Brad Jacobs is getting ready to exchange his moose for a Maple Leaf.
The 27-year-old Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., curler got comfortable wearing a moose emblem, symbolic of Northern Ontario, while skipping his rink at the past four Brier championships.
He is still getting used to the idea of wearing Canada’s colours in his inaugural appearance at the world men’s curling championship in Victoria, which begins Saturday and concludes April 7.
But it won’t be difficult to get motivated.
“This is the first time we’re going to wear the Maple Leaf on our backs, so we’re new to this,” said Jacobs on a conference call Monday.
“I think once we get there, and we throw on the clothes and we go out for practice, we’re really going to feel what it’s like to be Team Canada and the pride that goes along with that.”
Jacobs will compete against the world’s best with his rink, comprising of brothers lead Ryan Harnden and second E.J. Harnden, along with third Ryan Fry. The skip and his front end mates are actually first cousins.
Jacobs and company will try to give Canada its fourth consecutive world title. As a youth, Jacobs dreamed of winning the Brier, which he did for the first time in Edmonton earlier this month.
The worlds? Not so much.
According to Jacobs, the foursome has not had much time to prepare for the Victoria event, either.
Jacobs, the Harndens and Fry were feted upon their return to the Sault Ste. Marie with a large turnout at the airport; a party attended by approximately 500 people at their local curling club, with some people turned away at the door; a meeting with the mayor and a special ceremony at a Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds junior hockey game.
Jacobs, an RBC accounts manager, and .J. Harnden, who works for the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, and Ryan Harnden, a real estate appraiser, also had to deal with their day jobs. Then they had to fit in a busy practice schedule with Fry, who most recently managed a bar and restaurant at a golf course, but now curls full-time.
“To be honest with you, we haven’t scouted the other teams,” said Jacobs. “What we’re more concerned with is how we’re feeling going into the worlds.”
The specific opponent “doesn’t matter.”
“We’re more concerned with what the rocks are going to be doing,” he said. “Really, your opponent is only out there to help you read the ice and help you make your shots in that sense.”
As a result of the time constraints, Jacobs declined to seek out Al Hackner, Northern Ontario’s last Brier champion in 1985, and other Canadian title victors for insight on the worlds.
“We’re really looking at this as another weekend of curling,” said Jacobs. “It’s another bonspiel. ... We’re there to experience it ourselves.”
In a recent separate interview, Jacobs attributed his rink’s success to its closeness and family ties. Fry, a 34-year-old Winnipeg native who joined the Jacobs rink this season, provides diverse experience, having curled for three different rinks — Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northern Ontario — at provincials and the Brier.
“I’ve curled with three really good teams, but I’ve always been looking for a different aspect of what makes a curling team, and I think there’s only a few teams like that out there,” said Fry, adding he was looking for team unity and a strong will to win among other factors.
“I was able to find that with the three guys that I’m curling with now. ... Being a little bit of a smaller community, everyone’s rallied around us. I think that gives us a little bit of extra motivation going forward to try and bring home a world championship to this city and this part of the province, just because everyone is so excited and wants it so bad.”
When it comes to getting insight on competing in a global event, the Jacobs rink will rely on team leader Rick Lang, who skipped Northern Ontario to five Canadian titles.
Tom Coulterman, the rink’s coach, also has experience on the international stage. He served as the team leader for Canadian entries at 13 world junior championships.
But the worlds, he said, offer several challenges, because coaches are limited in the amount of contact they can have with curlers during games.
“It’s a lot easier at the Canadians to contact or talk to the players,” said Coulterman. “You have constant contact with the players, even on the bench.
“The bench is much closer to the players than it is at the worlds, where at the worlds you’re not allowed to have any contact with your players even between ends or until the fifth-end break or if there’s a timeout. ... In the (world) juniors, you couldn’t even make eye contact with your players out there on the ice.”
While the limited access could be an issue, Coulterman believes home ice will offer a major advantage, in contrast to sparse crowds that Canadian champion Rachel Homan’s Ottawa rink faced while earning bronze at the recent women’s worlds in Latvia.
“We’re looking forward to the fact that it is in Canada, where there is going to be so much more support,” said Coulterman.