'The Olympics will scar all of us': Team Koe looking to avenge Pyeongchang devastation
Skip doesn't want to stop until he adds more to his trophy case
BRANDON, Man. — Ben Hebert called it rock bottom. Kevin Koe was stunned. Alongside Marc Kennedy and Brent Laing, the team walked off the ice dejected and without a medal.
It's been a little more than a year since Koe's team went to the Olympics and failed to reach the podium for Canada, losing 7-5 to Switzerland in the bronze medal game.
"This was the biggest bonspiel of our lives. It's definitely going to sting for a while," the skip said that February day in Pyeongchang.
To say there was disappointment is a massive understatement.
"There's no way to sugar coat it," Hebert said. "We were prepared. We practiced. We said all the right things and when it came down to it our execution was brutal."
That's curling though and that's life, says the team's head coach and sports psychologist. John Dunn has spent more than a decade coaching Koe.
"The Olympics will scar all of us who went through that forever. You don't pretend it didn't happen or put a band-aid over that," Dunn said. "It was devastating. We didn't think for one second, and this isn't arrogance, that we wouldn't come home without the gold medal."
Dunn says the measure of a true athletic champion is how they respond in the face of adversity — and it's what's driving Koe these days, getting back to the Games and exacting redemption.
But when Dunn signed up to join Koe for a 12th season, he wanted assurances they were in it for another Olympic cycle.
"I think Kevin Koe is the best rock-thrower in the world and so does he," Dunn said. "That's why I'm back. All I wanted to know was that there was a commitment to the journey over the next four years."
New faces, fresh start
Koe is back at yet another Brier, competing in the 16-team field in his familiar Alberta colours with Hebert at lead.
There are two new faces on the team this year. During the offseason the team restructured, bringing in B.J. Neufeld at third in place of Kennedy and Colton Flasch at second in place of Laing.
Both Koe and Hebert have done this all before, winning three Brier titles. They've won world championships too. Hebert even has an Olympic gold from his days with Kevin Martin back in 2010. There's not much these two haven't won in the world of curling.
But Neufeld and Flasch, on the other hand, haven't won any major titles.
"Having the new guys who haven't won the Brier, they give us an extra kick and refreshing," said Hebert. "It's easy to get your juices flowing here."
In a lot of ways, having the new teammates has also made getting over the Olympic sting a little bit easier, says Dunn.
"I think the fact that it is a new team makes it easier for everyone to recommit and reset and remind us of what this journey is about," Dunn said. "The scar will always be there but maybe it provides more motivation."
At the end of the end of the day Kevin Koe is about Briers, Worlds and Olympics ... There's only one missing right now and that's why we're back.- Coach John Dunn
Best curling with back against the wall
There's something Kevin Koe loves about being under pressure. Excluding the Olympics, he plays his best curling just when people count him out.
Take for instance this year's provincial championship in Alberta. After dropping all the way to the C-side in the event, Koe was faced with having to win five consecutive games to make it to the Brier.
It's almost as if he can flip an invincibility curling switch. What did Koe do when everyone counted him out? Rattled off five-straight wins to capture the Alberta Tankard, including a semifinal win over Brendan Bottcher.
"During the week we have been OK and then we shine in the playoffs," Koe said. "I'm getting older. I can't be at the top of my game it seems for every event but this is the one we're aiming for."
Koe, 44, is playing in his seventh Brier this year. He's made it to the championship game five out of the six times — a staggering feat considering the level of talent at the national event. And in a lot of those cases, Koe wasn't the front-runner. He had to win playoff games to get to the final, stepping up when it matters most.
"Don't worry about Kevin. He's a Brier player," Hebert said. "He's the last guy I'm worried about. He's the reason we've done so well over the years."
Koe could make some history this week with a Brier win. It would make him just the fourth skip to win four Canadian men's championships; Ferbey, Kevin Martin and Ernie Richardson are the others.
But history aside, a win in Brandon would be just a little bit sweeter this year – it would serve as a reminder for themselves and the rest of the curling world that they're back, one year after the biggest losses of their lives.
"At the end of the end of the day Kevin Koe is about Briers, Worlds and Olympics," Dunn said. "There's only one missing right now and that's why we're back."