It’s been five years since Ryan Fry packed his curling shoes and left Winnipeg, an itinerant curler looking to invent himself a new adventure.
He found it, along with a Brier trophy, but we’ll come back to that later in the story. The point is this: How big an adventure Sochi would be, curling under the spotlight of a nation and with a podium finish oh-so-likely. Fry, the former Manitoba junior champion and son of local curling icon Barry Fry, and his teammates on skip Brad Jacobs’ Sault Ste. Marie-based rink are just one win away, with the Roar of the Rings final set for 2 p.m. Sunday.
If they lose to John Morris, rolling undefeated through the round robin of these Olympic trials will have meant nothing.
If they win though, it means — well, it’s hard to know these things, before they happen. "Until we’re sitting there... with the coaches and our team and just start BS-ing about things we’re going to see over some beers, I don’t know," Fry said, after the team practiced on Saturday. "I don’t know what the Olympics are all about, other than watching them on TV. Right now, it’s about getting prepared for the game."
Oh, that game could be a beauty, all young blood pumping through some spot-on curling. If many observers pegged the Morris squad as underdogs, Fry was less surprised to see them dump Kevin Martin in the semifinal.
"I’ve been good buddies with him a long time, I know his competitive spirit, I know how good a shooter he can be," Fry said. "We’ll be fighting tooth and nail... but things happen the way they’re meant to happen."
Bonus for curling fans is neither team lacks for animation. "We all have very, very similar personalities," Fry said. "We’re all A-type. We’re all a little bit nuts."
Nuts, well, that’s a strong word, but it’s part of what pushed Fry to move to northern Ontario in 2012. He’d gotten to know the Sault Ste. Marie squad on the curling tour, while he was throwing in the service of Newfoundland skip Brad Gushue. They clicked, so when Gushue and Fry parted ways the Manitoban rang up Jacobs looking for a spot to play. The skip quickly agreed, installing Fry at third and shuffling E.J. Harnden to second and Ryan Harnden to lead.
"His personality fits in well with our team, that’s the main thing," Jacobs said, concurring with Fry’s evaluation of the amalgamation. "I don’t think we gained anything by bringing him in at third, I think it strengthened our front end."
In this configuration, they caught fire, carving out a fine 2012-13 season and, finally, defeating Jeff Stoughton to win the Brier. But in the wake of Jacobs’ Brier win and the ensuing world championship silver medal most curling observers were quizzical; one magazine cover asked if the Jacobs rink was "here to stay." Those questions don’t bother them. "We expect it," he said. "We don’t have the years of success some of these top teams have had. Until you do that, you can’t be considered anything other than a flash in the pan.
"We have a chance tomorrow to go one step further to prove ourselves."