Bully for the, well, “bullies.”
Not our term to describe the Brad Jacobs rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. – we much prefer “Olympic champions” – but that was the way one reporter chose to describe the team that ran right over Great Britain to post a 9-3 victory Friday and claim the gold medal in men’s curling.
The Canadian men rallied from a discouraging 1-2 record early in the round robin to win eight consecutive games on their way to the top of the podium. In doing so, they claimed Canada’s ninth gold medal of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Though the entire Jacobs team – Jacobs as skip, lead Ryan Harnden, second E.J. Harnden and third Ryan Fry – threw brilliantly against the Scottish team of skip David Murdoch, it was done under the light cloud of criticism launched Jacobs’s way by the coach of the British team.
Soren Gran, a Swede, told reporters he didn’t care for the Jacobs’s style – which might fairly be described as hockey ethos on pebble, with passion on open display: anger for missed shots, fist pumps for success.
“The aggressive style we have seen from the Canadians here,” Gran said this week, “that’s something I don’t like about the sport. I don’t think it helps anyone. It doesn’t help the player and it doesn’t help his teammates.”
But that, unfortunately for Gran’s preferences, is the new Canadian style. As one fan’s sign at the Ice Cube curling venue put it: “Team Canada has ‘real’ stones.”
On this particular day, it certainly did, with all four Canadians curling at high percentages and with great effect.
“I was a little shocked,” Jacobs said of Gran’s comments. “I don’t know what his thinking was saying it publicly, because it only gave us motivation.”
“It lit a bit of a fire under [us],” Ryan Harnden added.
“Our team is a passionate team,” Fry said. “I don’t think it was the time to do that against us because it’s only going to fuel our team.
“We’re all A-type personalities.”
As for Gran, he said he was “disappointed” in the British team’s performance in the final match. “We were dragged into their game too much.”
True enough, as the Canadians took control from the first throw. Jacobs drew his hammer to the button in the first end to count two and never looked back.
In the third end, Britain second Scott Andrews wrecked on a guard and third Greg Drummond took his own rock out while trying a double takeout. Jacobs was later able to draw for three, putting Canada up 5-1.
A steal in the fourth end and the Canadians were romping, now up 6-1 and the Scots clearly rattled.
Jacobs’s aggressiveness was often on display this game. After one hard double takeout in the sixth end, a clearly pumped Jacobs was tapped on the butt by the brooms of the Harndens – almost as if he’d scored a goal in the Canadian men’s hockey semi-final game that was to be played later in the day.
That takeout allowed him to draw in for another two points and move to an insurmountable 8-2 lead over Great Britain.
By the sixth end, three of the Canadian curlers – Jacobs and his cousins, the Harndens – were all curling above 90 per cent. Murdoch was at 60 per cent, disastrous for the one throwing last rocks.
(Perhaps, as one reporter tweeted, the British curlers were “intimidated” by the arms of the Canadian sweepers. The Jacobs rink is often called “The Buff Boys” in curling circles.)
The British had to make a move with ends vanishing and, in the seventh, they had a chance to stick a shot and count two, only Murdoch missed his shot and was able only to count one.
With an 8-3 lead in the eighth and with the hammer back, Jacobs was in total control. The British conceded after eight ends and, for the first time in the match, the Canadians dared smile.
“There’s plenty of time to smile after you win,” Jacobs said.
They smiled and high-fived and grabbed a Canadian flag and ran around the perimeter of the rink as Canadian fans cheered them.
“This was not just for us,” an emotional E.J. Harnden said. “Not just for our team, not just for Sault Ste. Marie. It was for all of Canada.”
Jacobs said the high expectations and pressure had an effect on his team early on. “This was a huge grind. It’s pretty hard, I’ll be honest. We kind of let that get to us. It’s hard to wear that Maple Leaf.”
For Murdoch, the silver medal was bittersweet.
He had missed the podium in both Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010 with other rinks. Here, with a team composed of three curlers under 25, he had defeated world champion Sweden in a surprise upset to reach the championship game.
Earlier in the week, Murdoch – a native of Lockerbie, who, in 1988, witnessed the explosion and crash of Pan Am flight 103, which killed all 259 on board and another 11 on the ground – had reluctantly spoken about what he had seen as a 10-year-old in the family car driving home.
“No one can forget what happened,” the Scottish skip said, “and I want to give something back for all the support they’ve given me.
“It’s a real nice town with a lot of good people in it and I’d love to walk through there with an Olympic medal.”
Now, he can do that – only the medal will be silver, not gold.
The gold medal is headed for Sault Ste. Marie.