Road To The Olympic Games

Almost torn apart last season, Team Jacobs feeling rejuvenated at Brier

It wasn't all that long ago the brash and boisterous bunch of curlers from Northern Ontario were the team to beat. They captured the 2013 Brier, then the Olympic trials and then Olympic gold in Russia in 2014. But the last five years have been frustrating — playoff losses at the Brier and and a loss at the 2017 Olympic trials almost broke apart Team Jacobs.

Northern Ontario rink getting their groove back after tumultuous times following Brier, Olympic victories

Team Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs makes a shot during the first draw against the wildcard team at the Brier in Brandon, Man. on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

BRANDON, Man. — There was an undeniable placidity to Brad Jacobs as he walked off the ice after a dominating first game victory Saturday afternoon at the 2019 Brier.

Calm, poised, and smiling he briefly celebrated with his teammates third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden.

Jacobs then stepped in front of the bright lights and throng of waiting media in the bowels of Westoba Place to answer questions about their 10-2 win over Brendan Bottcher's wild card team.

"I would say that this was one of the calmest Team Jacobs you've seen at the Brier," Jacobs began.

None of this is new to Jacobs, making his 11th Brier appearance, but in some ways this year's championship is a completely new experience for the northern Ontario team.

It wasn't all that long ago the brash and boisterous bunch of curlers were the team to beat. It was as if overnight they rose to curling stardom, winning the 2013 Brier, then the Olympic trials and then Olympic gold in Russia in 2014.

Canada skip Brad Jacobs celebrates with Ryan Fry, E.J.Harnden (left) and Ryan Harnden (right) in February of 2014 in Sochi, Russia. After a few years of Brier playoff losses and defeat in the 2017 Olympic trials, the rink is returning to the top of their game. (File/The Canadian Press)

"We were just young and I think we were naïve and didn't know what we were doing. We were passionate about the game and winning," Jacobs said.  "We got all the right breaks and played extremely well. But as you stay together as a team you go through that storming phase."

It was brewing for years.

They fist-pumped when they made great shots. They slammed their brooms on the ice when the missed shots. They were dubbed the bad boys of curling and didn't mind it because they were winning.

But what happens to all of that pizazz when the winning stops? What remains? Jacobs has been thinking about these questions since his last big bonspiel win. These last five years have been frustrating — strong round-robin appearances at the Brier only to lose in the playoffs and a loss at the 2017 Olympic trials.

Skip Brad Jacobs and third Ryan Fry look on during their team's loss to Team Epping at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials in Ottawa on in December of 2017. (File/The Canadian Press)

It almost broke apart Team Jacobs.

"I think at the end of last year our team was at a teetering point," Jacobs revealed. "Yes, we decided to stick together but we had one of two directions to go and that was either down or up."

Becoming mentally tough

Jacobs is candid about what has been lacking from their team since their Olympic gold triumph.

"We felt our only deficiency was the mental aspect of the game. It was crucial to find an expert in that field and send us off on the right trajectory," Jacobs said. 

So they hired Rachel Homan's former coach Adam Kingsbury. He's obsessed with the mental aspects of sports and what makes athletes thrive in defining moments.

Kingsbury says the team was so open to change and growth not only in curling but in life.

"It's been a special year and they've been great," Kingsbury said. "Watching them come together like this has been incredible."

Kingsbury is based in Ottawa and the team curls out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., making it difficult to get a lot of one-on-one time in together. But Kingsbury says he's in constant contact with the team and tries to get to as many of their events as possible.

"I spend a lot of time every week talking to those guys. I talk to Brad multiple times a week. [It] could be 30 seconds, [it] could be for two hours," Kingsbury said.

They talk about being vulnerable, trusting one another on the ice in pressure-packed moments and remembering to have fun and stay in the moment. 

"I believe that all of us as people, if we're not continuing to learn and grow, we're not getting anywhere," Jacobs said. "It doesn't matter if we've won the Olympics or this event, too. It's all about trying to learn and grow as people."

Kingsbury says the transformation for this team throughout the season has been remarkable to watch. 

"Those are four guys who are really committed right now and really trust each other. They're enjoying each other's company," he said.

Fry refocused after taking leave

But the curling season has not been without turbulence for Team Jacobs. In late November, Jamie Koe, Ryan Fry, Chris Schille, and DJ Kidby were all kicked out of the Alberta World Curling Tour bonspiel for "unacceptable behaviour," which included being "extremely drunk."

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 issued statements to apologize for their actions.

In the days that followed, Fry said he would be taking an indefinite leave from the team to work on personal growth and self-improvement.

Fry made his return to the team at the Slam event in North Battleford, Sask., at the beginning of January and then helped the team to their provincial win to get to the Brier.

Fry says getting back with his teammates prior to the Brier was an important step in feeling comfortable on the ice again.  

"Once you get over the initial shock of everything and put it behind you, it's always nice to get out there. You have to face that music and see everybody and talk to people like you," he said.

"It's nice to be right back rolling with the boys."

Fry, like Jacobs, seems committed to personal growth and improvement and now hopes it leads to a Brier win in Brandon.

"We're a professional curling team and we treat one another that way. It's been great over the last couple months really working on strengthening our team and coming up with the best product."

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