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From top 10 to top of the world for Canadian curlers

Lead Ryan Harnden (L) and second E.J. Harnden sweep for skip Brad Jacobs against Team John Morris during the men's final at the Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Winnipeg December 8, 2013.

FRED GREENSLADE/REUTERS

Try to imagine a Curling Summit.

The Canadian men's and women's curling teams come home from the Sochi Games empty-handed – or, in the case of the defending-champion men, a, gulp, bronze medal – and instantly the hand-wringing would begin. Editorials would be written, sports radio switchboards would explode, columnists would rant, heads would roll and the Canadian Curling Association would be expected to revamp every level of the game accordingly.

Not going to happen.

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And yet, the expectation that Brad Jacobs's rink would defend the gold medal, and Jennifer Jones's rink would challenge for gold, is every bit as high in this ice game as it is in the other.

Jacobs, a 28-year-old account manager with Royal Bank of Canada in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., feels more than a bit of the weight that resides on the back of Sidney Crosby, that 26-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., who is expected to lead Canada to its second consecutive gold medal in men's hockey.

In curling, it would be Canada's third gold in a row for the men.

"We put more pressure on ourselves than anyone back in Canada does," Jacobs says. "We want this badly. What we're trying to do is beat every team, win every game – and win the championship."

Jacobs's rink has been on a jaw-dropping roll the past year or so. He had always considered his team a "top 10" contender in the country. He was skip and with two cousins, Ryan and E.J. Harnden, had long curled as a team with various fourths. But something profoundly changed when they picked up Ryan Fry, an itinerant curler from Winnipeg who has been on several elite teams.

"'Nomad' is a compliment, right?" Fry says with a laugh.

Fry is the only one of the four who curls full-time, but he also handles the team's travel and training arrangements. Jacobs is in banking, E.J. Harnden is a manager with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and Ryan Harnden works in real estate.

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"We're curlers," Jacobs says. "Curlers need jobs."

The three cousins have curled together for years. ("We were crawling around together as babies," Jacobs says.) They consider themselves "brothers" and have now added Fry to the fraternity.

With Fry throwing third, the Jacobs rink went from "top 10" to top of the world. They won the Brier. They took a silver medal at the world championship. And, in December, they went undefeated at the Roar of the Rings, earning a ticket to Sochi.

"We have some momentum right now," Jacobs says. "We were able to have some success at the Brier and then the Olympic trials, so whatever wave we're on right now, we're going to ride it until it crashes."

An interesting choice of words, for it certainly would be considered a "crash" if the men's rink did not at least play for the gold medal.

"Gold is the mission," Jacobs says. "I think anything less than gold we will all be disappointed. A medal at the Olympic Games is obviously phenomenal – but gold is what we want."

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Jacobs says his team – along with fifth (spare) Caleb Flaxey – wants to become like the Kevin Martin rink from Alberta that stood at the top of the men's game for several years and took the gold in Vancouver four years ago.

"That is something we're trying to emulate," he says. "We're trying to be a dominating team.

"So the pressure is on a little bit, but all that pressure goes away once you step on the ice as a curler – and that's the moment that we're looking forward to."

Jacobs says curling, like hockey, will be played differently here than in Canada. While hockey's major difference is rink size – the international rink is 15-feet wider than NHL rinks – the differences in curling are more subtle.

"Some of the strategy is different from some of the international countries," he says. "You'll see certain teams favour a certain turn rather than splitting it up almost 50/50. A shot we might play with an in-turn they might play with an out-turn, stuff like that. It's things that you're not really used to.

"Not every country is going to be playing the exact same way. It's getting used to the way that other countries play and figuring out how to combat their style of play.

"But I think right now, the way we're playing, other countries should be thinking about how to beat us."

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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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