Four years ago, Kevin Koe made a shocking decision to leave his Canadian championship team and put together a new team with the 2018 Winter Olympics as the end goal.
That goal was realized as Koe and his team of Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert secured their ticket to the pinnacle of curling thanks to a 7-6 win over Manitoba’s Mike McEwen at the Roar of the Rings Curling Trials in Ottawa.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet”, said Koe following the win. “We put this team together to go to the Olympics and now we are going. It’s amazing.”
Koe shook the curling world when he walked away from his team that won the Tim Hortons Brier in 2014 and he described it back then this way:
“It was a very hard decision but one I am sticking (to), “he said. “It’s the beginning of the Olympic cycle and this team’s plan is to go to the Olympics.”
The brave move didn’t immediately look like a winner for Koe as the team had growing pains in the beginning, missing the playoffs in big cash events and missing the playoffs in the 2015 Brier. But Kevin was confident.
“We are still learning about each other (and) only Ben and Marc played together before,” he said in 2015 after being eliminated from the playoffs at the Brier in Calgary. “It will come together.”
Truer words have not been spoken as the Koe team placed themselves atop the podium for the Brier and World Men’s Curling Championship in 2016, topped only by punching his ticket to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Most Competitive Field Ever Assembled
The Olympic trials was considered the most competitive field ever assembled.
“There are no soft teams in this field (and) if you don’t bring your best you will be punished,” commented Russ Howard, 2006 Olympic gold medalist and TSN curling analyst.
Coming into the event, Koe’s rink had high but tethered expectations. Kennedy, who plays third for Koe, felt his experience winning the 2009 trials and then gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver would help the team stay focused.
“Ben and I have won this before and we know the pressure involved,” he said. “I want to keep the guys focused and stay in the moment and not think about the outcome.”
That approach was effective and the team was nicknamed the “Cold Blooded Assassins” by the crowd and media during the week, never showing any weakness as they took down the field.
The final against McEwen was a masterpiece by both teams. At the midway point, McEwen was curling at 100 per cent yet trailed Koe in the match.
“I don’t know what to say,” said McEwen at the fifth-end break. “Both teams are playing exceptional.”
In the sixth end and trailing by one, McEwen had his opportunity to retake the lead by moving Koe’s rock out of the four-foot to score two and go up 4-3. His rock didn’t curl and while touching the stone, didn’t remove it, leaving it on the button for a steal of one for Koe.
“That was a big point,” said McEwen following the game, referring to the fact that the math dictates that Koe would have the hammer coming home in the 10th end.
In what only can be described as the shot of a lifetime for Kevin and a thriller for the crowd, Koe had to draw against two McEwen stones to earn the right to be Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics.
“I felt pretty comfortable with draw weight and what I wasn’t trying to do was overthrow it and give them a chance to sweep it,” smiled Koe following the win. ” I thought it was good at the first hog line and the guys did too, then the guys started sweeping hard and at the second hog line I wasn’t sure. I looked up to see Marc’s face but he was now sweeping too.”
Koe finally showed emotion jumping in the air and briefly smiling and hugging his team mates.
“You plan for this event for four years, so it’s so hard especially in Canada,” Koe said. “You have nine of the greatest teams in the world and there’s just so much pressure to come through and get it done given the circumstances, couldn’t be happier.”
Family and NWT roots
Kevin’s dad, Fred Koe, and younger brother Jamie, himself an 11-time NWT Men’s Curling Championship winner, were in Ottawa watching Kevin.
“Wow. Just wow. My brother and the boys are Olympians. I’m so proud of them all you guys are unbelievable,” tweeted out Jamie following the win.
Kerry Galusha, Kevin’s sister, was not in Ottawa but lived and died with each shot from her home in Yellowknife.
“He has worked so hard and we are so proud of him,” she said. “The entire Northwest Territories is proud of him as he is still considered a Northern boy.”
Kevin was never one to forget his Northern roots, even with calling Calgary home since 2003.
“The NWT will always be home for me,” he said. “Ever since I moved to Alberta, they’ve been so supportive of me. This is for them as well.”