2021 Road to the Roar of the Rings Pre-Trials.
“That was nice, but our focus is certainly to try and go directly to Trials if we can,” Kennedy said.
Last year's Canada Cup ended a brief retirement from the competitive curling grind for Kennedy, who announced on March 3 of that year he was leaving Team Koe, the fourth-place finisher at the 2018 Olympics, to rehab a sore hip and take a mental break from the sport.
The two-time Olympian and 2010 gold medallist, three-time Brier champion in eight appearances and two-time world champion announced in March this year he was joining the perennial Northern Ontario reps at the Brier for a run at the 2022 Olympics.
“I really embraced the year off in lots of ways in reconnecting with family, but more importantly just working on my hip. I had a lot of work to strengthen the muscles around it if I want to keep playing and I watched a lot of curling last year and I felt as long as my hip was healthy I had some game left in me and it responded really well. My rehab and workouts were all about trying to stay flexible and strong,” said Kennedy, 37, of his “load management” strategy.
“We’re five events in (this season) and it hasn’t really crossed my mind other than I put a little more time in my warm-up before the games. I felt great, just re-energized, and I don't take anything for granted anymore out on the ice. I've enjoyed every game and just really tried to soak it in because you never do know if it's going to be your last game or last year so it kind of brought a whole new perspective to the game of curling.”
The latest victory for Team Jacobs was the Tour Challenge, a Grand Slam tour event in mid-November at Pictou County, N.S. It was the third final appearance of the season for the foursome and the Grand Slam triumph was the 13th of Kennedy’s career.
Another winning performance was the Stu Sells Tankard on the World Curing Tour last month in Toronto.
Last weekend’s World Curling Tour event in Penticton ended with a 5-1 record after bowing out in the quarter-finals.
“We’re experiencing some good success, but more importantly we're having fun. We’re out there enjoying each other and enjoying the game and that's really brought out the best in all four of us. We're excited to get out on the ice for every game and it's resulting in some good games and big wins,” Kennedy said of the first-place team in the World Curling Tour money list at $62,500 and the Canadian Team Ranking points list. “It’s been a good run. We gelled really quickly last year at the Canada Cup and kind of been building off that ever since and played great so we're loving how it's feeling out there and knowing each other. We've been playing well and we've been getting a few breaks which you hope for in curling and that's really helped.
“It feels real good to get back on the ice with good teammates like that and they've welcomed me with open arms which has made it pretty easy for myself."
When asked if Jacobs is similar or different than his previous skips in Koe and Kevin Martin, Kennedy replied: “How lucky have I been to play with these guys? I've been so lucky to play with some of the best curlers of all time,” said Kennedy, who was named the greatest Canadian male second in history and was also ranked eighth on a list of Canada’s all-time greatest male curlers in voting conducted lasts eason by a TSN panel of 31 curling personalities, including broadcasters, reporters and elite-level curlers responsible for selecting Canada's greatest curlers.
“The one thing these skips have in common is their shot making ability is incredible. All three can make every shot. It seems the bigger the stage and the bigger the moment the better they play and that's not normal. Most people will actually struggle under the pressure and under the lights, but these skips have an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion and in that case they’re the same.
"Personality wise they're all different people. They’ve all got different characteristics, which is great. You don't expect anybody to be exactly the same,” said Kennedy, a Brier first team all-star at second in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, second team all-star second in 2013 and second team all-star third in 2015.
“The big focus for me is just trying to support these guys the best way that I can while we're still getting to know each other,” Kennedy added. “And I love playing with Brad. He's a very supportive teammate. He's a very great communicator and he makes it very easy for me to do my role well.”
The fifth annual Marc Kennedy Junior Classic, sponsored by the Co-operators, has ballooned to 65 teams, an increase of 15 from the original format while adding a fourth day to the tournament.
“We were actually only looking for 50 teams, we were going to try and have it a little smaller, but we ended up with 67 teams registering within five minutes for online registrations,” Kennedy said. “It’s great. We love that response. It just kind of blew up and our big focus for us is try not to turn anybody away. If kids want to play and they want to curl we're going to try and give them that opportunity so we're up to 65 teams.”
The March 19 to 22 Junior Classic at the St. Albert and Crestwood clubs consists of teams in the U21 male and female, U18 male and female and intermediate divisions. Teams from Ontario, B.C. and Saskatchewan are also entered as well as representation from the Nordic Junior Curling Tour with a male rink from Norway and a female rink from Sweden participating.
“It's really become a national event. We're super looking forward to it,” said Kennedy, a Paul Kane High School alumnus who was inducted into the St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame in 2011.