BANFF – The final of the ATB Banff Classic was looking like a knee-slapper early on for the favourites, but the trailing young guns weren’t ready to go down without a fight.
Team Jeremy Harty won the inaugural men’s curling tournament at Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre after an 8-4 comeback victory over Team Kevin Koe in the championship game on Sunday (Oct. 18).
“It’s hard to imagine we would have started out the season like this,” said the skip following the upset over Koe.
After going down 4-0 early in Sunday’s final, Team Harty’s (Harty, Kyler Kleibrink, Joshua Kiist and Kurtis Goller) confidence didn’t break against the likes of Koe, John Morris, B.J. Neufeld and Ben Hebert on the opposing side. Instead, the aces bided their time and slowly chipped away at Koe’s lead, going on an 8-0 run from the third to eighth ends.
“We’ve been in that position a couple times this year already, so we kind of had a play that worked and we just stuck with it,” said Harty. “It kind of got a little scary in there because Koe can make any run that you leave him and we got lucky.”
Two-time Olympic champ and Canmorite Morris, who joined Koe's team of four earlier this year, said the stacked squad isn’t quite where they want to be yet, but overall they’ve had a “good start to the season.”
“We got up early and seemed to maybe lose our focus a bit and had trouble finishing it off,” said Morris. “It wasn’t our best finish, but kudos to them. They played a solid all-round game and hung tough and were able to pull out that victory.”
During the 12-team classic (Oct. 15-18), which was mostly a who's who in Alberta men's curling scene, Team Koe knocked off Andrew Hodgson (8-6) in its first game, Glen Kennedy (7-3) in game two, and defeated Harty (8-5) in the two top teams' first game on Friday.
The competition, which wasn't open to the public, but was live streamed on Banff Curling Club's YouTube page, is welcome for Morris and the other provincial curlers during the pandemic when sports are being cancelled worldwide.
"This is huge," said Morris. "A lot of provinces are on lockdown right now and are really having trouble competing. The fact we're able to do it, we're choosing venues that are smaller and we're doing it very safely ... this is our second event now, it's kind of gone on without a glitch, but at the same time we're making sure we get some good games in so when COVID protocols are over we won't be at a disadvantage, if anything, we'll be at an advantage."
In Sunday’s semifinal, Team Koe took on Team Brendan Bottcher in a provincial heavyweight matchup. The last time the two teams faced off at the Fenlands back in 2019, Bottcher pulled out a narrow shootout victory. But a lot has changed for Calgary’s Team Koe since that shootout, mainly the addition of Olympic gold medallist Morris to the squad.
Up 4-3 in the sixth end, Koe was primed to add more points to its lead with four rocks sitting comfortably in the house. In a last-ditch effort, Bottcher had the hammer, the final stone of the end, and threw a Hail Mary hit-and-roll to clear the house, but it was unable to do damage or score any crucial points needed for the Edmonton-based team. Down 8-3, Bottcher conceded the game and Koe advanced to the finals.
On the adjacent sheet, Team Harty slowly but efficiently piled up points against Team Karsten Sturmay in the semifinal, winning 6-1.
Team Harty of Calgary took out Ryan Jacques (8-7), Ted Appelman (6-3), Bottcher (8-5; 5-4), and Evan van Amsterdam (8-7) to make the final.
"It’s a lot of tough games, but it just makes you a better curler when you’re playing the top teams," said Harty.
Once on the big stage with Koe, the veterans did not go easy early on the younger curlers, which has a team age average of 23.5 years.
A big takeout in the second end that sent two of Harty’s stones flying to the side made Morris smile and put Koe up 4-0. However, the cheerful moments didn’t last long for the expert curlers.
In the third, fourth and fifth ends, Harty stole major momentum back after tying things up and adding extra pressure on the vets over halfway through the championship.
In a pivotal sixth end, the technical battle in the championship was on full display. Harty was throwing in multiple freeze shots to jam up the house, while Koe was throwing rockets and opening things up. Left with a big decision on the final rock, Harty threw another freeze shot and bunched up three stones near the button. Koe was unable to smash up the trio with the hammer.
An upset was in the works as Harty pushed ahead 6-4. Koe played a strategic seventh, where he purposely blanked an end to retain the hammer in the eighth and final end.
Pressure was on both teams, with the hungry young guns clinging to a two-point advantage and the swarming vets aiming to overcome their adversaries.
However, Team Harty held off Koe’s attack as the final hammer just slid wide during a critical hit and roll.
Harty won $9,000, Koe won $6,000 for second and $4,000 each went to third and fourth.