TORONTO — Ryan Fry leans on a wall near the Mattamy Athletic Centre locker-room, his broom in one hand and a water bottle in the other, and tilts his head to the side as he thinks about what he's learned during an unforgettable curling season.
What flowed out of Fry during the long chat that followed only seemed to scratch the surface.
He has experienced a lot in recent months and seems richer for it. Fry is capping a long run with Team Brad Jacobs with two more competitions — including this week's Players' Championship — before moving on to join Team John Epping.
He's also getting married next month and said he's ready for the exciting changes on and off the ice that await.
"It's all good, man," Fry said Friday afternoon. "It's been a long year. It's definitely been a long year. But I'm very excited for what the future holds."
The Champions Cup in Saskatoon will be the team's swan song. A couple weeks after that, they'll head south to a resort with other friends and family members for Fry's wedding.
"It's great to be able to play out these last two Grand Slams with the boys," Fry said. "We're going off to Jamaica together in May. So it's going to be a good little bookend to a good seven years."
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.,-based team won the Tim Hortons Brier in 2013 before reaching curling's zenith with an Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
The rink has had success on tour in recent years but was unable to duplicate the lofty heights from the previous quadrennial. Over the last season or two, the spark from their earlier days started to fade.
"We pushed it one more year because we were such good buddies," Fry said. "Realistically we should have probably made a switch last year but we wanted to give it one more chance to see if we could get it. For the most part, we were."
Jacobs was near the top of the world rankings this season and won the Grand Slam's Tour Challenge last November.
Later that month, Fry took a leave of absence to focus on growth and self-improvement.
Playing as a substitute at a lower-level bonspiel, organizers had disqualified his team for unsportsmanlike behaviour resulting from excessive drinking. Fry took two months off and has played well since his return.
"It's great being able to go and have the opportunity to play," Fry said. "Because to be honest with you, after Red Deer in November, I was feeling pretty down that my opportunities ... that it was going to take a lot of work to get back to where I wanted to get. It just was a change that I had to make and it's amazing how many people will support you along the way.
"I really have my family and my fiancee Jessica and everyone to thank for that because we really created a plan and built from it. We were able to dig out of something that was pretty monumental fairly quickly."
During his time away, Fry was able to take stock of where he was and where he wanted to go.
"That's one thing that I really started to realize is that I need to fill my time and my life with more than just training and more than just practising and competing," he said. "For so many years, that's all I was doing."
The Red Deer story filled sports sections around the country and set social media ablaze.
"The amount of people that are able to throw negativity at you through the safety from behind a computer and really break people down, it's a sad time for all that," Fry said. "I knew that it was a mistake. To be honest with you, I was up first thing in the morning, apologized, made amends for it before the sun even came up.
"But that wasn't enough. (Social media) already took it."
The 40-year-old Winnipeg native was very appreciative for the support he received afterwards.
"When you go through something like this and you get cast into the public eye and a spotlight put on you — especially in a negative light — you really understand who your friends are and who cares about you," he said. "And how little everything else means other than just that core group of people.
"I think that I'm very lucky because I had something happen to me that snapped me into seeing that in the blink of an eye. That's where you get to."
Last month, Fry had a conversation with Jacobs about future curling plans. They agreed a fresh start was needed and that the team's shelf life had been reached.
"When I came to the understanding that this was ending and made peace with that myself, it opened up this relief," Fry said. "That anxiety that I had with trying to be perfect on the ice really started to dissipate.
"I was able to just start playing without the fear of losing what I had."
The team has looked strong this week, posting a 4-1 record entering Friday night's draw. Jacobs shared first place in Pool B with Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L.
"That's the biggest lesson that I've learned — that curling isn't everything — and it always has been for me," Fry said. "So it's going to be nice now to be able to turn the page on my 30s and really start working towards becoming the man I want to be and grow into a life that has a little bit more to it than just the sport of curling."
Fry was able to pull other positives from the experience too.
"It definitely was good for me as a person because I know the type of person I am," he said. "I know I'm forgiving of myself because if you're not, it's very difficult to grow. But I grew from it.
"I know that going forward it's going to serve me with a larger sense of maturity and a larger sense of respect for the way I conduct myself. Not only personally, but as a public figure."
Marc Kennedy will replace Fry at third next season. On the Epping team, Mat Camm will move from third to second and Brent Laing will go from second to lead, with Craig Savill the odd man out.
Fry said when he looks back at his seven-year run with his current team, he's most proud of the friendships that he has built with Jacobs, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden.
And he's also bullish on the potential they'll have on the ice next season.
"I think going forward Brad's team with Marc is going to be an exceptional team," Fry said. "I think they're going to set a standard of what I now get to try to build my new team with. That's an exciting thing for me as well."
Late Friday, Sweden's Niklas Edin secured a spot in the quarterfinals with a 6-4 victory over Winnipeg's Reid Carruthers in the final round-robin draw.
Scotland's Bruce Mouat and Ross Paterson both advanced to Saturday morning's tiebreaker draw. Mouat took two points in the eighth to edge Calgary's Kevin Koe 5-4 while Paterson held off Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., 4-2.
Both Koe and Howard had already qualified for the playoffs and finished pool play with 3-2 records. Edmonton's Brendan Bottcher also advanced at 3-2 while Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., finished as the top two seeds with 4-1 records.
Edin will meet Bottcher in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon while Howard goes up against Koe. Jacobs and Gushue will take on teams emerging from the tiebreakers.
Mouat, Paterson, Carruthers, Toronto's John Epping and Peter de Cruz of Switzerland all finished with 2-3 records leading to a mess of tiebreakers for Saturday. Mouat takes on Carruthers and Paterson plays Epping in the morning draw.
The winner of Paterson vs. Epping goes straight through to the quarterfinals while De Cruz awaits the victor between Carruthers and Mouat at Noon ET.
Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa eliminated Ottawa's Rachel Homan 6-5 in the lone tiebreaker game on the women's side.
Fujisawa will play top seed Anna Hasselborg of Sweden in the quarterfinals. Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones takes on Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul faces Kerri Einarson of Gimli in an all-Manitoba match and Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask., plays Calgary's Chelsea Carey.
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