Brad Jacobs wasn't born yet when Northern Ontario last won a Canadian men's curling championship.
He arrived a few weeks after Al (The Iceman) Hackner stole a point in an extra end to beat Alberta's Pat Ryan in 1985.
Twenty-eight years later, Jacobs and his Sault Ste. Marie team conquered a tough field at the 2013 Brier in Edmonton, Alta. and defeated Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton 11-4 in Sunday's final to win the Canadian title.
"It's been too long since Northern Ontario's held that Tankard," Jacobs said, his voice shaking. "To bring this back to Northern Ontario, to Sault Ste. Marie, it means the world to us."
Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden will represent Canada at the Ford World Men's Curling Championship from March 30 to April 7.
It's the first Canadian men's title for all four curlers. At 27, Jacobs is the youngest skip to win the Brier since Kevin Martin in 1991 at age 24.
Recent Brier champions
- 2013 — Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)
- 2012 — Ontario (Glenn Howard)
- 2011 — Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton)
- 2010 — Alberta (Kevin Koe)
- 2009 — Alberta (Kevin Martin)
- 2008 — Alberta (Kevin Martin)
- 2007 — Ontario (Glenn Howard)
- 2006 — Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)
- 2005 — Alberta (Randy Ferbey)
"I don't even know how to feel right now," Jacobs said. "It's really overwhelming what's going on."
Three-time Canadian champion Stoughton had the hammer in the first end, but Manitoba started cold. Northern Ontario jumped all over their mistakes with a steal of two points in the first end and another single in the second.
Jacobs chipped out a Stoughton stone with a high-risk, high-reward shot in the fourth to score three and lead 6-2. Northern Ontario has the hitting game to defend a lead and did so.
"When you get a little bit behind, you've got to make some really good shots and it just doesn't happen, it's disappointing," Stoughton said. "I'm disappointed just because the crowd came here to see a great game and we certainly didn't give them a great game."
The Jacobs team was considered a dark horse contender in this Brier field behind the more established curling heavyweights of Stoughton, defending Canadian and world champion Glenn Howard of Ontario and Alberta's Martin, a four-time champion.
Jacobs skipped Northern Ontario to third in his debut as a skip in 2010. He and his cousins the Harnden brothers finished just outside playoffs the past two years at the Canadian championships.
Jacobs and the Harndens were gaining experience against elite competition, but because of their youth — all are under 30 — the Jacobs team was considered an up-and-coming unit.
The addition of Fry at third a year prior to this season took the team to another level. The Winnipeg-born Fry was Stoughton's second at the 2007 Brier and also played second and third for Brad Gushue at four previous Canadian championships.
The 34-year-old was representing his third different province at the Brier this year.
"I think that Ryan Fry just really helped that team with just maybe the chemistry," Martin observed earlier this week.
"It seems to be this year that Brad is maybe just breathing easier. I don't know why that is. Maybe one year older, but it's true, he's playing way better than he used to play and good on him."
Northern Ontario went 8-4 in the preliminary round to claim the fourth and final playoff spot. Jacobs downed Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador 6-5 in an extra end in a playoff game before upsetting Howard 9-7 in Sunday morning's semifinal.
Jacobs opened the tournament with four straight wins before losing momentum mid-week. It was their 9-4 win over Manitoba in their ninth game, says Jacobs, that revived the team for a final push.
"That was the turning point of our Brier," Jacobs said.
Unlike Howard, who started strong with 10 wins and then faded, Northern Ontario saved their best curling for the end of the round robin and the playoffs. Jacobs won six straight games to finish the tournament with shooting percentages around 90 per cent in each game.
"We had the shots and we got all the breaks as soon as playoffs started," the skip said. "We didn't have the advantage of last rock ever. To come out and do what we did is just phenomenal.
"We had a lot of misses out of Jeff, which helped us obviously win that game. He'll be the first to admit that. Wild."
Brier finalists each earn $40,000 in prize money, the bronze medallist receives $30,000 and the $20,000 goes to the fourth-place team.
The Jacobs team is now eligible for $144,000 in Sport Canada funding over a two-year period and another $40,000 for training and competition expenses from Own The Podium. They'll also receive $10,000 for wearing the Tim Hortons crest at the world championship.
They've also improved their chances of securing one of eight men's berths in December's Olympic trials in Winnipeg. Howard, Stoughton, and Martin have already claimed three. The trials winner represents Canada at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Another three berths will be filled by May 1 based on results the rest of this curling season. But Jacobs will have to win more events, including a world title, to get into trials, although his team is already assured of a berth in a trials qualifier in November.
The four curlers are self-admitted workout fiends with bulging biceps, but time spent in the gym is as much for off-ice reasons as on, says their third.
"We want to be known as the fittest team," Fry said this week. "If a sponsor is looking at a team that's fat and out of shape, as opposed to a team that's fit and look like athletes, why wouldn't they want to put money into our pockets instead of somebody else? For us, the business of curling is the brand you've got to create."
Jacobs is an account manager for RBC Royal Bank, Fry owns a general contracting company, E.J. Harnden, 29, works for Ontario Lottery and Gaming and Ryan, 26, is a real estate appraiser.
Howard defeated Gushue 7-6 in an extra end for the bronze medal Sunday.
The Brier in Edmonton drew about 200,000 to Rexall Place over nine days of competition, which was far off the attendance record of 281,000 set by Edmonton back in 2005. Martin's hometown team missing the playoffs dampened interest on the final weekend.
The Canadian Curling Association will incorporate a Team Canada into the Brier starting next year in Kamloops, B.C., where the winner earns an automatic berth into the 2015 Canadian championship. That's been part of the Canadian women's curling championship format since 1985.