MacKinnon: Nothing beats winning Tim Hortons Brier when curling is your life
Ryan Fry equals father Barry’s achievement as a Canadian men’s champion
EDMONTON - Seconds after his Northern Ontario team won the Tim Hortons Brier with a resounding 11-4 victory over three-time winner Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, Ryan Fry bounded over the boards at Rexall Place, sprinted up the stairs and hugged his dad.
“I still can’t believe that it just happened,” said Fry, 34, who joined Northern Ontario as third to skip Brad Jacobs’ team from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., at the beginning of this championship season.
“As soon as I come down from that, I’ll be able to articulate a little bit better.”
Curling is an all-in-the-family sport in our country, but Fry has bloodlines like few others. His dad, Barry (The Snake) Fry, won the Brier for Manitoba in 1979, when Ryan was a one-year-old.
So, a passion for curling is something Fry came by naturally, along with the signature Manitoba tuck delivery his father helped popularize, along with two-time Brier champion Don Duguid, both central influences on Ryan’s career.
“The biggest thing is it just changed my life, as far as what I wanted to do with it,” Fry said of growing up in a family rooted in curling excellence. “I pretty much set myself up totally focused on curling for such a long time, all for the chance to try to get to this point.
“Now that we’ve done it, it feels amazing.”
Like father, like son, obviously, and not just in Fry’s case. The Jacobs team victory is all about family. Brothers Ryan, 26, and E.J. Harnden, 29, are the sons of Eric Harnden, Jacobs’ uncle. All three played for and learned from Eric and his brother, Al.
They represent a new generation of curling excellence in Northern Ontario, which had not won the Brier since Al Hackner’s team did it in 1985, before Jacobs was born.
En route to winning the Brier, Jacobs beat the 50-year-old Howard and his good friend Stoughton, who turns 50 this summer.
“The Stoughtons and (Kevin, 46) Martins and Howards have been winning it all along,” said Rick Lang, who played third for Hackner’s team back in ’85. “Several teams in Canada are on the brink, but they’re the first ones to really break through.”
It was the sixth Brier for both Jacobs (one was as a fifth man) and Fry, the fifth for the Harndens, but the first final game for all four.
The Jacobs team broke through decisively, defeating Gushue in the Page Playoff 3-4 game, then dominating both Howard and Stoughton in the semifinal and final, respectively.
In the final, they took command immediately by stealing a pair in the first end, stealing another in the second end to take a 3-0 lead, and taking it from there.
Fry, who never made a single takeout if the double was available, or a double if the triple was there, fit in seamlessly with Team Jacobs, an athletic, aggressive, hitting group whose style would be described as risk-reward. Not that Fry, who curled 94 per cent in the final game, fears the risk.
“We take pride in being a hitting team,” Fry said. “We feel we can hold a lead if we get one.
“That being said, we’re not too scared to go after them with the draw side of it. It’s just throwing a ton of rocks and being around curling for however many years we’ve been doing this for and you just learn those things.”
Fry honed his abilities playing for some of the best skips in Canada. He helped Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland rink at four Briers (2009, ’10, ’11 and ’12). He also played for Stoughton, another picture-perfect Manitoba tucker, at the 2007 Brier.
So, the studs from The Soo have youth and experience on their side as they head to Victoria, B.C., from March 30-April 7 to represent Canada at the world curling championship, a young group having accepted the torch from their elders.
“I guess you could say that,” Fry said. “To me, I take a lot of pride in being able to do this with the field that was here.
“Going forward, there’s going to be some guys retiring, the likes of Jeff and Kevin. To be able to win one when they were still playing, competing at a high level, makes me feel awesome.”
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Team Northern Ontario, from left, From left, Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden pose with their gold medals after defeating Team Manitoba 11-4 in the final match of the Tim Hortons Brier at Rexall Place in Edmonton on March 10, 2013.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts