Road To The Olympic Games

Jules Owchar is curling's rock-whisperer and all he does is win

For his efforts in the roaring game spanning more than four decades, coach Jules Owchar is now being inducted into Curling Canada’s Hall of Fame as announced at the Brier in Brandon, Man., this week.

Legendary coach has Brier, world, Olympic and 24 Slam titles to his name

For his efforts spanning more than four decades, coach Jules Owchar is set to be inducted into Curling Canada's Hall of Fame. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

BRANDON, Man. — There isn't a curling coach in the world who has won more than Jules Owchar and he does it in the most unassuming way imaginable.

He's quiet and thoughtful as he roams around behind the sheets, secretly building a curling rock arsenal — arming his teams with granite ammunition that has translated into a lifetime of success.

For his efforts in the roaring game spanning more than four decades, Owchar is now being inducted into Curling Canada's Hall of Fame as announced at the Brier in Brandon this week.

In total, his teams have won six Briers, one Olympic gold and two silvers, two world championships, 24 Slam titles and 34 conference championship gold medals.

Currently Team Gushue's coach, the 74-year-old is obsessed with curling.

It all started at the North Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in 1976 when he decided to take over the school's curling program.

Then a few years later, a blonde-haired Kevin Martin, who Owchar said was a little on "the wild side," was discovered.

"He was on sheet one and we were on sheet five," Owchar said. "We lost out and he went on and I didn't see him again for a while. Then he showed up in my office. He liked to party. I remember his dad saying, 'I'm glad you got him, see if you can do something with him.'"

They practiced tirelessly. From day one until the end, Martin and Owchar spent hours on the ice perfecting every aspect of the game.

"It was mostly technical. He was so technical," Martin said. "That's why his teams always win. They throw better than anyone else and make more shots."

Kevin Martin, right, and his former coach, Jules Owchar, celebrate Martin's induction into the World Curling Hall of Fame in April 2018. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

They spent 30 years together, an unfathomable amount of time on the ice. They were also roommates on the road.

"They even baked us a cake on our 25th anniversary. We did a clinic and they brought us a cake. I thought that was pretty neat," Owchar said. "I always roomed with Kevin and we always talked curling. And then those last two or three years I knew he was retiring. It wasn't even a question."

Changing of the guard

During the 2013 Olympic Trials, Martin asked Brad Gushue to be the team's alternate. That was the beginning of Gushue and Owchar getting to know one another. After Martin failed to win the trials that year, he retired shortly after that in 2014.

That's when Gushue started to make his move to get Owchar on his side — but he got a massive endorsement from Martin.

"I remember shortly before Kevin retired he said to me: 'Brad is the best curler in the world,'" Owchar said. "Out of the all the teams who gave us trouble it was Brad."

Owchar agrees with Martin on Gushue's curling ability.

"He's still the best rock-thrower on the planet. He has so many of the same qualities as Kevin," he said.

Four years ago Owchar and Gushue joined forces and the results have been pretty staggering.

They've won back-to-back Briers, a handful of Slams, a world championship and are looking to become only the second team ever to win three consecutive Brier titles.

"I think everybody looks at what he's done with Kevin and with our team and I think that's probably the tip of the iceberg," Gushue said. "But he's done so much at the grassroots level and at NAIT."

What makes him great?

Gushue says Owchar is tireless at what he does and incredibly attentive to details, at the expense of spending much time together with the team.

"He's here at the rink nonstop once these events start. From the first draw to late into the night," Gushue said. "We don't get to go out for dinner with him very much at these events because he's always working. He's a character and a funny man to be around."

Owchar carries around an old Labatt Brier binder. He's not sure what year it's from but it has wear and tear from many curling battles over the decades.

Inside the binder there are handwritten notes on every rock he's ever watched slide up and down the pebbled ice.

Team Canada skip Brad Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, coach Jules Owchar and alternate Tom Sallows, left to right, hold the Brier Tankard after defeating Alberta to win last year's championship. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"A lot of people think it's just recording rocks and passing them on. That's what a lot of teams do," Owchar explains.

"They're sanded all the time. You take what you had the week before. Then you find out they're different," Owchar said.

He'll tell you what team threw what percentage with what rocks. Then go back to his notes from a year or two ago and compare it to that. It's on a completely different curling level.

"He charts every rock. He knows what everyone is throwing. He knows the percentages those rocks have thrown in games past. It just eases your mind going into a game," Mark Nichols said. "He's just a great calming influence on the bench."

But the winning secret is a very simple one from Owchar's perspective.

"All you have to do is give the skip a good pair of rocks. Just give the skips the good rocks. We'll deal with the rest." Owchar said. "If the skips are happy, we're happy."

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