Canadians feeling the pressure at home during men's world curling championship
Ben Hebert: 'I haven’t been this nervous since the Games in Vancouver'
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. – There have been so many high-stake games throughout Ben Hebert's curling career. He's won almost everything there is to win in curling.
Yet despite all his experience over the years, the elite lead is feeling the heat at the men's world curling championship in Lethbridge.
"I haven't been this nervous since the Games in Vancouver," Hebert admitted. "I was nervous today. The crowd was buzzing, we have expectations to live up to and I was nervous."
But why this event? There have been so many other pressure-packed moments since 2010, including Hebert competing for Canada at the Olympics last year.
"I've never got to play two hours from home before," Hebert said. "Family is here. Friends are here. We know we're going to be in for a heck of a battle this week, we just have to bring our best game."
Hebert, 36, has a lengthy curling resume. He's won four Brier titles, two world championships and Olympic gold (Vancouver 2010). He's been skipped by two of the best-ever to play the game — eight seasons with Kevin Martin and now in his fifth season with Kevin Koe.
Last season ended with a dramatic thud for Koe and Hebert. They represented Canada at the Olympics in PyeongChang, only to lose the bronze-medal game.
After that loss Hebert called it "rock bottom" for Canadian curling. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. Perhaps that's why he's feeling so much pressure at this year's world championship, considering what happened one year ago — he wants to get Canada back on top of the curling world after the Olympic disappointment last year.
"This feels even bigger than that," Hebert said. "Expectations and being at home and the pressure."
First trip to the world championship
If Hebert is that nervous, where does that leave Colton Flasch and B.J. Neufeld? They're both making their first trips to the men's world curling championship.
"I was nervous first game but that's all gone away now," Flasch said. "Still not as nervous as the Brier final but I'm sure it'll get there."
Koe shuffled his team around after the Olympics last year, bringing on Neufeld and Flasch in place of Marc Kennedy and Brent Laing. In their first season together, the team has exceeded even their own expectations and now want to cap it off with a world curling win.
"I'm just embracing it and making the most of it," Flasch said. "You don't get to do this that often. I just want to have a lot of fun out there."
Despite it being Neufeld's first experience wearing the Canadian colours at worlds, he says he feels right at home on the big stage.
"I felt like going into this event I was ready to be in this atmosphere and relish it and be able to perform," he said.
Neufeld is nearly as calm on the ice as skip Koe, so when Hebert also told him he was incredibly nervous going into the event, Neufeld wasn't completely sure how to react.
"I was shocked to be honest. But all that means is he cares a lot about representing the country well and winning," Neufeld said.
It's the calm of Koe and Neufeld, blended with Hebert's emotion and Flasch's poise on the team that makes for a fit.
"We have a little bit of everything out there for sure. It's a great mix," Neufeld said.
Perfect curling chemistry
And maybe this is what has led to the Koe team's success this year — that perfect mix Neufeld points to — a little bit of calm and chaos on the ice.
"I don't know if Koe gets nervous," Hebert said. "He's just there making shots, doing his thing. He doesn't get too high or too low."
Hebert doesn't shy away from letting his feelings be known on the ice.
"You should have nerves. It means you expect something out of yourself," he says.
As for the skipper, Koe is one of the most level players you'll ever see on the ice. He rarely reacts after a shot, good or bad.
So when it came to preparing for nerves leading to the world championship, Koe didn't think too much about it.
"We didn't really talk about much at all. They're veterans. Ben and I have been through this a lot," Koe said. "Nothing seems to faze B.J. and Colton, he has Ben down there to rely on."