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A funny thing happened on the way to Kevin Koe's team disintegrating this season.
Instead, they won The Brier.
Alberta's 10-5 win over British Columbia at the Canadian Men's Curling Championship is the capper on a serpentine season, one dotted with success, then dismal failure, a bit of ennui and questions about the rink's very fabric going forward.
The team's performance in the final was mostly outstanding, with just the odd hiccup along the way, tempered by more than enough solid and then spectacular shots to get the job done against a less than sharp John Morris team, disappointing the sellout crowd in Kamloops, B.C.
Now that Koe has skipped a second Alberta team to a Brier championship (he won in 2010 with Blake Macdonald at vice) the skip's task of cobbling together a completely different line-up for next season might have vanished, although at least one team member will have to be replaced.
"It's been pretty clear that this is probably the last year for this team so what better way than to go out and win this and hopefully we can go out and win the Worlds," said Koe of this uncertain season. "That's what this team is focused on and just really happy we were able to win this."
What's certain is that Koe's rink will be invited back for the 2015 Brier, as Team Canada. You might not have bet on that happening at all, based on the way the season had gone, with a washout at the Canadian Olympic Trials and then a staggering start to the Alberta championship. After a grand slam win in the Canadian Open in November, it seemed the crew was ready to challenge for a spot on the Canadian Olympic Team, but that dream vanished with an oh and 5 start at The Trials.
Koe, himself, had said that after going 2 and 5 at The Trials, his team felt unmotivated. They basically took two months off before the Alberta championships began, practicing some but not playing in a single competition. Koe stated that there weren't very many events to play in in the interim and stated, bluntly, that even if there were, they probably wouldn't have been interested in playing in them.
Then, at provincials (Alberta has a modified triple knockout format), Koe, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen got hammered in their first game, and then very nearly got eliminated altogether.
However, they scrambled and scratched and shed the rust along the way and earned a berth in the final against Kevin Martin. There, too, they stumbled and fell behind 3 - nothing to the reigning Alberta champ before rallying to take a 7-5 decision.
All the while, fact and rumour both suggested changes were coming to the team at season's end. A complete break-up was not out of the question, some said.
In a year where, for the first time, the Canadian men's curling champion will be invited back the following year as Team Canada (the way it has been done in the Scotties for thirty years) there was some question as to whether the 2014 champions will be able to return, intact. In the afterglow of their romp in the final, the right things were being said.
What's known for sure is that - barring a stunning about face - the team's second, Rycroft, will not be back. Rycroft, who was sensational in the championship game and set the tone for Alberta early with a beautiful triple take out in the second end (leading to an Alberta take of three points in the end) has repeatedly said that he was stepping away from the game at the end of the season. Once the newly-minted Team Canada takes on the rest of the planet at the world championship, in Beijing, you can then expect to see Rycroft ride off into the sunset, at least for awhile.
If this is indeed Rycroft's Brier swan song, he left the stage in style.
Along with his triple in the second, he iced a terrific performance with a difficult double in the ninth, firing 96% for the game.
Outside of Rycroft's departure, the churning rumour mills of the curling world have at times suggested that Thiessen might be on his way out, too, and maybe even Simmons.
Does a stunning turnabout now lead to the three staying together, adding a new second or lead and returning to wear the maple leaf on their backs at the 2015 Brier?
Koe was coy in his post game interview, suggesting that the only thing on their minds was representing Canada at the upcoming worlds.
"I don't know, we haven't talked about it (the future of Simmons and Thiessen)," Koe told Yahoo's Cam Charron. "It's been a long journey for this team. We'll worry about that when the time comes and tonight's all about celebrating."
Simmons and Thiessen each indicated a desire to return.
Oh yeah, for sure," said Simmons. "That was just fun. It was a great atmosphere in here today and that was just a fun game to be a part of." When asked to reiterate that he'd be returning next season, Simmons replied: "Barring anything crazy. It's going to be hard not to so, yeah, that was good."
"We don't know… we don't know," said Thiessen of next season. "There's a spot in the Brier next year and I hope we're going to be back."
Whatever plans they may have had of forging a curling future on a different path, it seems those no longer merit consideration.
At least not on a night when a championship has been won. A championship that, just weeks ago, seemed quite unlikely.
But those days are just a wisp of a memory now. As are the thoughts of a team in decline.