Brent Laing (centre) pumps his fist after sweeping in the winning rock for Team Koe in the Roar of the Rings men's final on Dec. 12, 2017, in Ottawa. (Anil Mungal)

Laing realizes long-awaited Olympic dream

December 15, 2017, 5:16 PM

Brent Laing had been as close to Olympic curling as possible without actually curling in the Olympics.

Laing was one win away from representing Canada on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Games when he played second for Glenn Howard, however, their squad lost to Kevin Martin’s team in the curling trials final. He was also in the stands at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, cheering on his wife Jennifer Jones when she captured gold for Canada.

Although Laing has won three Brier and world championships plus 14 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles, playing for Canada at the Olympics remained elusive. That all changed Sunday in Ottawa when Laing earned his long-awaited opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf at the Winter Games with skip Kevin Koe, third Marc Kennedy, lead Ben Hebert, alternate Scott Pfeifer and coach John Dunn after winning the Roar of the Rings in his fifth appearance at the Canadian curling trials.

Koe claimed the coveted red and white jackets defeating Mike McEwen 7-6 in the men’s final. It just so happened to be Laing’s birthday as well and couldn’t have been a sweeter gift.

“I’ve had 39 birthdays, this is definitely the best present I’ve had for sure,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really set in yet. Obviously, in that moment it was pretty intense and to have to sweep it end to end, I mean, there’s no better way to really win as stressful as it is.

“I’m only 39 but it’s been a long curling career. This is the fifth time at the trials and none of them have ended this way, so it’s pretty surreal. To see what Jenn got to go through in 2014 and to know that we’re going, like Benny said, to the biggest show on Earth, is pretty wild but it certainly hasn’t sunk in yet.”

The first time I interviewed Laing was at the 2014 Players’ Championship in Summerside, P.E.I. Not only was it the final event of the season, it was also the end of an Olympic cycle with many teams breaking up and heading in new directions. Team Howard was no exception as Laing already made plans to join Koe’s all-new lineup with Kennedy and Hebert moving over from Team Martin. The Shanty Bay, Ont., native Laing knew it would take a lot of sacrifices and hard work playing with a team based in Calgary, but you could sense through his optimism and enthusiasm he was fully committed.

“For three other guys who I respect as much or more than anyone on tour, I’m super excited to see, as they are, what we can do together and the challenge of building a new team,” Laing said at the time. “Giving the Olympics, for me, one more 125 percent effort, see where the chips fall and after that I’m not sure what will happen but I’m super excited to play with Kevin, Marc and Ben.”

There were some growing pains during their first season together for sure but everything clicked together in year two, 2015-16, right off from the start by winning the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier 1 title in Paradise, N.L., and continuing that success to also capture Canada Cup, Brier and world championships.

The pieces fell into place again at the Roar of the Rings as Koe emerged at the top of the round-robin table with a 7-1 record to secure the bye to the final where they awaited the semifinal victor Team McEwen.

The back-and-forth battle to represent Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games remained tight right down to the final frame. Although Koe held the hammer with the game knotted 6-6, McEwen sat two tricky counters just outside the top and bottom of the four-foot circle. Koe opted for the draw and panic set in as it looked like it wasn’t going to make it. Laing and Hebert swept like they were dragging the rock all the way to South Korea with them and Kennedy jumped up from the house to assist.

Koe later joked he just wanted to make them all work for it although no one was laughing in the heat of the moment. It’s fitting it took a full effort to bring the rock to a rest within the four-foot circle and score the winning point: that’s why the foursome came together in the first place and was dubbed a super team.

“I liked it when Kevin let it go and Kevin said he liked it. Benny said we had to go but that’s what Benny always says so I wasn’t super convinced,” Laing said. “He was right, we had to go. It had to go all the way and right at the hog line I actually wasn’t sure but we’re never going to quit on it, obviously. The ice was super-fast tonight and thankfully on that last one but Kevin knew that so I knew he’d be jacked up and nobody I’d rather have throwing that shot than Kevin Koe. He’s cool under pressure, cool in every situation and came through as I knew he would.”

Koe leaped in the air, Hebert launched his brush airborne and probably set an indoor javelin record, Kennedy acted like he had been there before (and he had) while Laing let out a fist pump as it had all paid off.

“It is pretty unreal and people don’t know what it takes,” Laing said. “The things you miss out on and the time and effort you put in. The sacrifices family makes: mom and dad and kids, wives and husbands, and everybody.”

“It’s really hard to explain how many people helped you get to this point and from every coach from the time you started when you’re nine years old to everybody that’s helped you along the way,” he added. “Everybody that took the time when you didn’t know what you were doing on the ice to talk to you including Glenn Howard before I played with him and Rich Hart and all of those guys. You learn so much along the way and it all hopefully comes to be once like it did today. It’s surreal.”