© File photo
Pat Simmons releases a stone during Super League curling action in October.
Pat Simmons’ Olympic curling dreams began in Moose Jaw.
He and the Kevin Koe rink can take a step towards qualification for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with a win at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling when it begins at Mosaic Place Wednesday.
The winner of both the men’s and women’s Canada Cup championships will receive one of the six automatic qualification spots for the 2013 Roar of the Rings — the spiel that will determine who represents Canada in Sochi.
“Ever since an Olympic trials spot got tagged on to this event it’s been important. That’s the goal, to get that direct berth in, so it’s a big event,” said Simmons who is the third on Koe’s Calgary-based rink.
Kevin Martin, last year’s Canada Cup champion, and Glenn Howard, last year’s Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points leader, have already qualified for the Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifiers.
The final two automatic spots in the Roar of the Rings will go to the CTRS leader who hasn’t already qualified and to the rink that has the most CTRS points over the previous two seasons combined. Right now Koe leads in both of those categories which takes some pressure off to win the Canada Cup.
“It’s not a do-or-die situation. I think that helps us going into it as well,” said Simmons. “We’ve taken a little pressure off of ourselves given the fact that we’ve had such a great start to the year. Winning this puts everything to bed if we do so. It won’t be easy obviously. But we’re in a good position to do that regardless as long as we keep motoring along.”
Ironically, the Koe rink set out to spend less time dwelling on the CTRS standings every week and concentrate on developing as a foursome. In their second year together, Koe, Simmons, second Carter Rycroft and lead Nolan Thiessen — who finished second at last year’s Brier — felt they had room to grow.
“You can watch the points and it can become a distraction and affect what happens on the ice,” said Summons. “Our goal, being a fairly new team, was to just keep improving and work on the things we need to. We want to grow as a team too. I think all of those have come together and that’s one of the reasons we’ve had some success.”
They’ve had quite a big of success to start the season. They’ve advanced to the final in four straight WCT spiels and won two of those. Their last win was a big one: claiming the Rogers Masters of Curling Grand Slam event.
“To finally win one of those was fantastic,” said Simmons of his first career Grand Slam win. “We have a lot of momentum coming into (the Canada Cup).
“That being said curling is a humbling game too. You can lose that as quick as you have it. We’ve had a good, consistent year. That, even more, than winning last weekend is a good confidence builder.”
The Canada Cup has an exclusive field of seven rinks. In addition to Martin and Howard, John Epping, Brad Gushue, Mike McEwen and Jeff Stoughton will vie for the title.
Koe will open the event Wednesday in the 2 p.m. draw against Epping.
A veteran of six Briers and more than 25 Grand Slam events, Simmons is going to enjoy the rare chance to curl in a high-level even in his hometown.
“I don’t know that Moose Jaw has ever had an event like this. I’m excited for the fans to have this opportunity,” said Simmons. “I’m hoping everything will go over well — and I’m sure it will — and I’m looking at it like it’s a great chance to showcase our building and for the fans to show some excitement, to show up and support it. If they do, I know this will be the tip of the iceberg in terms of events we can get.”
It’s at least the biggest curling event in Moose Jaw since the 2004 men’s provincial Tankard was held in the city and possibly the biggest since the 1983 Women’s World Championships.
Simmons’ cheering section will be bolstered for Friday night’s draw against Martin by a group of 40 young curlers. Simmons bought tickets for the draw and donated them to youth curlers in Moose Jaw. The fans will be sitting together in the home end and they will also have some of Simmons’ old curling shirts from past competitions to wear.
“I was happy to get some tickets for that draw and I’m looking forward to it,” said Simmons. “I dug in the closet and got as many shirts as I had and I asked Shaunna (Friztler from the Moose Jaw Ford Curling Centre) to pass them out. It should be fun.”