Team Brad Jacobs has certainly come a long way since the previous time they played in a Grand Slam event in their hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
The rink finished the round robin of the 2011 World Cup of Curling with a 2-3 record and missed the playoffs. In such a short span of time since, Team Jacobs has conquered the curling world winning a Tim Hortons Brier and a world silver medal last year as well as an Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Games in February.
E.J. Harnden, who plays second on Team Jacobs, said they were just happy to be in a major tournament back then but they’re absolutely thrilled now to get the chance to play on home ice again when Sault Ste. Marie hosts the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling National, running Nov. 19-23 at the Essar Centre.
“This is something we didn’t know if we’d have another opportunity,” Harnden said. “We were just happy to be in the Grand Slam at that point in time. We had a little bit of a taste of it but now after everything that we’ve done — winning a Brier championship, a world silver medal, an Olympic gold medal and to have the support we have had from our hometown Sault Ste. Marie — and being able to share those accomplishments with them afterwards was cool but now actually having the opportunity to perform in front of them again, it’s going to be absolutely electric.”
Since that first hometown Slam, the team brought in Ryan Fry, a move that has helped spark the momentum shift for the team. It all started with a conversation at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon after both Team Jacobs and Team Brad Gushue, where Fry was playing, missed the playoffs.
“We weren’t talking about playing with one another but were just having the discussion of how passionate we were about the game, how we wanted to get to the top of the sport, how we wanted to win a Brier and possibly an Olympics,” Harnden said. “We felt from one another that we were on the same page. We left and went home to Sault Ste. Marie and he went back to Newfoundland and it was literally no more than a couple of months later where he had parted ways with Brad and his team and we had done the same with Scott (Seabrook), who was our lead, and we just came together. It was only a matter of months before that transitioned into playing together and it all stemmed from that one conversation.”
Harnden said he knew right away it was going to be something special and they all felt like a complete team for the first time. Team Jacobs shares a tight-knit dynamic with E.J. and his brother Ryan Harnden playing front-end while their cousin Jacobs skips but Fry has fit right in with the family.
“Ryan Fry, to us, is as much family as everyone else,” Harnden said. “We did a speaking presentation (this past Friday night) and a lot of that talked about team work and chemistry and Ryan himself talked about the brotherhood that exists within our team. That’s exactly what it is. It’s special to win something regardless but when you’re doing it with family and literally your best friend, that’s what makes it so much more special. That’s really why I think we’ve done so well over the last couple of years.”
Since winning the Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Games, a lot has changed in their lives too from being recognized not only in their hometown but seemingly everywhere they go.
“If we’re in an airport travelling anywhere else, we generally get recognized and people come up to us and thank us but then we get the opportunity to thank them too because to have this support across Canada that we have is truly remarkable,” Harnden said. “Now also to go and do some things outside of curling and give back such as speaking engagements and some charity work and other things … it’s all real positive things coming out of it. I think, honestly, it has helped us on the ice too because it gives us a new perspective and (reminds us) also how much fun we have doing what we do.”
Physically, the Olympics changed Harnden as he now sports a giant tattoo on his chest honouring his greatest achievement. The piece features the Olympic medal, the rings, the water and mountain landscape of Sochi as well as the words “believe,” “sacrifice” and “dedication.” It was Harnden’s first tattoo and he certainly followed the mantra of “go big or go home” when choosing it.
“We all said we’re only going to get Olympic tattoos if we win so after that there was no going back,” Harnden said. “For myself I just wanted it, for one, to stand out. If I were to get one and it were to mean this much to me then I’m going to make sure I can see it each and every day when I look in the mirror so I decided to go a little bit bigger and put it on my front chest.”
Although many teams made changes over the summer preparing for the next four-year road to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Harnden said there was no hesitation Team Jacobs was sticking together for another run. The rink has a secondary goal to help the overall growth of curling as well.
“We love the sport, we’re passionate, we’re dedicated towards the sport of curling and we think that there are so many other people that would enjoy it as much as we would, especially the youth, so that’s part of our goal moving forward,” Harnden said. “We want to achieve as much success for ourselves and get to another Olympic Games, win an Olympic gold medal, win some Briers and do all that but at the same time (we want to) try to help grow the game of curling and bring it to hopefully more of a mainstream level.”
For now, winning a Grand Slam event — something that has eluded the team thus far — and to do it on home ice is right up there with the Brier and Olympic gold medal on their bucket list.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was our main focus and goal right now because we haven’t done that,” Harnden said. “We haven’t won a Grand Slam and that’s one thing a lot of the great teams have done is they’ve won a Grand Slam event. We want to be a part of that as well and there would be no better way than to do that in our hometown of Sault Ste. Marie with everyone watching who have been supporting us for the last number of years.”