NEWS
03/31/2016 12:48 EDT | Updated 04/01/2017 01:12 EDT

Canada's Kevin Koe leads experienced team at world men's curling championship

Kevin Koe has experienced the highs and lows of competition at the world men's curling championship.

He won gold at his first appearance in 2010 but struggled in his return four years later. Koe enters the 2016 competition as a favourite to get back on the podium.

Koe and teammates Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert are coming off an impressive performance at the Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa. They beat Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador in the final for the right to represent Canada in Basel, Switzerland.

"We have high expectations for ourselves as I'm sure every team that represents Canada in curling does," Koe said.

Sweden's Niklas Edin is back to defend the title he won last year in Halifax and 2015 silver medallist Thomas Ulsrud will skip the Norwegian side. Other potential contenders include Scotland's Tom Brewster, Finland's Aku Kauste, American John Shuster and Switzerland's Sven Michel.

Canada will open round-robin play Saturday against Finland at the 9,000-seat St. Jakobshalle. The top four teams will advance to the Page playoffs, with the medal games set for April 10.

Pat Simmons, who did not make the Brier playoffs this year, defeated Kauste in the bronze-medal game last year.  

This year's 12-team field is rounded out by Denmark's Rasmus Stjerne, Germany's Alexander Baumann, Japan's Yusuke Morozumi, South Korea's Soo Hyuk Kim and Russia's Alexey Stukalskiy.

Koe's rink is loaded with experience. All four players have won world titles before with different teams.

Koe's 2010 victory in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy came with Blake MacDonald, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen. Simmons replaced MacDonald on the Koe team that settled for a fourth-place result in 2014 at Beijing.

Kennedy and Hebert won gold with John Morris on Kevin Martin's team in 2008 at Grand Forks, N.D. Laing, meanwhile, teamed with Craig Savill, Wayne Middaugh and skip Glenn Howard to win Canada's last gold in 2012 at Basel.

Canada hasn't gone four years without a world men's title since a seven-year drought from 1973-79.

Challenges with the food, hotel and smog in Beijing created distractions for Koe's rink at the 2014 playdowns. He also told his then-teammates before the event that he would be moving on with a new lineup at the end of that season.

"It's impossible to know how much it affected us," Koe said this week on a conference call. "We still went over and tried our best to win, made the playoffs, and things just didn't go our way. But it's hard to win world championships, especially with some kind of extra things hanging over you.

"That was tough but I don't look back on it and say that cost us at all, it was just a few shots here or there. It's obviously quite different going this time."

After mixed results in their first campaign together, Koe and his current team have blossomed this season.

"We've won a Slam, we've won the Canada Cup, we've won a bunch of other events and won a Brier that (had) arguably one of the tougher fields ever," Koe said. "So I think that just shows we've been in good form all year and I think we'd expect to keep playing (well).

"That being said, there's obviously a couple other teams there that have won this event before that'll be tough."

Kennedy said team confidence has been on a steady rise in recent months.

"We feel like we can win," he said in a recent interview. "We feel like we have now not only the potential, but we have the team dynamics and the chemistry and the leadership and the coaching.

"We worked really hard on making sure we had all aspects of the game covered and hoped that it worked out at big events. So far this year, it's worked."

Canada has won gold on 34 occasions since the men's world curling championship was first held in 1959. IOC president Thomas Bach will open the competition Saturday by delivering the ceremonial first stone.

Switzerland beat Japan last weekend to win the world women's playdowns in Swift Current, Sask. Canada's Chelsea Carey finished fourth. 

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press