The World Cup is set to join an already crowded curling calendar. But for Kevin Koe, the timing is right, the money is good and his new lineup needs reps.
So a few short months after wearing the Maple Leaf at the Winter Olympics, Koe dons it again for the first leg of the World Curling Federation’s newest property.
The World Cup of Curling is four tournaments of team and mixed doubles competition involving the top curling countries in the world. Each country determines its representatives for each leg.
Rachel Homan’s team and the mixed doubles duo of Kirk Muyres and Laura Walker round out the Canadian contingent competing Wednesday to Sunday in Suzhou, China.
The second stop is Dec. 5-9 in Omaha, Neb., followed by the third in Jonkoping, Sweden, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.
The grand final May 8-12 in Beijing will include winning teams from the previous three stops.
The World Cup offers a total of US$775,000, or just over CDN$1 million, for a prize pot. Winning one event is worth up to US$33,000 to a team and that number doubles in Beijing.
With third Marc Kennedy on a curling hiatus and second Brent Laing departing for John Epping’s foursome after last season, Koe is breaking in B.J. Neufeld at vice and Colton Flasch on his front end while retaining lead Ben Hebert.
The skip considers elite opponents with significant dollars at stake a good trial-by-fire for his Calgary-based squad.
“Obviously the teams are good, the prize money is good and for us, we’re looking at it as we have new team,” Koe told The Canadian Press.
“It’s a chance for a new team to go to a high-profile event for our first event and get to know each other.”
While the two-time world men’s champion is seasoned in international competition, Saskatoon’s Muyres is greener and excited about competing with Edmonton’s Walker in China.
“Now, I get to be a part of a bigger Team Canada,” said the 28-year-old mortgage broker. “We’re going to be there with Koe and Homan as well. We’re all going to be rooting for each other.
“The last time I was a part of something like that was the Canada Games back in 2007.”
For Homan, it’s a return trip to the country where her team won a women’s world title in Beijing in 2017.
“There wasn’t a lot of hesitation when it came up and we got the invite,” second Joanne Courtney said.
“We had a great time when we visited Beijing for the world championship in 2017 and we thought it would be a great way to start the year off on an exciting note, being part of a brand new event.”
In a season already bulging with weekly World Curling Tour events, the Continental Cup, the Canada Cup, provincial playdowns and national and world championships, scheduling conflicts influenced Curling Canada’s decisions on who to send to each World Cup stop.
“Our biggest concern is the scheduling conflict element because it’s four more events added to a calendar that’s already over full,” high-performance director Gerry Peckham said. “It was picking teams that were interested, and were available and had a competitive resume that warranted selection.”
The competitive season not yet in full swing, Canada’s 2018 Olympic teams skipped by Koe and Ottawa’s Homan were available for Suzhou.
Reigning national mixed doubles champions Muyres and Walker won a bronze medal at the 2018 world championship.
But the second leg of the World Cup in Omaha conflicts with the $140,000 Canada Cup, which will draw 15 top teams to Estevan, Sask.
So Tracy Fleury and Jason Gunnlaugson, who skip Winnipeg foursomes, were chosen Canada’s representatives for Omaha.
The third leg in Sweden runs up against provincial and territorial playdowns in Canada.
The Canadian Press