THUNDER BAY — The Iceman is calling it a career.
Al Hackner, a two-time Brier and two-time world curling champion, on Tuesday used the send-off party ahead of his 19th trip to a national competition — the 2022 Canadian Senior’s Curling Championship in Yarmouth, N.S. — to announced he’s stepping away from competitive curling at the highest level.
The 68-year-old, whose famous, near-impossible, 10th-end double takeout against Pat Ryan in the 1985 Brier final helped Hackner capture his second Canadian title, said it’s time to walk away, while he still can.
“It was a little bit of everything,” Hackner said. “I know my wife and I want to travel a bit more, so that’s part of it. The other thing is my knees have been giving me a really hard time the last couple of years and I’ve really got to work hard to get my slide down. It’s a lot of pain and anguish and if I keep playing, it’s not going to get any better.
“I also felt to go out somewhat on top was the way I wanted to go. This will be my 19th national and I think that’s a nice round number.”
Coming off a recent win at the Canadian Masters Curling Championship in Winnipeg, Hackner will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the sport, the unquestioned skip on the Northern Ontario men’s Mount Rushmore of Curling.
Born in Nipigon, where he got his start in the sport, it wasn’t until he moved to Thunder Bay that he began his rise, teaming with Rick Lang, Bob Nichol and Bruce Kennedy to reach the Brier final in 1980 and 1981, losing to Rick Folk and Kerry Burtnyk before winning it all for the first time, triumphing over B.C.’s Brent Giles in the 1982 finale.
Moving to the big city was the key, he said.
“That’s when I realized I had some level of skill and talent here, because I was playing against the top men when I was 18 and holding my own. The rest of the curling career just happened. Everything we did — the first Brier, the first world championship — was all a pleasant surprise,” Hackner said.
“We weren’t ever saying we were going to win. We all went, ‘We won? That’s pretty cool.’ And then from there, once you reach that level and as I went on in my time, playing seniors and playing masters was just a natural evolution into competition.”
Wherever he goes, people still ask him about the Al Hackner Double, made famous 39 years ago at the Moncton Curling Club.
He’ll talk about it, but doesn’t let the shot define him.
“Obviously that shot got us to a world championship and I’m grateful for that, but my memory of what I’ve done is the whole package, the fact that I’m 68 and I’m still competing and still throwing it pretty good is something I’m very proud of and hopefully with one more event to go, we can keep it up.”
Lang, who curled with Hackner at seven national championships, including the two Brier and world championship wins, said it’s amazing to see him curl so well for so long.
“He’s been a legend for over 40 years. There’s not many sports you can say that about. For him to stay playing so well and to be so competitive 40 years after we first started is amazing,” Lang said. “He loves the game and he’s been great for the game and been great for Thunder Bay curling. I wish him all the best as this comes to an end.”
Hackner, who won the 2006 senior championship, opens play on Monday against Ontario’s Howard Rajala.
Tracey Larocque, who curls out of Fort William Curling Club, will represent Northern Ontario on the women’s side in Yarmouth.