When you talk with 12 time Alberta men's curling champion Kevin Martin, you get straight answers. There's no agreeing for the sake of agreeing. If you set up a question with a certain notion in mind, he'll tell you flat out if he's in line with your thinking. Or not.
For some, that can be a little off-putting, as interrogators are used to a world of sports that is filled with interview subjects who treat a question and answer session as an exercise in going along to get along.
Not Martin. His propensity to reply honestly can lead to a gleaning of a little extra insight. He thinks, and then answers with the truth as he sees it. Sometimes he can be a little bristly about it.
That was not the case when I'd reached the end of an enjoyable fifteen minute phone interview with the four-time Brier champion, seeking his thoughts on yet another appearance on the national stage. I commented, in passing, that even after all that's been accomplished, after all the water that's passed under the competitive bridge, that curling just never gets old for him.
“No, no, no, no, I wouldn’t say that," he began, with a 'don't-jump-to-conclusions-so-fast' kind of tone in his voice. "I sure do enjoy a game like we played against Kevin Koe (in the Alberta final). Or when we play Howard or Stoughton or so on. Those big games? Man, I really do enjoy them. That’s a treat."
"The Tuesday, two o‘clock game that doesn’t mean a lot at a tour event," he chuckled, "that’s a tough one, these days, for me to play."
Seems Martin has lost the unbridled joy that used to accompany any game at a big event.
Good thing for him that the 2013 Brier, at Edmonton's Rexall Place from March 2nd to 10th, is absolutely filled with big names and big games.
“It’ll definitely rank up there, for sure" replied Martin, when asked if it might be the toughest field he's ever faced. "There’s just not a lot of weakness anywhere, which is good. It’ll make for a bottled up standings board, which is what everybody enjoys.”
Of the ten Brier championships that have been won by skips in this year's field, Martin does have the majority of them as he looks for his fifth. Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton seeks his fourth, Ontario's Glenn Howard his third and Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard his second. Howard and Stoughton are thought of as most likely to capture the national championship if Martin doesn't. Beyond those two, the man curling fans call "The Old Bear" has his eyes on possible threats.
“Jacobs has done awfully well this year," began Martin, first looking at Brad Jacobs' Northern Ontario crew. "They’ve come along way. Jacobs is somebody to really, really watch. They could definitely be there at the end, for sure. Of course, (Brad) Gushue’s like that. Menard, obviously. A past champion is always tough to beat," he said.
The 46 year old Edmonton native looks forward to competing in a hometown Brier for the first time and has a rejuvenated body that's just about back to one hundred per cent after he underwent hernia surgery in December. That procedure derailed the best laid plans of the 2010 Olympic gold medallist and his team.
“This winter we wanted to play a lot and get our game going again, going into the (Olympic) trials, said Martin. "It hurt a lot back in October and then it just got worse and worse and kind of blew up."
So much so that there was even speculation that Martin might need hip surgery - a procedure that very likely would have cost him the rest of this season. Thankfully, it was the less serious hernia operation that was required and that has led to the veteran skip feeling about as good as ever - although he wasn't sure that would be the case in early January. That was when he was contemplating a return to action at the Continental Cup.
"I wasn’t sure I should even play. So, I went and played and, man, it felt really good. From then it’s been getting better and better all the time."
“He’s throwing better now, I think than he has since the start of the season," Alberta third John Morris said just after an all-star appearance in Rama, Ontario, in January. "He’s pain free. I know he was having some hip pain for the last couple of years and then the hernia was bugging him the last sort of two months before he went in for surgery. He played really well at the Continental Cup."
“I don’t think things have felt as good as they do now in, I don’t know how long, maybe four or five years," offered Martin who was in good enough shape to best Koe in an Alberta men's final for the ages, a 5-4, 11 end win that was filled with difficult shot making and not a single two point end. It made for a memorable Sunday afternoon and an Alberta final that Martin says ranks right up there with the 1995 final, in which he bested his idol, Ed Lukowich.
“To play such an aggressive game and never have a deuce scored, that’s almost impossible," an amazed Martin said of his game against Koe. "But the shots at the end of each end made by both teams were so precise, there weren’t any chances for deuces. Nobody missed. It was just a battle right to the end.”
“When I was in my twenties, losing a game like that would have been devastating," he said when asked about how he's changed the way he looks at the game. "But as you play more and more the winning becomes easier and the losing becomes easier. You just have to cherish the good games. Because they really are fun and rightfully so."
"And I don’t mind losing them," he continued. If the other team plays better, I’ve no problem losing. But I really enjoy a really tough, good game. For as long as I enjoy that, I’ll be around.”
Just as long as those games don't start to feel like Tuesday at a cash spiel, right?
"When the day comes that you play Stoughton or Howard in a big game and you’re not excited to get out there? It’s time to exit stage left," he said.
For now, it doesn't appear a rejuvenated Kevin Martin is looking for the theatre wings.
If he were, it isn't too likely he'd hold back from admitting it.