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Monday, 28 September 2015

#BetweenTheSheets With Jamie Koe
#TwineTime talks curling, beer and more with N.W.T. champ


With the surprising success of the #TwineTime blog over the past year and continued support from the athletes themselves, this season it was time to elevate the small little blog to the next level.  The addition of weekly team #PowerRankings were a nice start but something was still missing to truly make this sports blog more exciting.  And then it hit me....get the players!

I am a curling fan like most of you.  But, probably unlike most of you, I have actually spent little time on the ice playing, save for playing with my grandparents on a mixed team for a few seasons when I was a kid.  However, I have spent many, many years watching (again usually with my grandparents).  Every time I would cheer for a player or a team as a kid I would always think what I would ask them if I ever met them in person and had a conversation.  Well, #fanboy time has arrived my friends.

Who better to conduct my first #TwineTime player interview with then Jamie Koe?  The 8-time Territories (Northwest Territories/Yukon) and defending Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) champion happened to have a layover in my city of residence and, through the magic of social media, I was able to connect with him and arrange a quick interview.  Koe is a pure beauty and a guy fans know all over the world.  It's time to go #BetweenTheSheets with the 9-time Brier participant, Jamie Koe:

#TwineTime (TT): Thank you Jamie Koe for taking the time for an interview.  The curling season has started.  How's your team looking for this year and what's your goals and plans?

Jamie Koe (JK): Our team is looking a little different.  We have a different line up with the rule change that you get one person out of province or territory so we added Chris Schille to our line up at third and we are pretty excited about that.  He is a pretty intense guy and I think that is what our team needs as we are 4 pretty laid back guys.  Nothing really fazes us but sometimes you need that guy to really rally you and get you going a bit.  He is a great player and we are really excited.  We don't get ice until mid-October so we aren't getting going here for awhile.  We have two spiels we are going to and hopefully we make it to the Brier again.  We would be in relegation so the goal is to get back into the Brier and get N.W.T. back into the Brier for the next year.

TT: Excellent. So quick thoughts on relegation then.  How do you feel about that?

JK: (laughing)

TT: I think we kind of know a little bit about how you feel.

JK: Yeah not a big fan of it obviously.  I just don't like how they do it.  How they bring the teams to the Scotties or the Brier and try to make you part of an event.  It's just kind of weird how you have teams that are part of the opening ceremonies that are already out and on their way home after that.  You are in an opening ceremonies for an event you are not even going to be playing in.  It is unfortunate to see the looks on those guys' faces for the last couple days while they are just sitting around watching the Brier and then packing to go home.  I know it happened to my sister (Kerry Galusha) when she made the final of relegation and seeing them on tv crying at the end of it and not being in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts was hard to watch.

TT: For sure.  It was probably one of the hardest moments for anyone to watch who follows the sport.  It was heartbreaking.

JK: Yeah, twitter kind of exploded after that.  I went a little irate on twitter after that too just doing my brotherly duties there. So for sure, I'm not a big fan of it.  But they changed it.  They want to get rid of relegation here in a couple of years after the next Olympics and I think that is the right decision.

TT: For sure.  In bringing up Kerry, and with Kevin being your brother, what's it like being part of the #KoeKlan?

JK: It's pretty exciting.  You always have someone to cheer for and that's the cool thing about being at the Brier.  Even if we aren't having our best year and are out of it, I can cheer on Kevin if he is there and they are generally in the playoffs typically so it's good to have something to cheer for at the end of the week.  With my sister, we actually played mixed for the first time last year.  We hadn't played mixed in about 8 years and she talked me back into it.  We went to mixed (Canadian Championships) and lost the Canadian final.  We just had a really good time.  It didn't work out with timing this year but it is something we are talking about getting back into and doing next year.  It's just a pleasure to play with her. She is a great player too so it's something we will look at and hopefully get N.W.T. on the board at one of these national championships.

TT: So then is there potentially a Koe run to the Olympics for mixed doubles?

JK: I don't know.  We have certainly talked about it.  I know the dates don't work for us this year but we just might try that for the future I think.  I think we both only have many a couple of years left to try for the Scotties and the Brier so that may be something we still do as a family with our wives and husbands and it would be a pretty cool trip to go down there and cheer us on.  It is definitely something we are looking at.

TT: So then is there competition if you guys go into mixed doubles?  Who does Kerry take?  Kevin vs. Jamie?

JK: (laughing) Yes who knows.  I think she is probably stuck with me as Kevin has a pretty full schedule as it is with curling.  I'm not sure his wife will let him at too many more events.  I know Kevin's wife, she is pretty dynamic on twitter as well.  You always know when it is curling season because she is posting a lot of tweets about what she is doing with the kids while Kevin is traveling across the country.  He spends the summer with his family but it is tough on them because he is always on the road in the winter.  It's tough on those big curling teams that are always on the road.

