Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For Martin, Morris No. 1 among thirds

He makes shots, speaks his mind, happily leaves skipping behind

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VANCOUVER -- It could have all gone horribly wrong. Kevin Martin knows that. It could have been oil meets water, nitro meets glycerin, Britney Spears meets Kevin Federline.

It was about four years ago when one of the most accomplished skips on the planet went courting John Morris -- the Winnipeg-born hotshot skip who had won two world junior championships and represented Ontario at The Brier, all before the age of 28 -- with an offer.

Don Walchuk and Don Bartlett were moving on and Martin wanted to put together a squad of young guns who would take a shot at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Morris, along with front-end Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy, agreed.

"We talked to each other and said, 'This would be kinda cool. Do you think it would work?' " Martin recalled.

"That was the part we didn't know, because he was a skip, and a really good one. But you have to take a different approach to the game at third vs. skip. And, man, he just fit into it right away. We were both worried about that; we said, 'This could be a disaster.'

"He tried not to say much, and that's hard for a skip, and I was trying not to be too bossy. And it worked out."

Yeah, you could say that.

The Martin-Morris combo has been absolutely dynamite and are in the midst of one of the most dominant runs in curling history, winning the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials last December, then going 9-0 in the round-robin here at the XXI Winter Olympics heading into today's semifinal game.

And if you buy into the analogy of American skip John Shuster this week -- he referred to Martin as the "Michael Jordan of curling" -- then Morris is the Scottie Pippen to this squad.

Martin may be one of the best strategists and shotmakers in the game, but Morris is this foursome's burning heart, the guy who revs them up on those rare occasions when they're flat, and he isn't afraid to tell the boss what's what.

"We do go head to head a little bit, and that's healthy," Martin said. "You need to bash heads a little bit in sport. You can't have a yes-man, because if you see something that I'm missing -- and that's going to happen -- you need a smart guy there to tell you."

The son of a military man -- his dad, Earle, represented Manitoba in the 1980 Brier, going 6-5 -- Morris actually grew up in Ottawa before moving out West, where he now works as a firefighter.

"Why did I recruit him?" Martin asked rhetorically.

"It's his shooting. My goodness, he's a shotmaker.

"You know, he's a lot like his dad, Earle. He's easygoing, but he works hard at the game and has a knack for making shots. It's pretty easy to play with a guy like that."

Ditto, adds Morris, who insists he has absolutely no desire to go back to throwing skip stones.

"Not at all," Morris said. "I love playing third and if I've got a guy like Kevin throwing skip, I'll play third for the rest of my life."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

THE CHASE FOR GOLD

A look at the men's and women's curling semifinals:

Women's (both games at 11 a.m. CT)

(1) Canada (Bernard), 8-1 vs. (4) Switzerland (Ott), 6-3

(2) Sweden (Norberg, 7-2 vs. (3) China (Wang), 6-3

The Canadian women's only loss in the round-robin was to China, the defending world champion.

Canada had 13 stolen ends in nine games and just four against.

Arborg's Carolyn Darbyshire led all seconds with a shooting percentage of 81.

Men's (both games at 4 p.m.)

(1) Canada (Martin), 9-0 vs. (4) Sweden (Edin)

(2) Norway (Ulsrud), 7-2 vs. (3) Switzerland (Eggler), 6-3

All four on Canada's team bring a shooting percentage in the 80s: Kevin Martin (85), John Morris (83), Marc Kennedy (84) and Ben Hebert (86).

Dating back to the BDO Classic in Winnipeg in January, Martin & Co. have now won 17 straight.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2010 C4

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