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Koe leaves national champion curling team to form new squad


Veteran skip Kevin Koe already has one world title and two national titles on his resume.

His next mission is to qualify for the Winter Olympics and he’s assembling a new team to try to make it happen.

Koe plans to leave the rink he guided to victory at the Tim Hortons Brier for a new lineup that will include Marc Kennedy at third, Ben Hebert at lead and Brent Laing at second. It’s an experienced all-star crew that will have its eye on qualification for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It was not an easy decision,” Koe told The Canadian Press from Calgary. “But I felt the timing was good personally for me — just with the next Olympic cycle coming up — to make a change.”

News of the change broke last month before the team departed for the world championship in China. The moves weren’t formally announced until the Canadian Curling Association issued a news release Tuesday.

Koe and his Calgary-based team of third Pat Simmons, second Carter Rycroft and lead Nolan Thiessen settled for a disappointing fourth-place finish last weekend in Beijing. They’ll play their last event together as a foursome at the April 15-20 Grand Slam Players’ Championship in Summerside, P.E.I.

Koe discussed his plans with his teammates last month after they won the Brier in Kamloops, B.C. He admitted it was a “difficult conversation,” but doesn’t think it affected their play overseas.

“I think the guys would say the same thing,” Koe said. “If anything, we wanted to win a world championship for each other that much more.”

The period right after an Olympic Games is always an interesting one on the curling scene.

Not everyone is necessarily keen to make another four-year commitment for a variety of factors, including age, jobs and family commitments. Some teams are locked in and ready for the next quadrennial while other players need to move quickly to position themselves before potential vacancies are filled.

Qualification events for the 2017 Canadian Curling Trials won’t be far off once the new season begins so teams will want to find their rhythm as soon as possible.

“I think it’s more a function of just the way curling has gone,” Koe said. “Most years curling changes happen now after an Olympic year. That’s just the nature of the beast I guess. Teams get together to make that big run.

“It was no disrespect to the guys. I don’t think teams can stay together forever. Our team wasn’t going to be staying together with Carter slowing down. So those are just some of the reasons that went into my decision.”

Rycroft, whose wife is pregnant, had originally planned to take time next season off. However, Thiessen said that plan would be modified so they can enter the 2014 Canada Cup, the 2015 World Financial Group Continental Cup and be the first Team Canada in the history of the Brier.

Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen will name their new skip at a later date.

“Teams just kind of run their course,” Thiessen said from Edmonton. “We probably — even though we won the Brier this year — we were starting to get towards the line of maybe running its course. Kevin had a great opportunity. That’s a great team that he’s setting up.

“Everyone’s got to do what’s best for them and that’s what he did. He went and (will) play with those guys and I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s three great players that he went to play with.”

Koe won his other national title and lone world title in 2010 with Rycroft, Thiessen and Blake MacDonald. Simmons later replaced MacDonald but the core of the team spent eight years together.

The team members said they will remain good friends, adding next week’s competition will be emotional for all involved.

Kennedy and Hebert won Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver with skip Kevin Martin, who supported the lineup change. Martin has said he plans to decide on his curling future by the end of June.

Laing won world titles with veteran Ontario skip Glenn Howard in 2007 and 2012.

“At the end of day with everything else considered, it was just too great of an opportunity to turn down for me,” Laing said from Barrie, Ont.

Howard wasn’t available for comment. He’s expected to name Laing’s replacement in the coming weeks.

 
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