TT: For sure, for sure.  The one thing you touched on was your use of social media.  We have always heard, and especially see it on other professional athletes and other sports, about social media policies.  Curling doesn't really have that as much because you guys don't answer up (to an owner or GM) because you are individuals and a team.  What is your thought on social media usage?  Are you all for it to express how you want?  Or is there a time and a place where you need to pull back and how do you judge that for yourself?

JK: It's hard.  When we are at the Brier there is definitely a policy that we are supposed to watch what we tweet.  They are trying to protect the sponsors and everything.  All curlers are on twitter and social media, it's really good.  I think it's really brought the sport more highlights.  Whenever a curling event is on, you just go through your twitter feed and figure out what is going on.  It's really great.  Sites like CurlingZone and World Curling Tour posting live scores is great to see.  At the Brier, I understand you have to be a little careful and make sure all the sponsors that are paying all the money and putting their brand out there, you don't want to embarrass them.  At the same time, you need to find that balance where the players can say what they want if something went wrong.

TT: That's understandable.  What do you find with fan engagement on social media?

JK: Oh it's great.  You get a lot of support. A lot of people touching base with you. You get a lot of people following you and wondering what you are doing.  It's engaging.  You also get some young junior curling teams and just to get a tweet back or a retweet can make their day.  It's really cool that you can make somebody smile or make someone feel proud of something.  I really like it.  I really like engaging with the fans wherever I go.  It's probably my favorite part of the sport for me.

#TwineTime finally met Jamie Koe at the 2015 Brier in Calgary

TT: Yeah most definitely.  And you do a very good job with engagement on social media.  You are very active on it and I think the fans appreciate it as well.

JK: Yeah I try to be as interactive with them as I can.  They are paying money to buy tickets and cheering hard for us at the Brier as an underdog.  They are there so anything to help them enjoy the experience that much more is good for the sport.

TT: 100%.  How about some quick comments on the new format for the grand slam of curling?  How do you feel about how that has rolled out for this year?

JK: It's pretty unique.  I think it is going to be good.  There are so many more slams and more TV coverage.  It seems like last year it was really booming.  There was curling on TV all the time and you really see how good these teams are getting right now.  A couple of years ago we were competitive at the Brier.  I don't think much has changed in how we are playing but we had a tough year at the Brier this year.  The teams are just so good and you can tell how much more work they put into it.  From training to on ice practice to everything.  It's all they do...they are professional curlers.  We don't curl that much because our focus is on our families and our jobs so we are kind of part-time at it.  We still practice hard but the bar is really raised.  With the grand slams and all the TV coverage, I think it is going to get even better.  It bodes well for our Canadian teams, being at the World's or at the Olympics.  Hopefully it leads to more medals for Canada.

TT: You have had a pretty good career as a curler.  What would you say is your career highlight that you are most proud of?

JK: Probably the Brier in Saskatoon (2012) a couple of years ago when we made the playoffs.  We ended up playing against my brother which was pretty cool for my family.  My sister flew down.  It was my dad's birthday the day we both made the playoffs.  You just can't beat that story I don't think.  It was a pretty cool time.  We lost out to Kevin but we still got to cheer him on.  You just can't beat that.  It had been forever since an N.W.T. team made the playoffs at the Brier (Koe's team was the first since the adoption of the playoff format).  It was just a really dynamic year.

TT: Yeah, I always find whenever people talk about Brier highlights, that seems to be one match everyone seems to always talk about every year.

JK: Yeah, talking about twitter right? The old #KoevsKoe game.  It was exploding on twitter.  It was all about #KoevsKoe.  I don't think it really hit us until we were about to start the game and they were announcing both teams.  You hear the skip's names and it was Kevin Koe and Jamie Koe.  That's kind of when it hit me, this is something we might never get the chance to do again.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Sharing that with your parents, on your dad's birthday, Kerry coming down last minute hoping it would happen...it was just phenomenal!

#KoevsKoe at the 2012 Brier with Papa Koe

TT: It was a very cool moment.  Now I know you are also a big golfer so if you could have a curling moment mulligan, what would it be for you?

JK: Hmm, a curling moment mulligan?  It would probably be back to that Brier (2012).  We were pretty close.  There were just one shot or two shots that were missed.  If I had a mulligan, I'd like to finally beat my brother at the Brier, which would be nice.  He hasn't been too kind to us.  They are such a good team.  I just want to beat him once so I can hold it over his head for once.

TT: So do you guys have a running total on win-loss for head to head?

