Brad Jacobs shoots a stone during the eighth draw of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Regina on Sept. 7. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANIL MUNGAL/SPORTSNET
Brad Jacobs’ path toward a successful defence of his Olympic gold medal will run through Lloydminster.
Jacobs, and his rink of lead Ryan Harnden, second E. J. Harnden and third Ryan Fry, will take to the ice at the Centennial Civic Centre for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Masters competition from Oct. 24 to 29.
Team Jacobs will be competing for this season’s second Grand Slam of Curling title against 13 other top rinks based on their World Curling Tour Order of Merit rankings, as well as one sponsor’s exemption.
“The grand slam events are certainly some of the most difficult events to win on the world curling tour because they’re comprised of all the best teams in the world,” said Jacobs, whose rink won the Humpty’s Champions Cup and Boost National grand slam titles in 2016-17.
“It’s extremely competitive. It’s great curling. It’s great entertainment for the fans. And any time you have an opportunity to win one, it’s a very special moment.”
Team Jacobs fell 5-2 to Brad Gushue’s rink in the semifinals of the first grand slam of the season at Regina’s Evraz Place on Sept. 9.
Gushue, the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier champion, went on to beat Norway’s Steffen Walstad handily in the final for his seventh grand slam title in the past three years.
Kevin Martin, who skipped Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2010, said the Masters competition in Lloydminster will prove a major stepping stone for whichever rink hopes to represent the country at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this February.
He said the Border City event falls right before the Road to the Roar Pre-Trials that are being held in Summerside, P.E.I., from Nov. 6 to 12, so each rink will want to be nearing their peak performance at the Masters.
Martin said teams are always meticulous in their prep work during an Olympic year, leading some that were expected to catch fire quickly to stutter start out of the gate due to a worry about the details.
He said there are also some rinks that are finding a way to relax and play well, making for an interesting mix.
“I really enjoyed our first grand slam of the year in Regina because of that, and I also look forward to the Masters in Lloyd because the neckties start to get tight about that time,” said Martin.
“It’s a wonderful time of year watching both teams that have struggled getting their minds in the right place and other teams that have got them in the right place and are doing really well. But, there is no way to predict which team is going to fall under which umbrella.”
Jacobs said there may be an expectation that his team is under a great deal of pressure this year as the defending Olympic gold medallist, but they don’t feel it.
He said they’re well aware of their capabilities and are just doing everything they can to bring their best game to each event they compete in.
“That’s not just the Olympic trials or an Olympic Games, but all of these events (and) particularly these grand slams,” said Jacobs.
“We’re the defending Olympic gold medalists, that’s pretty cool to be that team, to be the defending trials champions, but that means absolutely nothing this year, because there is just so many great teams out there.”
A focus on playing fewer events in order to take advantage of practice times and a suitable amount of rest is how Jacobs plans to be on his game this season.
He said when the rink does enter an event, the goal then is to make sure they empty everything in the tank.
“You want to make sure that when you’re going to an event like the Masters you give it your absolute all,” he said. “You want to make the playoffs and have a run at winning the title, so playing a little bit less definitely puts a little bit more pressure on the team to perform. But that’s good, and we should be able to perform under pressure if we want to be the best team in the world.”