EDMONTON -- If you want to see what the future of Canadian curling looks like, you need only look at the man who is making history at the Canadian men's curling championship this week.
Ryan Fry was born and raised in Winnipeg and has worn a Bison on his back as both a Manitoba junior men's ('96, '97) and men's ('07) champion. But while home will always be in Winnipeg, Fry has of late traded in his Manitoba citizenship to become instead a citizen of Curling Nation, a place where a broom is the only passport you need and the only currency that matters is measured in the purple heart crests that go to provincial men's curling champions.
Fry has six purple hearts -- an impressive tally for a man who is just 34 years old, but not especially noteworthy at an event where Newfoundland's Brad Gushue and Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton have 10 and Ontario's Glenn Howard has a record 15.
But what makes Fry's purple hearts unique is that he has won them for three different provinces -- Manitoba in 2007, Newfoundland from 2009-12 and, this year, Northern Ontario.
Only one other man in Brier history can boast that distinction -- Earle Morris, who won purple hearts in 1980 in Manitoba, in 1982 in Quebec and finally in 1985 for Ontario.
The difference, however, is while Morris moved around because of outside circumstance -- he worked with the military -- Fry is on the cutting edge of a new generation of curlers in Canada who, motivated by the supreme quest to become Olympians, these days think nothing of moving from one end of the country to another if they think it will give them the best opportunity to chase their curling dream.
"Curling has always been in my blood and it's what I love most," says Fry, who is the son of Manitoba hall of fame curler Barry Fry. "I set my life up for curling. I don't ever have any ties that keep me in one place. I've been lucky that I've always been able to take the chance to move somewhere else and curl with some amazing curlers.
"And I've always been able to set myself up with jobs and stuff like that. It's worked out for me. I'm one of those guys who feels, 'You won't know what it's like until you try.' So I just go with it and see what happens. You only live once."
While it is possible to qualify for Canada's Olympic curling trials with a team that has players based in different provinces, it is much easier to do so if all the players also live in the same province because of the large number of points that are awarded in the Trials qualification process to provincial winners.
And so the result has been all kinds of curlers in recent years packing up their broom bags and moving to new provinces exclusively to curl. In Manitoba, for instance, the past couple of years have seen notable curlers like Newfoundland's Mark Nichols and New Brunswick's Ashley Howard move to Winnipeg to curl with Manitoba-based teams, while Manitoba curlers like former Manitoba junior champion Sarah Wazney have moved to B.C. to curl with teams there (Kelly Scott, in Wazney's case).
It was Fry, however, who was on the front edge of that trend. After parting ways with Jeff Stoughton following the 2008 season, Fry packed up his kit and moved to Newfoundland to live in St. John's and curl with Brad Gushue, the 2006 Olympic gold medallist, for the next four winters.
When that experiment ended last spring -- Gushue wanted a change after a poor Brier showing in 2012 -- Fry simply packed up and moved again, this time to Sault Ste. Marie to curl with Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs.
It's been a good fit, for Jacobs and Fry. The latter has always been a fitness buff and the Jacobs team -- rounded out by brothers Ryan and E.J. Harnden -- are fitness fanatics.
Together, the squad is easily the buffest competitive curling team in Canada -- and quite probably the world. But they are also more than the sum of their six-packs, putting together a strong cashpiel season this winter and getting off to a 4-0 start at the Brier.
Fry thinks the lure of the Olympics is so irresistible for curlers that we are soon going to get to a point where curlers moving from province to province to form super-teams will be the norm, rather than the exception. "I don't think most guys could move the way I have," he says, "but I think we're going to get to that -- where everyone is moving around to get the best players playing together."
Fry says while the Olympics is his ultimate goal, he is also driven to add a Brier title of his own to the family mantle that already has the one his father won for Manitoba in 1979.
"It means a lot to me to have won all these provincial championships, especially getting out of Manitoba because I'm from there," says Fry. "But I'm doing all this to win. If I was just here to be a participant in these things, I'd have given up a long time ago.
"I really want to win that Tankard trophy. And I'm going to either do it, or die trying."