MacKinnon: Curling DNA has been ingrained into Northern Ontario Brad Jacobs and Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard at Tim Hortons Brier
Learned, inherited wisdom and experience makes these Brier athletes ready to take a serious shot at a championship in Edmonton
Quebec skip Jean-Michel Menard doesn’t like what he sees in a loss to Northern Ontario at the 10th drawn at the Tim Hortons Brier at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - As curling family battles go at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier, it had almost all the ingredients of a classic.
It was Ontario — OK, Northern Ontario — versus Quebec, with Brad Jacobs facing 2006 Brier champion Jean-Michel Menard.
It was the Harnden clan, a multi-generational curling family from The Soo — Sault Ste-Marie, Ont., — against the Menards — skip Jean-Michel, lead Philippe and coach Robert, their dad, all from St. Romuald, a section of the Quebec City suburb of Levis.
It was also an absolutely pivotal game in the hunt for playoff spots at the end of the week. Jacobs kept his hopes lit with a 6-4 victory to move to 5-2, tied with Menard for fourth place in the round-robin standings.
It would have been nice for Menard to improve to 6-1, but a loss for Jacobs would have been devastating, putting him at 4-3 and on the brink of elimination in a tournament in which three losses might qualify you for a tiebreaker, but four simply won’t cut it.
“To get that win is big for us all around,” the 27-year-old Jacobs said, breathing a sigh of relief after losing back-to-back games to Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue and Glenn Howard of Ontario, both undefeated, so far. “Like, I can’t even describe how big it is for us to to get that win.
“We’re right there. Our destiny is in our own hands.”
As it unfolded, the crucial Wednesday afternoon match seemed to be slipping through the fingers of both Menard and Jacobs, who missed a cluster of shots between them.
Jacobs missed a routine draw in the fifth end to enable Menard to steal a pair and take a 3-1 lead into the break.
After a draw attempt by Menard slid through the house in the seventh end, Jacobs made no mistake with his final stone to score three and take a 4-3 lead. And so it went.
In the end, Menard curled a so-so 78 per cent, while just 76 per cent was good enough for Jacobs to win, on the day.
So, precision curling was not on offer in this one, which may have heightened the drama, finally.
The two curling families have met multiple times before, with the Menards coming out on top most of the time. So, Wednesday’s game was a bit of get-back for Jacobs.
Both groups have curling embedded deep in their DNA. Jacobs is the cousin of brothers E.J. and Ryan Harndon, who are the sons of Eric Harndon, Jacobs’ uncle. Al Harndon, Eric’s brother, is uncle to E.J., Ryan and Jacobs.
Jacobs has been to Briers with both his uncles — Al in 2007 and Eric in ’08, when brothers E.J. and Ryan were his teammates, also.
Jacobs, Ryan and E.J. all learned the game from Al and Eric, just as Jean-Michel and Philippe Menard have been mentored and continue to be coached by Robert, who goes by Bob.
“I think that’s how a lot of people of our generation, the younger generation, got into the game, was through their mom or father,” E.J. Harnden said. “I don’t think it’s uncommon, but it’s a cool thing to see.”
All the Northern Ontario players are strapping, ripped athletes you might think were football or hockey players, if you saw them outside a rink.
All that family wisdom about curling helped tip the balance when they had to make a choice about which sport to commit to as they entered their teens.
“My dad told us to make a choice — either stick with curling or stick with hockey, because you’ve got to put your time into one but not both,” E.J. Harndon said. “Having him there, curling was an easy choice because we had all that wisdom and all that talent to help you along.
“If he wasn’t there and he wasn’t involved in the sport, I never would have gone into it.”
The younger Harnden brothers, 29-year-old E.J. and Ryan, 25, are competing in their fifth Brier, while Jacobs, who played under Eric at three Canadian championships, is in his sixth Brier, his third as a skip.
After a third-place finish — and a sparkling 9-2 won-lost record in the round robin — in 2010, Jacobs missed the playoffs in both 2011 and 2012.
The boys from The Soo feel all that learned and inherited wisdom, coupled with some impressive experience for twentysomething athletes, has them ready to take a serious run at a championship.
“We’ve taken our lumps, we’ve had our bumps and bruises,” E.J. Harndon said. “We’ve put a ton of time into the game.
“Honestly, with the season we’ve had, and adding (third) Ryan Fry to the team, we really feel we’re ready to take the next step and win the Brier.
“If we do, we’d be a solid representative for Canada. I mean, we’re a long way away from that, but we absolutely think we can do that, and we’d be disappointed if we left not winning.”
The way the tournament is unfolding, Jacobs may have to face Menard in a tiebreaker along the way, also.
Like the Northern Ontario team, Menard’s Quebec outfit senses an opportunity, in their case, to repeat what they did in 2006 in Regina, when they were surprise Brier champions.
“In ’06, we started slowly, and we fought back,” said Bob Menard, who also coached his three other children, who have since moved on from curling. “Now, we’re doing pretty well.
“We have to get in there and win a few more games. We’ve got a few more big ones in front of us, Ontario and Newfoundland.
“As long as we wind up in the final round, it’s anybody’s game. So, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
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