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Strong chemistry allows Olympic men's curling champions to keep dreaming big

10/20/2014 01:18 EDT | Updated 12/20/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Never mind the new quadrennial. Team Brad Jacobs wants to be a force on the men's curling scene for at least the next eight years.

The new season is underway and the reigning Olympic champions are trying to build on their strong results from the last two years. The 2018 Winter Olympics is one long-term goal and they're even looking ahead to the 2022 Games as another.

And of course they're hoping for more success at the Tim Hortons Brier, Grand Slams and other major events along the way.

"Our team is hungry," said team third Ryan Fry. "We want to be known as one of the best teams to play the game and we want to hold on to that No. 1 spot as long as we possibly can."

Fry joined forces with Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden in 2012 and the quartet clicked immediately. The Northern Ontario rink won the Brier in 2013 and added silver at the world championship.

They kept up their stellar play last season and reached their goal of an Olympic title at the Sochi Games last February.

"I think what we were able to accomplish over the last two years together really shows that the work ethic has to be there in order to achieve success in the sport now," Fry said in a recent phone interview. "The one thing that we have that a lot of teams may not have — or have to work at very hard — is our chemistry.

"Right now I don't know if it's matchable."

That cohesion gives the Jacobs rink a distinct advantage this season considering all the recent lineup changes among top men's teams around the country. Fry and his teammates have also worked to improve their training routines, shifting some of their focus from heavy weightlifting to aerobics.

"We're spending a little more time making sure we're strong in all parts of our game," Fry said. "It's not just looking big out there but it's actually having your body feel as good as it possibly can."

The changes have paid off with some solid results early this season. They topped a strong field to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Brockville, Ont., last month and reached the final of the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard last week.

They will take an impressive 19-5 overall record into the first Grand Slam of the season, the Oct. 28-Nov. 2 Masters in Selkirk, Man.

At 36, Fry is the oldest member of the team. E.J. Harnden is next at 31, two years older than Jacobs — his cousin — and three years older than brother Ryan. Fry has played for several skips over his career while the Harndens broke through in 2008 with their first Brier appearance.

Jacobs moved in as skip in 2009 and they won bronze at the national playdowns in 2010. Fry later rounded out the current lineup and last year they became the first Northern Ontario team to win the Brier since 1985.

"This is the team we want to play with," Fry said.

"We've spent a long time looking for it," he added. "We know we have the ability and the talent to stay at the top. It's just going to be collectively working together to keep improving our game. As long as the four of us are committed and are able to commit the amount of time and energy it takes to stay there, we're confident that we can stay at the top or somewhere close to the top for a long period of time.

"It's just honestly going to come down to whether or not we're able to do it with the rest of life coming into play, i.e. families, jobs, careers, things of that nature."

Not only are they finally among the elite teams in the country — they're now the rink to beat. And their goals are just as high now as they were two years ago.

"We want to, at the end of it, say that we've won everything that there is to win in curling and nowadays that includes the Grand Slams and the Canada Cup," Fry said. "There are so many major events that we're lucky enough to be able to play in now that we have an opportunity to prove ourselves almost biweekly. We're looking at all the majors as goals of ours to win.

"But the Brier, to me it's still one of the things I grew up watching and something that I have a huge passion for. So obviously the Brier and provincial championships are very major in our planning for what we want to accomplish this year."

Part of the challenge is to maintain the work ethic and training that helped set them apart.

"We know that if we want to stay at the level that we want to stay at for the next four years, and potentially we're even talking going forward to 2022 — so you're talking a good seven, eight (more) years together — for us to do that as we get older, you need your bodies to stay in a 25-year-old's shape," Fry said. "So not necessarily lifting the heaviest weights is going to be the best way to achieve that.

"So we're just really making sure that we have the right training program in order to have longevity in the sport."

The four members of Team Brad Jacobs are known for their chiselled physiques and a focused intensity. They often use a defensive style but can make the quick switch to an offensive game as needed.

They also aren't afraid to show their emotions on the ice. Fry admits it took some time for them to learn how to use their strong personalities for the team's greater good.

"Instead of doing things that may hinder our ability to win, we started looking at it as a way to grow together as a team and individually," Fry said. "I think that the fact that we're all honest and able to make those changes to ourselves and to the team dynamic, it really helped elevate us at a very quick pace."

The domestic curling scene is quite different now than it was a year ago. Kevin Martin has retired and top skips like Kevin Koe, Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton, Brad Gushue and John Morris all made some lineup changes.

Howard said he thinks the Jacobs rink has shown that it's at the top of the class right now.

"They had a great formula and they seem to really have a good team dynamic and good team cohesiveness going on," Howard said. "They had a little bit of a temper and a little bit of an edge to them which I think they've learned to control. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you can control it and I think they did that and they did that beautifully.

"If they have a bad end or a bad game, they bounce back very well and that's the sign of a true champion team."

The Jacobs rink has no plans to rest on its laurels now that it has enjoyed major victories.

"We're playing enough to give ourselves the best chance of staying at the world No. 1 (position)," Fry said of this season. "We're honestly just chasing those 100 per cent games and trying to be as good of a team as possible. I know for a fact that when we're playing at our ability and we don't let anything else get in the way of it, we're very tough to beat.

"The wins and the championships and all that stuff take care of themselves if you're able to do that."

It also helps when team camaraderie is strong.

"We're honestly four best buddies," Fry said. "It helps that three of the members of our team are family. But we legitimately love spending time together. There's no three other guys that any of us would rather win with than the guys that we have on our team.

"That's something that I searched for for a long time and I know the guys have searched for it for a long time. We just really enjoy competing but being able to compete together. I think it's that chemistry that we have that really brings us up a level."

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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