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Northern Ontario doing it their way at Brier after emotional Olympic gold

Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs lines up his rock during a match against Prince Edward Island at the 2016 Brier curling championship in Ottawa on March 8.


There is just no mistaking the Olympic champions.

The beards are new, and now skip and vice-skip both sport shaved heads more in keeping with ultimate fighting than with curling.

But the bulging biceps, the fist-pumps and fist-taps, the high-fives, the grim-faced intensity and the loud, raw emotion are all there, just as they were in Sochi two years ago when Brad Jacobs and his rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., won the gold medal for Canada and were dismissed as a bunch of uncouth bullies by the coach of the team that took silver.

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Nor in Sochi were there Northern Ontarians in the stands with their homemade "moose calls" – an old can, a string and a bit of spit – that can make late winter in TD Place seem like rutting season every time the Soo rink wins an end or crushes an opponent.

Tuesday morning the Jacobs team moved to 5-0 for the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier, at that point the only undefeated team in competition, with a decisive 6-2 win over Adam Casey's Prince Edward Island rink – the giant-killers who the day before staged a dramatic 6-4 upset of Pat Simmons's Team Canada.

The win was so effortless that little of the Northern Ontario team's famous emotion was spent.

It made for a low-key celebration compared with Monday evening, when the Jacobs rink scored three in the seventh and another in the eighth for a 10-6 lead over Simmons's rink, which promptly conceded.

To some in curling, such open displays of emotion seem more in keeping to that other Canadian game on ice. In Sochi, Soren Gran, the coach of the British team that was slated to meet Canada in the final, was vocal in complaining about the behaviour of the Jacobs team.

"The aggressive style we have seen from the Canadians here," Gran told reporters, "that's something I don't like about the sport. I don't think it helps anyone. It doesn't help the player, and it doesn't help his teammates."

Jacobs's teammates – brothers E.J. and Ryan Harnden, who are Jacobs's first cousins, and third Ryan Fry – would beg to differ, as they not only applaud Jacobs's intensity, they share it.

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The Gran quote, they say, "lit a fire under us." They used it as motivation and crushed the Brits 9-3 to take the gold medal.

"We're just emotional guys," says E.J. Harnden, the team's second. "We show our emotion on our sleeve and we're passionate about this game. We've put a tonne of hard work into the game, and we put everything we have into every single shot. That emotion is part of who we are and who we need to be to be at our best."

"I think the one thing I'm really proud of with our team, we stick to who we are," he adds. "The emotion you see out there is raw and authentic. It's who we are as people."

Asked if the hyper-fitness, the beards and the shaved heads might "intimidate" other teams, Jacobs would only grin and say, "You'd have to ask the other teams, I guess."

In fact, his rink was scaring itself far more than others earlier this curling season, playing unevenly and unhappily. Style of play was shifting to new, controlled sweeping along the edges in order to nurse a rock as it curled. There was also a controversy over new styles of broom heads.

"Early on this season," Jacobs says, "with all the new brushing techniques and all the different fabrics, it was a little bit of a distraction for our team. We were trying really hard to keep up with everyone instead of worrying about making shots and coming out and giving a lot of effort. As a result, we didn't get many wins, we didn't play our best."

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At Christmas, they took a break and talked things out among themselves and with their long-time sports psychologist, Arthur Perlini, who has accompanied the team to the Brier.

"He's a great guy," Jacobs says of the Sault Ste. Marie academic. "He knows a lot about us and our team and the mental aspects of sport. He's a big help.

"We had a great talk and decided we were going to come out in the second half of the year with the same intensity that we're typically used to coming out with."

And, clearly, it has worked.

Jacobs maintains his bushy beard has nothing whatsoever to do with any statement, that it's merely something he always wanted to try and found it came in much quicker and thicker than anticipated. The ribbing from the stands he takes in stride. "As long as they're having fun," he says. "The hairline's not getting any better. I figure if I can't grow it on top, maybe I'll grow it on my face."

E.J. Harnden thinks the intensity that the Jacobs rink has become so well known for is spreading throughout the normally sedate sport of curling.

"I think we're seeing a lot of the men's and women's teams showing more emotion," he says. "And in our eyes, I think that's a good thing for the sport. But at the end of the day, everyone's going to have different opinions – and everyone is entitled.

"The main thing for us is sticking to who we are – whether it's liked or disliked, it's something we need to be at our very best. It's who we are, so we're going to continue to do it."

"We're not looking too far ahead," Jacobs adds. "We're taking it one game, one rock at a time. We're trying to give it everything we have and leave it all out on the ice."

And, when the bull moose roars, in the stands as well.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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