Simmons surprised by team switch

Matthew Gourlie
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Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen will retain Brier spot as Team Canada

Three days after finally winning the Brier, Pat Simmons found out would not be playing with his skip Kevin Koe next season.

Pat Simmons watches his stone, while Nolan Thiessen, left, and Carter Rycroft sweep at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw last season.

Such is the life of a high-level curler.

Just days after winning the Tim Hortons Brier, Koe told his team of Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen that he was making changes for next season. Koe's new team will feature Kevin Martin's old front end —Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert — plus Brent Laing from the Glenn Howard foursome. Kennedy will play third, Laing second and Hebert will be the lead.

The news came as a shock to Simmons.

"I didn't have a clue. I didn't know at all. It was definitely a surprise for me, for sure," said Simmons.

Koe broke the news to the rink just as they were getting together to play at The National a week before they headed to the world championships in China.

"The timing caught me off guard a little bit as well. As the year dwindles and gets to the end, things like that are going to be the case with teams, but I definitely was surprised," said Simmons. "That's curling. To say I wasn't disappointed would probably be a lie, but at the same point it's more disappointment because I liked playing with these guys. But I understand that that's part of curling and that's the way things go."

Koe, Rycroft and Thiessen had been together for eight years, but Simmons was the new face after replacing Blake MacDonald at the end of the 2010-11 season.

"They've been together for seven or eight years and teams do run their course. I believe that. There definitely comes a time when you need to start fresh and those types of things," said Simmons. "For me it was a little bit different because I came in sort of in the middle of things as far as that team goes. So it probably caught me off guard the most in a sense. It was my third year here so I was still getting along with everyone and it still has a bit more of a new team feel for me as opposed to the other way."

In a blog post to the team Koe web site, Thiessen said he felt the team had run its course in its current form and added: "We will end this team as better friends than we were before we started it, no hard feelings, nothing left on the table."

"It was not an easy decision," Koe told The Canadian Press from Calgary. "But I felt the timing was good personally for me — just with the next Olympic cycle coming up — to make a change.

"I think it's more a function of just the way curling has gone. Most years curling changes happen now after an Olympic year. That's just the nature of the beast I guess. Teams get together to make that big run."

While they aren't fully ready to announce their plans for next season, Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen will stay together. They will form three-quarters of the first Team Canada to play in the Brier next year in Calgary. By winning this year's Brier, the Koe rink won the right to defend their title, plus berths in the World Financial Group Continental Cup and the Canada Cup of Curling. To claim those spots they needed to retain three of their four members.

Before the Brier, Rycroft announced he was taking next year off. He didn't want to commit to being gone 14 weeks out of the year because his wife Sheila was expecting the couple’s third child.

"Carter was going to retire at the end of this year, but the problem is that to get our spot back in the Brier and the (other) events we won the chance to play in…  we need three of the four players. So that threw a wrench for him too," said Simmons. "I think he's agreed to basically play in those events, but I don't think he's going to play in anything else beyond that."

Simmons' new foursome will be looking to fill two spots — a skip and someone who could fill Rycroft's spot at some World Curling Tour stops.

"I'm not sure how much we're going to playing next year. We'll play in those three events and possibly more depending on circumstances," said Simmons. "The next events that we would want to play in are the (Grand) Slams. I would at least be interested in still playing in those as well. We'll need to pick up a couple of guys to fill those holes if we want to play in those events."

Simmons was the Saskatchewan skip at the Brier four times and threw fourth stones for Steve Laycock at a fifth Brier, but he expects to be remain the team's third at next year's national championship.

"My preference would probably be to keep playing third where I have been. It's been three or four years and to start back up skipping with those events on the line may not be the best time," said Simmons. "I would, it's not big deal. It's fine, but my preference would be to stay put in the position I've been playing if possible."

The Koe rink has one final spiel together when they contest the Players' Championship in Summerside, P.E.I. starting Apr. 15.

"We'll probably announce things some time after the Players' coming up here. We're not set in stone with everything yet. We're still in the process," said Simmons who said they have some options when it comes to finding new teammates.

"There are lots of people who would jump at that. There are some factors we have to take into account, but there's no lack of choice there, that's for sure."

Organizations: Team Canada, Canadian Press, Financial Group

Geographic location: China, Calgary, Canada Saskatchewan Summerside

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