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Team Koe lead Ben Hebert, left to right, third Marc Kennedy, skip Kevin Koe and second Brent Laing celebrate their win over Team McEwen during the men's final at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Olympic Curling Trials in Ottawa on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Short-track speedskating had Canada's Olympic men's curling team bug-eyed.

"A train wreck waiting to happen," second Brent Laing said.

"Somebody referred to it as 'white-collar NASCAR,"' third Marc Kennedy observed. "It's intense."

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The preliminary round of Olympic men's curling opens Wednesday, the day after Canada's John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes curl for mixed doubles gold.

While the Gangneung Curling Centre was otherwise occupied with mixed doubles pool games for four days, Kevin Koe's team were cheerleaders for their mixed doubles counterparts, as well as their Canadian teammates in short track and women's hockey.

But it was time to dial down the fandom Monday when Kennedy, Laing and lead Ben Hebert hit the ice for their first practice.

Koe and company open against Italy and Britain on Wednesday. Canada's Rachel Homan gets going Thursday versus host Korea and Sweden.

"You definitely want to experience as much as you can and see as much as you can, but at the same time you've got to do what you need to do to be successful," Koe said.

"If we don't do good here, but we go see other events, that's not really what we'd look back on. I don't think that would be good versus winning."

His team out of the Glencoe Club in Calgary looks to extend the country's run of men's curling gold to four in row after Brad Jacobs (2014), Kevin Martin (2010) and Brad Gushue (2006).

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Kennedy and Hebert were Martin's front end in 2010 along with Morris at third. The trio could become the first curlers to win a pair of Olympic gold in their careers — albeit Morris in different disciplines.

From his experience in 2010, Kennedy says a balance can be struck between soaking up a unique experience and keeping his head in the game.

"You make sure you stay in your own little bubble and perform well," Kennedy said. "You do look for gaps where maybe you do have 36 hours off. Maybe there is an opportunity to go to a big medal event.

"If you plan it properly, they're also great for inspiration and motivation. There's nothing like going to watch a fellow athlete accomplish their dream. It has an effect on you personally and how you want to perform the next day."

Olympic first-timer Laing was a spectator in Sochi, Russia, four years ago watching Jennifer Jones run the table to women's curling gold. The couple married in 2015.

Their roles are reversed in Pyeongchang. Jones has arrived with oldest daughter Isabella to support Laing.

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"As I suspected, it's a lot more fun on this side of the ropes so far," Laing said. "You get treated slightly differently."

The teams won't throw the same set of rocks as the mixed doubles curlers.

So the goal of Koe and the other nine teams training Monday was to get a feel for rocks and ice.

Canada's chief challengers for gold are expected to be Sweden's Niklas Edin, Norway's Thomas Ulsrud and Switzerland's Peter de Cruz.

Koe's team won the 2016 world men's title.

"Our focus is to play as well as we can and hopefully have an opportunity at a medal, to be honest," Kennedy said.

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"I think 20 years ago it was different. I don't think the depth of teams was as good. As a Canadian team, you had a really good chance to medal.

"I think it's a lot harder now. We're trying to put ourselves in a position to win and hopefully go home with some hardware."

Kaitlyn Lawes says it feels “surreal” to be representing Canada in mixed doubles curling at the Pyeongchang Olympics. John Morris says he and Lawes had a “steep learning curve” at the trials after not playing together for five years. The Canadian Press
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