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Alberta’s Jules Owchar had retired from the elite men’s competitive level of curling until Brad Gushue came calling two years ago. Given the geographic distance between coach and rink and the fact that Gushue handles game strategy, Owchar’s chief contribution to the Newfoundland and Labrador rink is the science of matching rocks.
Alberta’s Jules Owchar had retired from the elite men’s competitive level of curling until Brad Gushue came calling two years ago. Given the geographic distance between coach and rink and the fact that Gushue handles game strategy, Owchar’s chief contribution to the Newfoundland and Labrador rink is the science of matching rocks.

Early in the week, during the first draw of the Tim Hortons Brier, Kevin Martin and Jules Owchar sat at the coaches table watching Alberta and Newfoundland sling curling rocks on Mile One Centre ice.

The student and the master together again. Luke Skywalker and Yoda.

It was just like old times, only this time Owchar wasn’t coaching Martin. Rather, they were wearing different jackets, Owchar in the red and white Newfoundland colours and Martin in the familiar yellow and gold and mentoring Brendan Bottcher’s Edmonton rink, which includes his son, Karrick.

For 28 years, Owchar was Martin’s coach, and together they won four Briers, a world championship and an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver seven years ago.

When Martin called it quits a couple of years ago, Owchar opted to do the same … at least at the competitive men’s level. He still had his junior women’s team, and NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) students.

Until Brad Gushue, whose team was in the market for a coach, came calling.

This is the second Brier Owchar has worked as Gushue’s coach, the 14th national championship each for the skipper and the mentor.

A curling lifer, Owchar is happiest perched in a rink somewhere watching a game.

“Pick anyone,” smiles the 73-year-old Albertan, who retired as a physical education instructor from NAIT, but still continues to coach the curling and golf teams, “and I’d be at the top (among those) watching curling games.

“I’ve got my NAIT students, my junior team. And when I get a weekend off, I go watch the juveniles, or I’ll go watch provincials somewhere. It’s what I do. I watch curling.”

Owchar recalls his days coaching Martin, when he’d head out over the road on the weekends. Owchar would camp out in the rink, watching curling, three draws a day over three days.

“I just love it,” he said.

Owchar and Gushue got to know each other well at the 2013 Canadian Olympic Trials. Martin was nursing a wonky back and elected to bring in Gushue as a fifth man insurance policy.

For a week, Gushue and Owchar sat together at the coach’s table, forging a relationship.

“Kevin and I always thought he was the best curler now,” Owchar said. “When he called out of the blue asking me if I’d like to work with him, I said, ‘Perfect.’”

One of Owchar’s specialties, said Gushue, is matching rocks, which is a science in itself.

“He’s been through all that with Kevin,” Gushue said. “He’s watching rocks, watching what guys are throwing and when they switch, and what they switch to. He compiles all that data, and he’ll sit down with Mark and I before a game and say, ‘This is what everybody’s doing, and this is how people are curling with this set of rocks, this is who is winning on this sheet with this set of rocks.

“He’s the best at that.”

One aspect of Newfoundland’s game that Owchar isn’t tinkering with, however, is strategy. That’s partly because Gushue runs that particular show, and partly because Owchar isn’t with the team long enough through the year, aside from the pair of Briers, the Canada Cup and a scattered World Curling Tour event.

“With Kevin,” he said, “it was a spiel on the weekend, and then I was with them through the week, and we’d go through all the drills.

“If Kevin noticed something, maybe Johnny (Morris) was sliding a little wide, we’d go through it and do the drills to make sure he’s going straight again.

“That’s what I miss here with these guys because I’m parachuting in.

“It’s like a golfer. If you hire me to be your golf coach, I’m not going to change your swing, especially if I’m not around day in, day out. That would be foolish.”

rshort@thetelegram.com
Twitter: telyrobinshort

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