Friday, April 18, 2014

Kevin Martin Hangs Up His Slider

Forget about a victory lap for Kevin Martin next season. One of the greatest skips to ever slide out of a hack is ending his career.

After a legendary 27 year curling career, the future hall of famer has announced that this is, indeed his last season as a player. His immediate future is now crystal clear as he plays his last tournament at The Players' Championship, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

Speaking to Rob Faulds during Friday nights Sportsnet broadcast of Players' Championship action, the 47 year old announced that he will hang up his curling shoes and join Sportsnet as an analyst. As well, Martin will take on a role with that network's Grand Slam Of Curling, which will grow from four to five events next season.

Martin's future had been unclear over the last few weeks ever since the news was leaked that two of his current teammates, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, were joining forces with Kevin Koe for the 2014-15 season. With team vice Dave Nedohin almost certain to be stepping back from the game after this season as well, it appeared Martin was a man without a team, even as star players all around were finalizing new rosters.

While it seemed that the decorated skip (Olympic gold, Olympic silver, one World Championship, four Brier championships as well as seventeen Grand Slam victories) was being marooned and forced into retirement earlier than he would like, Martin claims that is untrue and that he'd been planning to retire at the end of this season as far back as last year.

"Thought about shutting it down after Vancouver (the 2010 Olympics) to be honest," Martin told Faulds. "But, a little bit young at that point."

"We didn't really want this to get out but the guys... we talked almost a year ago, then Ben called me in December, called me in January (and asked) 'skipper are you still retiring this year?' 'Yes, I am' (Martin replied).

"So, it wasn't so much that Ben and Marc were leaving, it was more polite of them to make sure that I was shutting it down," said Martin, who added that he'd informed his sponsors of his impending retirement after last December's Olympic Trials.

Martin admitted that the announcement was coming a couple of weeks earlier than he would have liked. However, a tumultuous last few weeks in the men's game - a period that saw so many team changes prematurely announced - moved the timetable up.

Seems fitting that he would make the announcement during a Grand Slam event, however, as Martin was one of the key players in the development of the tour, spearheading a boycott of provincial play downs and The Brier, just after the turn of the century. Along with the likes of Wayne Middaugh and Jeff Stoughton, Martin and a group of curlers set out to play in events other than those sanctioned by the Canadian Curling Association. Their demands included a better piece of the financial pie from events like The Brier. Eventually, the renegade curlers and the CCA came to terms, but not before a couple of seasons of acrimony and squabbling ensued.

Now, the World Curling Tour - of which the Grand Slam events are a part - coexists with CCA events and has grown in status as the years have gone by.

With Sportsnet's announcement that the slams will go from four to five events next season, that growth continues. The announcement may come as a surprise to some, as there had been fear the the network's new blockbuster deal to carry a national NHL package might leave curling out in the cold.

The opposite is true, and total prize money in the new five-event slam series will rise to $700,000.00, with a million dollar bonus going to any team that can sweep all five events. The fifth event, called the Elite 10, will be held in Fort McMurray, Alberta, next March.

“When Sportsnet first acquired the Grand Slam of Curling, we made a commitment to curling fans that we would grow the sport in Canada,” said network president Scott Moore, in a Rogers media release. “I’m thrilled to be delivering on that promise to Canadians."

As well as the five slams, Sportsnet is likely to, once again, provide coverage of provincial championships as part of more than a promised 200 hours of curling coverage next season. Over the last two years, the network has aired men's and women's provincial championships in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

"It really is the future of our sport," said Martin, of the Grand Slam tour. "The best playing the best. That's the way it's supposed to be in all sport. That's what it's going to be here and it's going to be a whole lot of fun growing the brand."

Martin's past as a bit of a trailblazer for the sport and his outspoken nature make him a good fit for a role as analyst as well as tour organizer. His status as a curling legend gives the tour a famous face moving forward. He may have some bridges to mend, however, as that outspoken nature, over the years, has made him a few enemies in the game.

He takes a place in the booth that was opened up when current analyst Richard Hart decided to come out of retirement and rejoin Glenn Howard for the 2014-15 season.

Before Martin gets to work on his post-playing career, there is one more order of business as a player. This year's Player's Championship. Martin, Nedohin, Kennedy and Hebert are still in the hunt, having reached Saturday's quarter-finals at the event.


Anonymous said...

He's the GOAT as far as I'm concerned and the gap between 1 and 2 isn't close.

Anonymous said...

Martin has helped make curling a much better sport. Its too bad he, Kennedy, Hebert and Morris didn't get more recognition.