Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wins, losses mean more to Morris

Trying to build new team's confidence heading into Olympic pre-trials

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Greg Gallinger / Winnipeg Free Press

Mark Kean looks down the ice during his team's game against Team Jacobs.

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- The wins and losses on the curling tour circuit matter for everyone, of course, but now for John Morris more than most.

It was just about six months ago that Morris left the Kevin Martin team that had been seven years his home, the one he threw third for while winning world and Canadian championships, and that 2010 Olympic gold on home turf.

The 34-year-old hooked up with Jim Cotter's Okanagan rink in a neat situation: He skips the team, which includes Cotter's longtime lead Rick Sawatsky and third-year second Tyrel Griffith, but still throws third.

SSLqA lot of other teams have had four years to work on stuff, and we've had about four weeks'

Tough part is, this assembly of curlers is still so new, and the Olympic pre-trials are coming up so soon, kicking off Nov. 5 in Kitchener, Ont.

"We're in a unique situation," Morris agreed, chatting between Prairie Classic games at the Portage Curling Club on Sunday afternoon. "A lot of other teams have had four years to work on stuff, and we've had about four weeks."

That's a handful of weeks for Morris to readjust to the skipping life, though right away calling the shots for this crew seemed to make for the best balance of personalities. See, the fire that blazed so hot on Morris early in his career has banked a little, as all youthful flames tend to do. But on the sheet, his skipper's gaze still burns through rocks and shots and brushes. The rest of his rink, well, they're a little more chill.

"I think with these guys, they've always had a lot of talent," Morris said of his new crew. "They can make a ton of shots, and they're a great bunch of guys, and one thing they've maybe been lacking a little bit of is that intensity, that drive. I know they're a really motivated bunch, but I kind of bring an intensity, an attitude, and sort of an edge to the team that I think can help take us to the top."

The benefits go both ways, of course. "They probably keep me grounded really good," Morris added. "They have a good calmness to them."

The early results have been promising. The freshly-minted Team Morris came fifth in their first event, and third in their second. Then they got off to a solid start in the Prairie Classic, cruising by Winnipeg's Don Nelson and Sweden's Oskar Eriksson in quick succession. That's when they ran into a little trouble, losing games to Manitoba's Mike McEwen and reigning Brier champion Brad Jacobs.

Those were useful losses, especially in this Olympic year.

"That's one of the good things about Portage," Morris said. "There are some real good teams here. Those are the games we want. We learned a lot about them, and we're going to change our strategy just a little bit against these bigger teams."

True, they don't have a ton of time to work on things. Just little tweaks, Morris said, just a matter of cleaning up the shots and sweeping, and getting their game plan firmly installed. They had another chance to do that on Sunday: after putting Russia's Team Arkhipov away in the afternoon draw, they were poised to push for a playoff berth, with only an 8:30 p.m. match against Winnipeg's Sean Grassie standing in the way.

However that turns out, this much is certain: After the Prairie Classic wraps today, Morris and company will turn their attention to next weekend's Cactus Pheasant Classic in Alberta. That's the next step on the road -- one that, they hope, will bring them back to Manitoba for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Olympic trials in December.

"All in all, we've had a real good run," Morris said. "I think we can make some waves."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 21, 2013 C6

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