A 24-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt Wednesday morning, against the most surprising team in the world men’s curling championship, and now Kevin Koe’s Canadian team is in a dogfight for the most coveted playoff positions.
Canada was hammered 9-3 in only six ends by world championship rookie Yuta Matsumura of Japan at Enmax Centre.
The decision vaulted Japan over Canada and into first place in the standings with a 7-1 record, while Koe is tied for second at 6-1 with Switzerland and Sweden.
It was the first time Koe’s team, which includes third B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Flasch and lead Ben Hebert, has lost since the round robin at the Alberta provincial championship in early February. They won their last five games at that event, went 13-0 to win the Brier last month in Brandon and started out this championship with six straight victories.
“It ended with a bit of an abrupt thud, but a loss is a loss, right,” Koe said. “It was never gonna go on forever, that’s for sure, but obviously we wish we had played better than that.”
Canada is back on the ice Wednesday night against defending-champion Sweden (5-1) after losing to Japan, a country that has never won a medal at the world men’s championship.
Three members of the Japanese team are competing for the first time in the world championship — they have all been alternates before but never full position players — but they’ve proven to be cool customers all week.
“I don’t know much about them but they played well,” Koe said. “We didn’t really get any pressure on them. We were kind of chasing all game. It’s tough to take too much out of that game. If we play them again, I’m sure it will be a different story.”
The story of this one was a five-ender scored by Japan in the third. It’s not often that anyone scores five against Canada, especially when two-time world champion Koe is the skip, but the Japanese stuck it to the hosts, with Matsumura making doubles on both his shots to secure the big number.
“Canada is a great, great team but our guys just executed so well today,” said Bob Ursel, the Canadian coach of Team Japan. “They weren’t missing. The skip made some phenomenal shots for the big end there and it was fantastic.”
Though Japan still has games against Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, all teams near the top of the standings, Ursel is starting to believe his team can continue to rise higher.
“After watching that game, they are capable of winning this thing I suppose,” he said.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. For three of them it’s their first worlds playing in a regular position and you wouldn’t know it watching them play.
“They’re just cool and calm. They were calmer than I was and I was sitting up on the bench with nothing to do. It’s the way they’ve been all year.”
It was clear the Canadians knew they were in huge trouble in the third end. They even called their time out and took a lot of time to make decisions on what to do with Koe’s rocks. Nothing worked out.
“It happens,” Neufeld said. “We got into a situation where we were maybe forced to put the game on the line a little bit and we just didn’t make the shots to get out of it.
“We just didn’t come out very sharp and they did. They put a lot of pressure on us early and we just couldn’t quite wriggle out of some bad situations.”
The loss could prove to be more meaningful come the weekend, as Japan now holds a tiebreaker against Canada. The top two teams in the tournament will earn byes to the semifinals, while the third through sixth teams in the standings will play quarter-finals. There are no tiebreaker games at the worlds, meaning ties for second place and sixth place will be broken by head-to-head results and cumulative draw-to-the-button scores.
Still, Koe has played in many big curling events, including the Olympics, and he knows one loss on a Wednesday is never the end of the world, as long as you bounce back quickly.
“I don’t think we read anything into it,” Koe said. “We know we’ve got to play a little better. We were chasing in the first few ends. We’ve just got to get off to a better start and play our game.
“We’re all feeling good out there so, one loss, it’s not time to panic.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019