Canada’s Kevin Koe is trying his best to avoid distractions and focus on curling as he prepares for the upcoming men’s world curling championship.
There have been a few challenges for Koe in the leadup to the competition, which opens Saturday at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium. Chief among them is news that there are changes coming to his rink next season.
Koe’s current lineup features second Carter Rycroft, third Pat Simmons and lead Nolan Thiessen. Rycroft, whose wife is pregnant, has already said he’ll be taking a year off after this season.
Kevin Martin confirmed to The Canadian Press that Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert will be leaving his rink to join Koe’s team next season while Sportsnet reported that Brent Laing of Glenn Howard’s rink will round out the new foursome.
Koe preferred to keep his focus on the world championship and declined to comment on the coming changes.
The future plans of Simmons and Thiessen were unclear. It was the first major shakeup in what’s expected to be a summer of significant change on the men’s curling scene now that the four-year Olympic cycle is complete.
The timing is less than ideal for Koe and his teammates. Gerry Peckham, the Canadian Curling Association’s high-performance director, expects Koe to be able to lock in on the immediate task before him.
“Our analysis of his performance skills and performance attributes would suggest that he’s an incredibly focused individual and is seldom distracted by anything external to the game at hand,” Peckham said.
“I think those teammates have looked in each other in the eye again, squared their shoulders, are shaking each other’s hands and are now moving on to complete this journey of a world championship.”
Koe won gold in his only previous appearance at the world championship, taking top spot at the 2010 playdowns in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy.
At this year’s event, Canada will be a favourite along with Scotland, Sweden, Norway and China. The 12-team field is rounded out by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and the United States.
“Canada used to be known obviously as a big favourite going in all the time but you quickly realize how the gap is changing,” Koe said. “Our experience in 2010 was awesome in Italy and it was a great feeling to win. But this is just as important for us.
“To get to be two-time world champs would be pretty neat and kind of validate our first win.”
Koe arrived early in the week so that he’d have time to adjust to the 14-hour time change. He was greeted by plenty of smog, heat and humidity.
He’s also still getting used to the various culinary options in the Chinese capital.
“It’s a bit of a culture shock for us,” Koe said in a recent interview. “Big difference from what we’re used to. Obviously a huge city but it will be a great experience.”
Koe had a strong performance at the Tim Hortons Brier and is enjoying another solid year on the World Curling Tour. He’s third on the money list and fourth in the order of merit standings behind only Olympic champ Brad Jacobs, Howard and Jeff Stoughton.
The only change from the 2010 lineup is that Simmons has replaced Blake MacDonald on the Calgary-based rink.
“We don’t get too excited or too worked up as a team,” Koe said.
“We’re pretty calm. Obviously the experience of being to one (world championship) will help for sure, especially when you’re coming to a foreign country where everything is different.
“At least we can rely on the experience once we actually get on the ice of knowing we’ve been to the worlds and we did well last time.”
It’s the first World Curling Federation world championship event to be staged in China. The venue was used for volleyball competition at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The Chinese team skipped by Rui Liu is coming off a fourth-place result at the Sochi Games. Scotland’s Ewan MacDonald has three world titles to his name although this is his first appearance as skip.
Thomas Ulsrud, who won Olympic silver at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, will skip the Norwegian team.
“We know most of these teams and they’re all pretty good,” Koe said. “Not too many easy games out there.”
Sweden’s Niklas Edin is not back to defend the title he won last year in Victoria. Instead, Oskar Eriksson will skip the Swedish entry.
Round-robin play will continue through Thursday evening and tiebreakers will be used if needed to determine the top four teams. The Page playoff system will be used ahead of the medal games on April 6.
Koe said the ice conditions in the venue will be a huge factor.
“They do have some great icemakers but it’s really warm here,” he said. “It’s supposedly pushing 30 (degrees Celsius) here and they had an event in the facility early in the year and there was a lot of problems. But I think they’ve brought in some dehumidifiers and air conditioning to cool the arena down.
“That’s the big worry here. If the ice is good, I for sure like our chances. Bad ice would be a bit of an equalizer I think. But when you have some of the best icemakers in the world, I’m sure they’ll get it figured out.”
Canada has won gold three of the last four years at this event. Stoughton was victorious in 2011 at Regina and Howard won at Basel, Switzerland in 2012.
The Canadians are scheduled to open against Denmark’s Rasmus Stjerne on Saturday.
“You have four very solid, confident, resolved individuals (who are) mentally tough,” said Peckham. “I think they realize the significance and the importance of this world championship to themselves individually and as a collective, and then of course representing this curling nation of Canada.
“So I think they’ve gone out the door with their game face on.”
The world championship will return to Canada next year as Halifax plays host.