Rested Martin rarin' to go for Worlds

CON GRIWKOWSKY, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

For the first time in his career, Kevin Martin will defend a world curling championship title.

Martin and his crew are heading off to Moncton this morning well-rested for this year's event, which starts Saturday.

His team has just come off a gruelling 21-games-in -16 days schedule where they followed up a second consecutive undefeated Brier run with a Canada Cup win in Yorkton.

"We stumbled a bunch in Yorkton the first day and a half because we were so bagged," said Martin. "It's all good now. I didn't throw any rocks from the Canada Cup final until Saturday morning. Five full days off. It's the first time I've done that in a long time and it feels good. That was a tough grind for me, not so much for the young guys, but for me. That was a lot of games."

Martin has been building toward 2009 for some time now since putting together his lineup of third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert.

First the Brier. Next the Worlds and finally, the third jewel in curling's triple crown, the Olympic trials in Edmonton later this year.

Martin has never gone through a world championship undefeated and figures this year's field could be even tougher than the one his crew faced last time out.

"Yeah, I think so," said Martin. "Japan's definitely a strong team from lead to skip and we play them the first game. (Ralph) Stocki is a real strong team out of Switzerland. And then, of course you have (Scotland's David) Murdoch and (Norway's Thomas) Ulsrud and China. Denmark has improved.

"It's getting tougher every single year. That looks good on our sport. There are more and more countries that look good. A lot of the international sports I watch, there's always three or four front-runners, but there's not a whole gamut of teams. In curling, it's getting like that. All the countries are putting so much time and effort into it that they're getting really good."

Many of the international teams are now regular participants on the World Curling Tour. For example, Murdoch gave Martin all he could handle in the semifinal of the Wayside Inn Classic at Lloydminster last November.

"If you go back 15 or even 10 years ago, you'd play internationally and we didn't know the teams," said Martin. "It's not like that anymore. They come over to Canada and they're getting better all the time."

Securing his first Worlds title means Martin has one less barrier to overcome. The foursome has been frighteningly consistent since then and has earned more money than any other team on the planet.

"The way the team's been going, I think we've been able to stay pretty focused, whatever we've tried to do," said Martin. "There's been a lot of hills we've tried to get over, events we've tried to win. I think we'll be all right that way. I'm really enjoying the way we've been playing. These guys don't miss very often."

Canadians Ernie Richardson (twice), Ron Northcott, Don Duguid and Randy Ferbey have been the only previous skips to win back-to-back Worlds titles.

After Murdoch's win in 2006, Glenn Howard and Martin have brought the title back to Canada.

Martin's dominant season has ranked him as the favourite heading in, but curling can be a slippery game.

"Our biggest concern, as usual, is ice conditions," said second Kennedy, a first-team Brier all-star for the past three years. "If it's as good as it was at the Brier, Kevin gets into such a comfort level, same as John. Things click on good ice for us. There's always a little apprehension going into an event because you want things to work. I watched Glenn play in that Worlds and the first thing he'll tell you is how good the ice was. Not to diminish their performance whatsoever, but I think the strength of the field might be a bit tougher than it was in Edmonton, in my opinion."

If Martin has designs on becoming the fifth Canadian skip to win back-to-back Worlds titles, there's no question he'll need some breaks along the way.

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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