LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — After a week of spectacular shots and dramatic moments, it was a shame that the world men’s curling championship final on April 7 — between two of the greatest skips the game has ever known — ended in such anti-climactic fashion.
It looked like the epic battle between Canada’s Kevin Koe and Sweden’s Niklas Edin was going to come down to one shot for all the marbles in the 10th end or even an extra.
It almost seemed inevitable and you could feel the tension coursing though the Enmax Centre crowd.
And then, in a flash, it was over.
One terribly timed miss by sharpshooter Koe in the eighth end was all Edin needed to win his record-tying fourth world men’s curling gold medal.
The light draw by Koe that resulted in a steal of two gave Sweden a 4-2 lead and forced Canada to take some risks in the ninth, knowing there’d be little or no chance to win if they scored just one and trailed, without the hammer, coming home against Edin.
Sweden wound up stealing three more and Canada shook hands right there, trailing 7-2.
It was certainly not the moment everyone was anticipating and it took some of the shine off what had been a wonderful world championship up to that point.
Koe had the crowd on its feet multiple times during the event, making in-offs and quadruple kills that were so good they went head-to-head in TSN’s nightly 1-v-1 segment.
It just seemed like another highlight-reel shot was coming to produce another magical moment, one that would give the two-time world champion his first title on Canadian soil.
Instead, the drama fizzled out like Koe’s last rock in the frost in that fateful eighth end.
That brings us to perhaps the most disappointing thing about how it all went down — with an equipment failure seeming to have played a role.
“We can’t put the whole game on that one thing,” Canadian third and Gimli product B.J. Neufeld said, finding some perspective in the most difficult of moments.
“We didn’t generate as much offence as we would have liked throughout the game. There’s no doubt that it’s not an ideal situation for a final. You can’t blame it on that but it may have had a part in it, for sure.”
What happened was this: The handle on Edin’s final rock of the eighth end came loose and he asked an ice technician to tighten it. That didn’t work and the technician had to go and get a replacement handle.
The whole exercise took seven minutes, left the curlers in an unusual delay and allowed enough time for a bit of frost to build up on the unused ice.
“You’ve got the long wait with the handle there and that side of the sheet was maybe a little bit frosty,” said Neufeld, who is the head professional of Larters at St. Andrews Golf & Country Club. “He threw it the way he wanted, the guys liked it out of his hand and they just couldn’t quite get it there.”
People miss draws all the time because of ice changes. Think about what happened to Rachel Homan twice in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final this year.
But while there’s no way of knowing for sure that Koe would have made the shot in ideal conditions, it’s too bad that something like that happened at such a critical juncture of a world curling championship.
Edin said the delay made him nervous, though he still executed a double with his last rock to set up the key steal.
Drawing was a different story, as Koe found out, but Edin wasn’t of the opinion that the ice changed all that much.
“That side was slower the whole game because we didn’t play as much on that side,” Edin said. “Both teams knew that wasn’t a draw you wanted to make because it was tricky. I don’t think I would have done a better try than him on that draw.”
That fact is, Canada played a lousy end and Koe was in a position where he needed to bail the team out one more time.
“Just some bad angles after (second Colton) Flasch’s first rock and it looked like we were gonna be in trouble for most of the end,” Neufeld said. “We tried to get out of it but just couldn’t quite do it.”
In the end, the right team won. The Swedes were the best team all week and were fully deserving of gold medals. They are one of the most successful international teams in curling history and they were the favourites to win from the get-go.
It was really the only bad thing that happened in an otherwise outstanding world championship.
Canadians leave Lethbridge with fond memories
As much as it stung to settle for silver medals, Neufeld will never forget his magical experience at his first worlds.
Team Canada had just lost the gold-medal game, when he took time to reflect on some of the positives of the nine-day tournament in southern Alberta.
“I definitely will look back with great memories,” he said. “It was a great week with the guys, we played our hearts out in front of a great crowd. As curlers, you don’t get this opportunity very often, to represent your country in your home country and to have fans come out like this. It was a pretty cool environment, loved it.”
In its first year together, the Koe team won the Alberta provincial championship, went undefeated in the Brier and took home a silver medal at the worlds, which would qualify a mighty fine season for any team.
“It’s disappointing, though,” Neufeld said. “You work hard to get to this point and you dream of seeing yourself at the top of the podium instead of in that silver medal position, so it’s difficult. It’s a long road to get here — winning the Brier is a super difficult task — and you want to take advantage of that when you get here.”