LACOMBE — Trailing 3-0 after just two ends to favourite Kevin Martin of Edmonton in the final of the Boston Pizza Alberta men’s curling championship Sunday, Kevin Koe looked to be not only down, but nearly out.
However, curling is a slippery game and it got away from Martin and Co. in the fifth end and then the rest of the way in a 7-5 loss to Koe’s Calgary foursome.
Martin was up 4-1 playing the fifth frame when he missed a double-takeout attempt with his final stone, setting the stage for Koe’s quiet hit for three. The Calgary crew scored a deuce in the eighth end for a 6-5 lead and after the ninth was blanked, stole a single in the 10th to earn a berth in the Tim Horton’s Brier March 1-9 at Kamloops.
The loss was the first of the week for Martin, while Koe was in the C event before the provincial tournament — which started Wednesday — was even a full two days old.
“It’s been the story of our week. We were down in C early and we had a couple of other games we could have lost along the way,” said Koe, the 2010 Canadian and world champion.
“I struggled early today. We hadn’t played with yellow rocks and I had a couple that really curled, plus the ice was curling. I was missing and then after I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to do that anymore, we played great. We got that one miss from Kevin (in the fifth) to get back in it and the second half of the game was back and forth and could have gone either way. Both teams played great.”
Martin admitted he should have played the fateful shot in the fifth in a different fashion.
“I should have probably played it over the top. That way we give them the deuce, but not three,” he said. “It’s always disappointing if you don’t win, but at least it was close. We didn’t play very good, though, neither team. There were lots of misses. Neither team was real sharp.”
Martin was setting up for a pair in the ninth end when Koe’s third, Pat Simmons, made a triple kill to eventually force a blank. Martin then tried a run-back for two with his final rock of the 10th, but rolled out to leave Koe with shot stone and the win.
“We had a hit to win on the last one. It was close but didn’t quite come up enough,” said the losing skip, who defeated Koe in the 2013 provincial final on a similar turn of events.
“Kevin had a real tough out-turn with his last one last year and just missed. We were in the same boat today. Just missed it by a sliver.”
Despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead with two points in the first end and a stolen single in the second, Martin knew the game was far from over. He was correct.
“They’re going to get a deuce back at some point, you probably can’t stop that,” said Martin. “They’re too good to not get deuces, so 3-0 isn’t an insurmountable lead after two ends. There’s still eight ends to go.”
Koe’s second, Carter Rycroft, will leave the team at the end of the season, whether that be following the Brier or the world championship if the Alberta champs win the Canadian title.
“My plan as of this minute is to take the year off . . . business and family. My wife is having a baby,” said Rycroft, who played with Martin for seven consecutive years prior to 2006 before hooking up with Koe. “There’s lots going on in life and curling has done me well, but I have to sit back for a year, at least.”
Rycroft, a former Canadian and world champion and Olympic Games silver medalist, finished 2-5 with Koe at the 2013 Canadian Olympic trials at Winnipeg in December.
“I wanted to go with a bang. The Olympic trials were a disappointment and this is bitter sweet. I’ll take this as second place,” said Rycroft. “We’ve had so many battles that we’ve barely lost to those guys. We got away with one there in the ninth. He (Martin) was so close on that.”
Koe, who has Nolan Thiessen at lead, confirmed that the team will have a different look next season.
“This will be pretty much for sure the end for this squad, so to come back from the back of the C event is special,” he said. “We’ve never beat Kevin in a final and it feels good to finally do it.
“Now we’re moving on and we’ve experienced success in both the Brier and worlds. I like our chances. We’ll put some time into our game over the next few weeks, unlike the last two months.”
Koe downed Robert Schlender of Airdrie 7-4 in a C-event game Saturday afternoon, then edged Charley Thomas of Calgary — who had Lacombe natives Colin Hodgson and Matthew Ng at third and second — 8-7 in the C versus C Page playoff in the evening.
The eventual provincial champs then beat Matthew Blandford’s Calgary crew 8-4 in the Sunday morning semifinal.
Martin advanced to the championship final by bombing Blandford 10-4 in the A-B Page playoff Saturday night.