Mickey Pendergast taught Kevin Koe 'everything I know' to help jump-start amazing career

Decades later, both Calgary curlers finally arrive to same Brier

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Mickey Pendergast knows the brilliance of Kevin Koe first-hand.

For three years back in the ’90s, Koe was Pendergast’s third, honing his craft on the Calgary curling scene and chasing the dream of reaching the Brier.

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That’s finally happened for both at this year’s national championship in Regina, albeit on two different teams with skip Koe now making his 12th Brier appearance as one of Canada’s best-ever curlers, while Pendergast is enjoying his maiden voyage to the iconic event.

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“Pretty excited,” said Pendergast, coaching the Alberta champions skipped by Airdrie’s Aaron Sluchinski. “I’m 66, and there’s a couple of things that excite me about curling still.”

One is watching Koe toss the rocks around — just as he’s doing this week at the Brier in a bid to become a five-time Brier champ.

Indeed, Pendergast still gets a kick out of watching his former henchman.

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“We met Kevin totally by accident,” said Pendergast, recalling his first meeting with Koe. “We were at the big bonspiel in Vernon back in the day. And there was this team there from the Northwest Territories that was doing well. It was Klaus Schoenne — he went to the Brier a few years and usually won two or three games. Good guy and good player, but he doesn’t have the depth on his team.

“And it looks like he’s playing with his 12-year-old nephew or something. He had this skinny little kid with him on the team. It’s Kevin, and he was probably 16 or something, but he was skinny as hell and didn’t look very old. But they’re beating everybody, and they’re winning the bonspiel.

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“Anyway, so a couple of years later, I turn the TV on and here’s this kid in the final of junior Canadians from the Territories.”

That was 1994, when a burned-rock controversy — on an accidental kick by NWT second Mark Whitehead — kept Koe, Whitehead & Co. from a deserved win over Alberta’s Colin Davison in what ended up a 6-5 Alberta final at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Truro, N.S.

“So in a year or two later, Koe moved to Calgary to go to school,” continued Pendergast, a Curling Alberta board of director and co-author of the curling strategy book ‘What’s Your Call?’ featuring a forward written by — who else? —Koe. “And he calls my brother, Kevin, who was on my team at the time — he got to know him from a couple of spiels we ran into him at. He says, ‘I’m moving to Calgary — do you know any men’s team that’s looking for a player?’ And our team had kind of run its course, so we said, ‘Yeah, we kind of know a men’s team looking for a player.’ Especially a kid who can play like that.

“So we hooked up and played together for three years and made a couple of provincials but didn’t really make any noise. We made it to a couple of tour championships and did OK on the bonspiel trail.

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“We had fun.”

After the 1998 season, Koe went his own way, jumping into the skip’s position and on to an amazing career in the sport.

“When he started doing well, my brother, Kevin, and I would joke saying, ‘Yup, we taught him everything he knows,’” said Pendergast of Koe. “Then, you realize it’s ‘I taught him everything I know’ …

“And he surpassed that and more.”

And how.

Koe represented Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

He’s a two-time world champion and a four-time Brier kingpin.

And he’s the owner of eight Alberta men’s titles — only Kevin Martin has more with 12.

His charge for No. 13 was — ironically — cut down by the Pendergast-coached Sluchinski rink last month in Hinton, Alta.

Sluchinski & Co. then beat Koe again in Draw 1 of this Brier in an 8-4 closer-than-the-score-looks decision.

But the recent run of hiccups — including another loss on last rock Sunday 6-5 to Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen — doesn’t make Koe any less dangerous out there to win it all, says Pendergast.

“He sees the game differently,” said Pendergast, himself a two-time Canadian masters champion in 2018 and ’19 and provincial runner-up in both 1990 — to Harold Breckenridge — and 2000 — to Martin. “Even though we beat him twice here at provincials, Koe called some interesting shots. He’s still got that strategic edge and knows how to basically build off that and make things happen.

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“He’s fun to watch.”

He’s still one to watch out for at the Brier, even though he’s in some trouble.

“Back then, you could see the talent — the raw natural talent — which is his shot-making ability,” added Pendergast. “He had that low, snake delivery that he’s still got. He was a shot-maker. He saw the shots and threw them.

“I wouldn’t call him a technical guy then. He’s more that now. But you saw then he had a gift for making shots, and he’s one of the best still.

“Mike Harris asked the question, ‘If you had one shot left with a game, who would you want throwing it?’ I’m not going to tell you if it’s a draw a hit or a runback or whatever. It’s just who would you want?’ Mike always said Wayne Middaugh.

“But I think you make a pretty great argument with Kevin Koe. He has the whole range.”

EXTRA ENDS

Koe and his Alberta crew from The Glencoe Club in Calgary (1-2) meet Quebec’s Julien Tremblay (1-2) on Monday morning (8 a.m., TSN) before facing Canada’s Brad Gushue (2-1) later Monday (6 p.m., TSN) … In the meantime, Sluchinski (2-0) — who toppled Nunavut’s Shane Latimer (0-2) 12-10 on Sunday afternoon, thanks to four-ender 10th — gets Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel (0-3) in Monday’s early draw and Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith (1-1) on Monday night … The other Alberta crew, skipped by Brendan Bottcher (3-0) out of The Glencoe Club, defeated Ontario’s Scott Howard (1-2) 8-2 late Sunday, ahead of meeting Northern Ontario’s Trevor Bonot (2-0) on Monday afternoon (1 p.m., TSN).

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