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St. Albert curler wins 15th career Grand Slam

Marc Kennedy hit another Grand Slam with the Brad Jacobs rink.

The 15th of Kennedy’s distinguished career was also the third in a row during the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season for the No. 1 team on the World Curling Tour’s money list at $103,500 and Order of Merit rankings as well as the Canadian Team Ranking points list.

“They’re all hard in their own way and they’re all pretty special when you're curling against all those top teams,” said Kennedy, a multiple Brier and world champion with rinks skipped by Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe.

Saturday’s final at the Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask., was closer than it should have been at 6-5 against John Epping of Toronto after Team Jacobs led 5-1 after five ends. Epping rallied with a deuce in six and steal of two in seven to pull even on the scoreboard. The eighth and last end was a draw with hammer by Jacobs against two counters and the shot stopped at the back of the eight-foot circle.

“The final was a bit unique having a big lead and then giving it away and still making the shot to win,” said Kennedy of the team’s sixth win without a loss in the 16-team triple-knockout event.

In the final, Kennedy curled 90 per cent and the team was 89 per cent overall with Jacobs at 78 per cent.

Kennedy was also graded at 100 per cent in the 6-3 semifinal against Mike McEwen of Winnipeg.

Jacobs joins Martin, Glenn Howard and Brendan Bottcher as the only skips to win three consecutive Grand Slams in the men’s division.

The winning streak featured the Tour Challenge in November at Pictou County, N.S., and the National last month at Conception Bay South, Nfld., in Kennedy's first season as the third for Jacobs, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden.

“It’s extremely exciting for us, especially being a new team. We’re still trying to figure each other out and I don’t think we expected to have this amount of success this quickly so we’re really happy, but we have some more things that we want to do and we want to accomplish and that’s been our team’s biggest strength. We’re always looking to build and get better and grow,” said Kennedy, a sub for Team Jacobs at the 2018 Canada Cup, a Season of Champions event on the Curling Canada circuit, and the victory in Estevan, Sask., included a spot at the 2021 Road to the Roar of the Rings Pre-Trials.

Best of the best

The Canadian Open was the fourth Grand Slam and third major of the season on the World Curling Tour, and the winners of the 16-team men’s and women’s finals received $35,000 plus berths at the season-ending Champions Cup and points toward the Pinty’s Cup, the season title that will be awarded at the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April in Toronto.

The Grand Slam season consists of six men’s and women’s events and the original four – Masters, Canadian Open, National and Players’ Championship – are considered as the majors. The Tour Challenge and Champions Cup have different formats that set them apart from the rest of the World Curling Tour events.

The Grand Slam of Curling for men was formed in 2001 by the Original 18 – skips who were frustrated by the Canadian Curling Association and among the concerns was the lengthy curling season, the lack of prize money at the Brier and the inability for teams to be sponsored at the Canadian championship. The women’s Grand Slam started in 2006.

“The Grand Slams have changed and evolved over time, but the idea was to be the major World Curling Tour events. We play a tour season with approximately 15 to 20 events and these were to be the big major ones with the top 15 or 16 teams in the world getting together for the biggest prize purses out there, “ Kennedy said. “If you look at it from a quality of curling standpoint these events are the hardest events in the world to win. Winning Briers and worlds and Olympics is amazing, but it’s not always a true representation of the best teams in the world when you consider five of the top six best teams in the world are from Canada. When you go to a world championship you only get one Canadian team so this is a true representation of all the best teams in the world and that’s what makes it so special to win because it's just so hard to do.”

Martin is the all-time Grand Slam's leader with 18, followed by Howard and Brent Laing with 16 apiece and Kennedy is tied with Wayne Middaugh at 15.

Jacobs and the Harnden brothers – 2014 Olympic gold medallists and 2013 Brier champions curling with Ryan Fry – have seven apiece after the Grand Slam threepeat by the best team in the world.

“We're making a lot of curling shots, which is great, but the other two things that are really helping us is a curling game can be a real roller coaster of emotions, but we’ve done a pretty good job of controlling them no matter what the situation and that hasn’t always been easy for us to do. That’s one of those areas that we’ve really grown and changed,” said Kennedy, the oldest curler on the team at age 37. “The other one is what Brad likes to call world class mindset, just trying to be the best in the world and what it takes to do that game in and game out. We’re not letting our heads get too big, we're not believing our own hype, we're just looking at each other and saying what can we constantly do to get better and that’s resulting in some good success and some really nice big wins.”

