Canada forced to take its game to next level at men’s curling worlds

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – So much has changed in the curling world over the past decade — just ask Canada’s skip at the 2019 men’s world curling championship.

Skip Kevin Koe is making his fourth appearance for Canada at the world championships. At his first in Italy in 2010, Koe finished the round robin with a 9-2 record before thumping Norway in the gold medal game, 9-3. It was rather easy for Koe and Canada back then.

Since then, the landscape has changed.

“It’s so different than my worlds in 2010. Some games weren’t that hard to be honest,” Koe said. “You knew that going in.”

But there are no free spaces on the bingo curling card anymore for Canada at the world championships – the first game of this year’s event proved that.

Koe and company needed an extra end to defeat Korea 6-5 in the tournament-opener Saturday afternoon. It was a grind for the Canadians who ultimately prevailed but they know it’s going to be a battle all tournament.

WATCH | Koe beats South Korea in extra-end:

Kevin Koe and Team Canada beats South Korea’s Soo Hyuk Kim 6-5 at the world men’s curling championship. 0:41

“It’s totally changed. They never went away. And their strategy has gotten better, Asian teams in particular,” Koe said. “We’ll have to get better as the week goes, but a win is a win.”

Home-ice advantage?

Koe is competing in a worlds on Canadian soil for the first time.

He won the title in 2016 in Basel, Switzerland, but this year’s world championship in Lethbridge is extra special for Koe, who lives in Calgary. His family and friends all traveled from Calgary and are here soaking it all up.

“It’s awesome. It doesn’t get any better being so close to home. It’s a great feeling and we’ll embrace it all week,” Koe said.

This is the 60th men’s world curling championship. The first was in Scotland in 1959. Canada has dominated when it’s come to this event.

Over the last 59 times this event has been played, Canadian men have won it 36 times – the next closest country is Sweden with eight titles. That said, three of Sweden’s eight wins have come in the last six years thanks in part to the play of Swedish skip Nik Edin. Edin defeated Canada’s Brad Gushue in the final last year.

Nothing taken for granted

There seems to be more on the line this year at the world championship for Canada, however. Maybe it’s because both Canadian teams failed to podium at the Olympics last year. Or maybe it’s because of Canada’s eighth-place showing at the women’s world curling championship just a couple of weeks ago.

There’s a restlessness that exists within the Canadian curling community at the moment. Nothing is going to come easy anymore for a country that is so used to being on top of the curling world.

“We know it’s going to be a battle,” said John Dunn, Koe’s coach. “There won’t be an easy game at this championship for us. Everyone wants to beat Canada. Be patient. Be disciplined.”

The new reality for Canada at international bonspiels – being patient and being disciplined. And taking their curling game to a different level.