Brent Laing had a strange moment, earlier this curling season. While playing for Kevin Koe at one of the first events of the year, he looked over to another sheet to see his former skip, Glenn Howard's team in action against another foe.
“It was super weird," said Laing of the sight. "To see them over there playing and I wasn’t a part of that.”
Big changes rocked the curling world last spring, and Laing was in the middle of it. Leaving Howard after ten seasons that included eight provincial championships and two world championships - as well as ten Grand Slam wins - was not easy. Nor did it happen exactly the way Laing would have liked.
Bullish on the future of his new, Alberta-based team, the 35 year old Ontario transplant is moving ahead with optimism and excitement, even as he manages a killer competition schedule along with hopscotching back and forth between Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
“Everything I’m juggling is exciting and exactly what I want,” he said. “This is the team that I want to be on. There’s no question about that.”
So far, so good, says Laing of the Koe Four. They won the DHD Fall Classic, in Edmonton, in October. Beyond that, Koe, Laing and teammates Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert lost in the final of another competition to the red-hot Mike McEwen, and bowed to Brad Jacobs in the quarter-finals of last weekend's Grand Slam event, The Masters. All in all, a decent start for a team that is drenched in talent and experience, but short on the cohesion that only time can provide.
“All those things that you take for granted, having played for the same team for years, those are things that we’re working on," said Laing, who's busy travel life found him back in Ontario, when we chatted. "But as far as being around each other, we have a ton of fun and really enjoy each other’s company.”
Those last elements can be as crucial - maybe more so - than any others when it comes to building a championship curling team, especially one that is thinking of longevity and Olympic glory. It was those elements that helped Laing experience great success while with Howard and teammates Craig Savill, Richard Hart and Wayne Middaugh. Their closeness is what made it especially tough for Laing when the stories of his planned departure surfaced last season.
“Looking back, there’s always things you wish you maybe would have done differently," he admitted. "The way it happened, it happened so fast. I didn’t really have a chance to sit down - especially with Craig - and chat about what was going on. That didn’t all go down the way I wanted it to.”
Despite the leaks, Laing says his now former teammates handled the situation with class.
“The guys were great. (They) were as supportive as anyone could be in that situation,” he said, insisting that there are definitely no problems between he and his former mates. In fact, he says, their close ties led to a little more of the weirdness Laing has experienced this season.
“Playing against them, especially the first time, was an experience I’ve never had in curling," he said. "Where you really wanna win but you almost feel like you don’t wanna win. It’s just a weird situation.”
It is a situation that is getting less strange as time goes by. Looking forward, Laing and his new teammates continue the process of coming together. They have a road map, so to speak. One that they put in place to help with both the curling and the camaraderie.
“We spent as much time as we could, in the summer, planning and talking about things, basically just putting a framework in place to grow as a team and to learn what each other wants," explained Laing, adding that - like a fair number of pro level curling teams - they don't get as much time as they'd like to practice together, as a full unit.
“If Kevin could hold the broom for every practice rock I threw, that would be fantastic, but it’s just not realistic,” he said, pointing to the demands each of them have on their time.
“Generally, we practice on our own. I practice in Ontario when I’m here, I practice in Winnipeg when I’m there with Jen and Isabella and I practice in Calgary with the guys when I’m there."
Jen, of course, is Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones. Isabella is their daughter. Living in separate cities and with each having both business and curling demands to meet, can be challenging. It takes a fair bit of coordination.
“It’s certainly busy and Jen and I spend a lot of time sitting down, going over our schedules. Pretty much every day that I see her, we’ll sit down and look through the schedules for half an hour, 45 minutes.”
“It’s crazy. I’ve never been this busy, but I’ve never been more excited to curl and I’ve never been happier in my personal life, so I can’t complain. It’s busy but everything’s great.”
If it all goes as planned, both Laing and Jones will be circling the dates of February 9 - 25, 2018 on the family calendar, as each is aiming to take part in the Olympics. Jones has a team that's 'been there, done that,' while Laing is part of a team that, right now, can only say that it is considered an early favourite on the men's side.
It's way early yet, but the signs are good.
“We’ve played quite well, especially for a new team,” said Laing. “We’re certainly not anywhere near our peak and we’re already seeing some success. We’re way ahead of where we hoped to be, where we planned to be at this point. Things off the ice and on the ice.”
“I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the four of us over the next six months and then the next three and a half years."
For Brent Laing, the road behind is littered with good memories and trophies. The road ahead will be travelled with a new crew, and he's hoping it takes him all the way to Pyeongchang.