Koe hopes to shake runner-up tag

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

It's a bit of an exclusive club, Canadian curlers who have won Olympic medals.

In this Roar of the Rings field, there's only a handful.

Kevin Martin. Check.

Shannon Kleibrink and her third Amy Nixon. Check.

Third Richard Hart of the Glenn Howard team, who won a silver medal with Mike Harris in 1998. Check.

All on teams imprinted in the curling fan's consciousness. But there's one more.

Carter Rycroft, who threw second rocks for Martin at Salt Lake City in 2002 and now toils for one of the most competitive teams in curling, the Edmonton-based rink skipped by Kevin Koe.

"Actually, it is amazing," said Rycroft, "Five. You want to get back any way you can. It's a totally different animal altogether. You can't compare it to anything ... a Brier, a world championship, anything of the sort.

"With it being in Vancouver, that puts it up another level yet. To have the trials in Edmonton and the Olympics in Vancouver, the team that gets to go will be doing something unbelievably special. You don't get a hometown situation like that, you'll likely never get that chance again."

Rycroft was shocked when he was set adrift by Martin at the start of this Olympic cycle, but he has settled into a pretty good situation.

"What makes me happy is what our team has shown over the last three years," said Rycroft. "We put it together, had high hopes and hit a lot of our marks. We're as close as we want to be since we've been together. Some of the wins we've been hoping for haven't come, but that I'm not too worried about. If we keep getting to the doorstep, we're going to win."

And, this event would be a good one to win.

Since this foursome was put together as a marriage of necessity, it has won the 2008 Canada Cup and has lost six Grand Slam finals and one Alberta final. Those are the types of growing pains any team has to go through and the dues it has to pay.

A disappointing show at the 2009 provincials garnered another change.

Blake MacDonald, who had been throwing last rocks for a couple of seasons, stepped back to third. That created a more traditional alignment with Koe calling the game and throwing last rocks.

MacDonald, a former Alberta junior champ who played front end for Ken Hunka's team in the 1999 Edmonton Brier, is adjusting to not throwing last rock for the first time this decade.

"The biggest thing with that was that we were on two different pages when I was throwing last rock," said MacDonald. "When you're throwing last rocks, you might feel more comfortable with what you're throwing. Often times, when you're skipping, you can call the ends to what you feel more comfortable with.

"We're both capable of throwing last rock ... we're both good players, so it didn't matter who was throwing last ones. It had more to do with how do we play an end and not have 100 different discussions about what we should be doing. I feel we've got better at that since he's been throwing skip rocks and we're getting the consistency we may have been missing."

Koe lost the 1994 Canadian junior final on a controversial burnt rock call.

Even though the team currently sits No. 4 on the World Curling Tour money list, it has been unable to imprint itself into the average sports fan's consciousness. Being in the same province as Martin and Randy Ferbey may have something to do with that. Even though they've played even-up with Alberta's big two on the Tour, they'll remain unknowns until they either win the trials or the province.

"We have to play those buggers in Alberta all the time," is the way Rycroft put it.

In a way, they're curling's answer to Greg Norman ... golf's lovable perennial runner-up.

"Greg Norman won a British Open by five or six shots and shot the lowest round in majors history, a 63," said MacDonald. "Greg Norman comes through once in a while. We've certainly been there and knocked on the door. We know what we're capable of. It's just a matter of knocking the door down."

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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