JK: No, no.  Actually, we are about 0-4 or 0-5 because we don't go to the big events they go to.  The only time we really play them is at the Brier.  I can usually take him down on the golf course though so I got that.  But he has the curling.

TT: That's a fair trade I suppose.  You talk about not being on the tour as often as them, is that something that is a reflection of living in the Northwest Territories?  What is it like curling up there?

JK: It's totally different.  We have open leagues.  On our league night we could play anyone from a senior ladies team to just four beginners.  We don't get a lot of competitive games.  I think before we went to the Brier last year we only went to one spiel and I think we maybe played only 25 games in total.  It's just ridiculous to compare.  I think a team we talked to said they played over 200 or something like that.  It's just where we are at.  It's tough up there.  You have to take an extra day just for the travel.  We like to stick close to Edmonton, we are going to Red Deer and this year we are going to Morris, which is a littler farther than we typically go but the dates worked.  We are excited to be getting out a bit more than we normally do because we know we need to get out there and we need to play these teams a bit more just to get sharp and learn how to beat these teams at a high level.  In saying that, we are close to the rink.  We do a lot of practicing during our lunch hours.  You can be at the rink in 5 minutes.  It is similar to golf.  If the golf course is right there, you can take a quick break from the office and go practice curling or hit a bucket of balls.  That is an advantage to living up there.  We are right there.  We can practice anytime.  We have access to our club anytime.  Those are the advantages with the disadvantages of just not getting the competitive games.  It takes a lot out of us too.  We all have young kids.  It's hard to leave home for extra time and then you come back and you are working a lot.  You have to really balance it all with family and work.

TT: Work - life balance is very important, as you know.

JK: Absolutely!

TT: There is a good rumor that curlers seem to enjoy partaking in a beer every now and then.  I believe you would agree?

JK: Yup, absolutely.

TT: Fair enough.  So if we were able to turn over a cask to you and you were able to create your own beer, what would your beer be and what would you call it?

JK: Oh man, that's a tough question.  Ummm...

TT: That's what I'm here for.  I have to throw in at least one hard question for you here.

JK: Yeah.  Oh man.  It would be something around Bud Light.  Who knows, we could go with my nickname: JK.  We could have a JK brand of beer.  But it would be pretty similar to a Bud Light.  That is the flavor I like.  That is the fun thing about curling, it is a social sport too.  You are on the ice, you are competitive but after the game you can go have a beer with the other team.  That is just part of the fun, whoever wins buys the other team a beer or a round.  It gets us off the ice, in a nice environment and you can just talk with the other team and fans.  That's the one thing I really love about curling, the social atmosphere.  You get along with everybody.  It's like a curling family out there.

TT: (laughing) I feel like a JK beer would do very well at the Brier.

JK: (laughing) Yeah, who knows eh?

TT: I think you could make some good cash out of that one.  A new sponsor for you.

JK: Yup, make a few sales.

TT: Another question I have comes from John Cullen (lead for Team Joanisse).  John has done some great interviews with hockey players so I went to him and asked him if we could do an #AskTheCurler question.  If he could ask any curler any question, what would it be.  He responded he liked the idea and, since you are the first curler interview, you get to respond to John's question.  His question is "Who is the smelliest guy on tour you've been around?"

JK: (laughing) Who is the smelliest guy on tour I've been around?

TT: (laughing) Yup, so you can blame John for this one.

JK: Wow put me on the spot eh?

TT: Yup pretty much.

JK: Hmmmm.  I'm not too sure.  I know my man Benny Heebz (Ben Hebert, lead Team Kevin Koe) won't like this but he sweeps so hard he is always working up a sweat.  He is a hard worker and a hard sweeper.  His hard work pays off, as does his sweat...and maybe a bit of a stench.

The sweaty Ben Hebert? Hard working sweeper though
TT: (laughing) Nicely done to turn a potential negative into a positive.  I'm sure he will appreciate that at least.

JK: (laughing) For sure.

TT: So now it's only fair that you should get to do the next #AskTheCurler to the next person I interview, which will be Mark Kean.  What would be a question you would ask him?  Any question you want.

JK: Hmm, Mark Kean hey?  He is a good guy....gotta think of a question for Mark.  Ask him about his experience playing me at the Brier last year.  It was the last Friday morning game when we played them.  He probably has some interesting stories about that game.

TT: (laughing) Ok I will.  See what he has to say.  Thank you so much Jamie for taking the time to do this.  I really appreciate it.

JK: Thank you.  Anytime.

I have to admit it was great to just sit down, in a mall, and have a conversation with Jamie Koe.  I cannot thank him enough for being the first #TwineTime player interview.  If you are not doing so already, toss him a follow on twitter (@JKnwt).  You won't be disappointed.  Hopefully someday we can see those JK beers flowing at the Brier!