Brier contenders

Team Jacobs turns its attention to qualifying for the Brier, Feb. 29 to March 8 at Kingston, Ont., and provincials for the Northern Ontario rink based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., start Wednesday.

“There are some really good Northern Ontario teams, but they don’t travel as much as we do so they’re not really household names. Obviously my teammates are familiar with who they are and we’ve talked about it a bit this year and they’ve told me how good some of these teams are and how experienced they are," said Kennedy, a seven-time Alberta men’s champion. “To be honest, if we play to our level we should be fine, but you never know and that’s why they play the games. We're certainly not going to take anybody lightly and I'm sure we'll be challenged along the way because I know there are teams out there that want to beat us quite badly.

"It will also be a new experience for me. We're going out to New Liskeard, Ontario, where I've never been before, but it sounds like they have a nice arena (Don Shepherdson Memorial Arena) and some new curing rocks so the conditions should be good and I'm kind of looking forward to a new curling experience because I haven’t had many of those in the last little while.”

The last Brier for Kennedy was 2017 as Team Canada with Koe as skip lost the final to the hometown favourite Brad Gushue in St. John’s, Nfld.

The Brier was Kennedy's eighth and the third in a row with the Koe rink.

“It would be great to be back there again. It would be exciting. It's still one of the best events on the calendar. It's a showcase event for curling across Canada. I know one of our goals is to try and win the Canadian championship, but you have to get there first so it's certainly an important part of our season,” said Kennedy, a Brier champion in 2008 and 2009 with Team Martin and 2016 with Team Koe.

The 2011 St. Albert Curling Club wall of fame inductee is a two-time Olympian as a 2010 gold medallist with Team Martin at Vancouver and fourth-place finisher with Team Koe in 2018 at South Korea.

On March 3, 2018, the two-time world champion announced he was leaving Team Koe to rehab a sore hip and focus on his family and 12 months later ended his sabbatical by joining Team Jacobs.

Kennedy Classic

When the doting dad of two cheer team daughters isn’t rocking the ice, he’s assisting the organizing committee of the fifth annual Marc Kennedy Junior Classic, sponsored by The Co-operators.

The March 19 to 22 bonspiel is extra special for Kennedy with the presentation of the inaugural Don Kennedy Memorial Coaching Award.

The award honours the memory of Don Kennedy, who introduced the roaring game to his two sons, Marc and Glen, at the St. Albert Curling Club and was their first coach.

Don passed away Oct. 13 at the age of 66.

Marc’s wife, Nicole, initiated the endeavour. “She was thinking of a way we can honour my dad and what he did for my curling career and my brother’s curling career because nobody had a bigger impact on my sports and curling especially than my dad. We threw some thoughts around and we said, 'Let's put together a memorial coaching award so we can give back something to the coaches that have such a huge impact on these young men and women,'” Kennedy said. “It's just another way to honour a man that passed on his love of curling and sports to me and I'm obviously very grateful for that.”

The deadline for nominations is Feb. 15 and the winner will be announced at the Kennedy Classic.

“Nicole posted about it on social media last week to get it kicked off. We want the athletes (at the Kennedy Classic) to send us a little bit of info about their coaches, what they’ve done for them, what they do and how great a coach they are,” Kennedy said. “They don’t have to submit anything, but we wanted to give the kids the initiative to do something because we’ve seen the impact that coaches have had in junior curling at our spiel every year so this is a chance for the players to let us know what their coaches mean to them.

“It’s just an all around great thing because I'm not here where I am in my curling career if it wasn’t for my dad as my coach so we want them to be acknowledged.”

The Kennedy Classic consists of 65 teams in the U21 male and female, U18 male and female and intermediate divisions and the higher than anticipated registration totals forced organizers to add an extra day of draws at the St. Albert and Crestwood clubs.

"It’s going to be bigger and better than ever. It’s going to be a fantastic event,” said the Paul Kane High School alumnus who quarterbacked the St. Albert Storm as a 15-year-old southpaw to the 1997 Football Alberta Tier I provincial final as the metro Edmonton league Carr conference and northern Alberta champions in his Grade 11 season.

Jeff Hansen

About the Author: Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.
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