St. John’s – It’s not like there hasn’t been a father and son combo at The Brier before, one playing while the other coaches.
It’s just that this year, the coach in question happens to be one of the greatest skips the game has ever seen, coaching his son as he steps onto Brier ice as a full-time member of an Alberta championship rink.
Standing underneath the stands at Mile One Centre, Kevin and Karrick Martin are still wearing their Alberta colours after taking part in the Ford Hot Shots competition. With a little time to kill before the evening’s player reception, they’re up for a little pre-event conversation, talking about their reverse roles at this Brier; Karrick as player, Kevin as observer. Well, a little more than observer, really. Kevin Martin is coaching his 27-year-old son, a role he’s been taking on, unofficially, his whole life but, officially, for about six weeks now.
“I thought I might as well bring him along to watch since he brought me along to watch,” deadpans Karrick and the two share a good laugh over that.
Kevin, of course, went to twelve Briers as Alberta champion and won four of them. Karrick, the lead on Team Bottcher – along with teammates Brad Thiessen (second), Darren Moulding (third) and the skip, Brendan Bottcher – is coming in as a de facto Alberta champ for the first time (he did join his father as an alternate after Martin’s team won the 2013 provincial championship).
That Karrick is making his full-fledged debut at a Brier in Newfoundland & Labrador is something of a delightful coincidence. His name, dad reveals, is “Irish-Gaelic for a strong, rocky place,” adding “that’s pretty cool,” when the connection to this place and time is pointed out. There was no familial tether to the name, the Old Bear says. Just that he and wife Shauna liked the sound of it.
Names were being bandied about because it was just a few days prior to this Brier that Karrick revealed that he and his wife Brittany are expecting their first child, this August.
“Any names being considered?” I ask him as I nod toward his dad.
“Haven’t thought about it at all,” says Karrick, grinning. “Worried about the Brier right now.”
That is the right answer, it turns out. Coach Martin wants his son and his teammates dialed in for what is ahead. They’re a young team and outside of Karrick’s role as an alternate a few years ago, they have no previous experience at nationals. And The Brier is a very different kind of undertaking, especially considering that Team Bottcher won Alberta through that province’s triple-knockout format, playing a grand total of five games. Now comes the grinder of round-robin play, eleven games, and a highly-pressurized chase for a playoff spot against terrific competition.
“Karrick and the team have played in a lot of Grand Slams, which are four day long events,” explains the soon to be Grand-Bear. “This is a little different. Events that are long, they’re different. They’re different in how the rocks react from the start of the week to the end. The ice is different from the start to the end. And just the way you need to rest yourself and get prepared for such a long event.”
Therein lies the advantage Team Bottcher hopes to have over plenty of other first year Brier teams from the past, many of which had to hit the ice without the benefit of the knowledge of someone who’s been there, done that. And done it, and done it, and done it.
If Karrick is feeling sentimental or unsettled by the reversal of roles at this Brier, it certainly is not betrayed by his demeanor or his answers. Rather than feeling strange that his dad will be sitting at the team table while he’s out on the ice, he’s insistent. “If anything, it gives the team a bit more confidence having some experience and that’s always good,” he says.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” he continues. “You just work hard and see how good you can get.” He shrugs. “All you can do.”
For a great part of his own journey through a dozen Briers, Kevin Martin had longtime coach Jules Owchar along for the ride, charting rocks like no one else and endeavouring to keep what can be a complicated game as simple as possible. It’s something that Martin is handing down to Team Bottcher as they map out their own way.
“Jules always said ‘just shoot 90,'” the coach says when asked about the pearls of wisdom he has to impart. “And if you look at the end of the week stats and your team is in the top three in the stats, you will be in the playoffs. There’s no magic. If your team is a top percentage team, you’re not 2 and 9 (wins and losses). If you shoot middle of the pack, you’re not in the playoffs.
“This is real simple stuff. That’s the way this game works at this level.”
It’s a philosophy that Karrick seems to have welcomed wholeheartedly. “I’m just gonna go end by end and try to make both my shots. Shoot a high percentage,” he says.
So it will be a “this shot, this end” kind of mindset that Team Bottcher will take into this Brier, as a way of warding off any jitters or second thoughts about the way a game is unfolding, the way the week is unfolding. Keeping the emotional waters calm will be key for them if they hope to turn their first foray at nationals into a surprise playoff spot. While dad will play an integral role in that process, so will the chip off the ol’ block. Karrick’s been immersed in this atmosphere before, after all.
“I know a couple of our guys are bouncing off the wall coming to their first Brier,” says Karrick. “I’ve been around it so much that for me it’s another event. I’m excited but I’m not quite the same as some of the guys being their first time here.”
Asked what kind of coach his father makes and whether Martin Sr. has any moments of fiery histrionics when he’s trying to get the team’s attention, Karrick slowly shakes his head. “He just tells us and we usually listen.”
“I’m not a very pushy, slam-the-broom-down type of a guy,” Kevin adds.
“The last six weeks he’s been around coaching the team, it’s helping me and it’s helping the team,” Karrick continues. “It shows in the results.”
Those results included climbing the ladder in Alberta, and beating a game veteran Ted Appelman team in the final, a win Kevin Martin called “huge.” Turns out Karrick may have been feeling more pressure in that one than he will this week, given that Brittany had already booked vacation time for this Brier last summer, on the assumption that she and her husband would be here. “If not here, we were going somewhere,” Karrick grins.
So here he is, the son of one of the sport’s living legends, playing for a national championship in a place that is, in a sense, his namesake.
“Oh for sure, it’s awesome,” says dad, letting a little parental pride bubble to the surface.
“Karrick’s been putting a lot of time and effort in the last few years. You try to teach kids that hard work matters and then to actually have it work, that’s a good thing.”
It’s that hard work that has placed the kid on the map, just eleven Alberta Championships behind the old man. Can he see a day when he matches the Old Bear?
“Oh, for sure,” he says, smiling. And dad smiles too.