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Kennedy searching for curling glory with another world-class skip

Marc Kennedy Marc Kennedy - Marc Kennedy/The Canadian Press

LONDON, Ont. – Marc Kennedy has a penchant for playing with some of the greatest skips to ever throw a rock.

Not too many curlers have a Rolodex that compares to Kennedy’s when it comes to former teammates.

“I’m just straight up lucky to have played for the skips I’ve played for,” Kennedy told on Thursday.

Kennedy first broke out on the national curling scene with the Old Bear in 2006, playing second for Kevin Martin for eight seasons, highlighted by back-to-back Tim Hortons Briers, a world championship and, of course, that 2010 Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver.

In 2014, Kennedy joined forces with stoic, sharp-shooter Kevin Koe, this time playing third. More success was found under Koe, winning Brier and world titles in 2016, plus another Olympic appearance in 2018.

Brad Jacobs, the 2014 Olympic champion, was Kennedy’s next stop in 2019 after the departure of Ryan Fry. No major titles were won here, but the Sault Ste. Marie rink were one win away from representing Canada at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

Kennedy still ended up in China, however, serving as the alternate for another world-class skip in Brad Gushue, eventually earning bronze.

Despite taking pride in being the No. 1 player on a lot of top skips’ wish lists, Kennedy says it’s more humbling to have so many great opportunities in his career.  

“I don’t expect it, but when I hear those things or when it comes my way, I’m honoured and humbled to have these opportunities to still find myself with some of the best curlers in the world year in and year out,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing something right, so I just try to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Now in 2023, Kennedy is playing for another skip who has the potential to go down as one of the best to ever step on the pebbled ice as they attempt to reach the top of the Canadian curling mountain at the Tim Hortons Brier. 

“He’s a special player. He’s pretty wise beyond his years,” said Kennedy, describing his 31-year-old skip Brendan Bottcher. “Some of those top skips can really think the game well. The Brad Gushues, the Kevin Koes and Brendan is right up there.

“He’s a very cerebral, analytical guy. And that’s what you need in the five-rock rule against these great teams. It still blows my mind that he’s only in his early 30s. Incredibly wise. I really feel like he’s just getting into his prime now. Hopefully, we can help him reach that extra level.”

Kennedy says he got to know Bottcher a little when he served as an alternate for his old squad during the 2021 World Men’s Curling Championship inside the Calgary bubble, but has built a stronger connection during their first season as teammates.

“He loves to play his cards. He’s got a sense of humour. He’s quite witty. Good family guy, which him and I get along in that respect. Learned a ton and just really, really enjoy playing for him,” said Kennedy.

Team Bottcher – going by Wild Card 1 this week at the Canadian men's curling championship in London – clinched a playoff spot Thursday morning after coming back and beating Quebec’s Team Felix Asselin, 8-7.

“We hung in there. We were pretty resilient. Our second man Brett [Gallant] was giving out a lot of good positive energy, kind of kept us in the fight. He himself made some great shots to give us the opportunity,” Kennedy said of the victory that pushed their record to 7-1 to finish pool play. “We definitely got a couple misses late out of Felix that gave us the opportunity and we were able to finish it off.”

Bottcher, Kennedy, second Brett Gallant and lead Ben Hebert came together this summer during an off-season of drastic change in the curling world. On paper, they seem to have the potential to become one of the greatest foursomes ever assembled with a combined 12 Brier Tankards, five world championships and three Olympic medals.

As they say, the game isn’t played on paper.

“You bring four talented, experienced individuals together, that’s not a guarantee of success,” said Kennedy.

Despite a season-opening win in Okotoks, the fall saw some growing pains for Team Bottcher, highlighted by an 0-4 showing at the Tour Challenge on the Grand Slam circuit in mid-October.

Not the early returns they were looking for, but Team Bottcher have said from the start that this team was built for the long haul with the intention of standing atop the podium at the 2026 Olympics in Italy.

It was time to get down to work, says Kennedy.

“The recipe for us was getting down to work and practicing hard. We’ve met up a whole bunch of times in Calgary and Edmonton. Coach Paul Webster has kept us on track, and we’ve been busting our ass to keep getting better, improve our communication and find who Team Bottcher is,” explained the 41-year-old native of St. Albert, Alta. “That’s what this whole first year has been about and this is our first really big major event together, so we’re still learning a lot. We do have the long-term focus in mind here.”

Team Bottcher won a Grand Slam event in January then almost ran the table at Alberta playdowns before losing to Team Koe in the final.

The rink out of The Glencoe Club in Calgary have been solid this week at Budweiser Gardens with their only loss coming against the defending champions led by Gushue.

They’re shooting a collective 87 per cent, including 90 per cent on draws. There’s been a few bumps in the road too, allowing two four-point ends, including one against Yukon on Wednesday.

“I think we’re going to need another gear. Mission one was to get into the playoffs, and we’ve done that,” said Kennedy. “Now we’re going to have to step it up because we’re going to play nothing but great teams from here on out.”

Kennedy, who’s making his 12th career appearance at the Brier, is shooting 82 per cent, ranked eighth among vices in that category. Despite the lower-than-usual numbers, Kennedy knows that his skip will always be in his corner.

“You know what, he’s a really easy guy to play hard for because he really has all our backs,” said Kennedy. “I definitely had some struggles this week and he hasn’t flinched once in his confidence in me. That’s a sign of a great teammate and a good skip.”

Team Bottcher finished second in Pool B after Canada's Team Gushue downed Yukon in the round robin finale Thursday night. Bottcher and company will take on Northern Ontario's Team Tanner Horgan Friday afternoon in the page playoff qualifier.