SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — John Morris would be the first to admit his team didn’t get off to an ideal start to the season.
The Vernon, B.C., based squad of Morris, Jim Cotter, Catlin Schneider and Tyrel Griffith went winless through the first couple Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments at the Tour Challenge in September and last month’s Masters.
Team Morris was able to turn things around this past weekend, however, at the pre-trials to secure a spot for next month’s Roar of the Rings in Ottawa where the Canadian men’s and women’s teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics will be decided.
Morris, who grew up in the Ottawa area and now lives in Canmore, Alta., said it feels fantastic to not only keep his Olympic hopes alive but also play in a major event in his former hometown.
“That’s where I have a lot of great memories from junior days playing in the Ottawa valley,” an ecstatic Morris said following Tuesday afternoon’s practice at the BOOST National. “I don’t know how many more of these Trials I’ll be playing in so to have this one in Ottawa where I still have some friends and family back there it just feels great. I’m really excited about it.”
There’s no rest for the world’s best and Team Morris made the trip straight from the pre-trials in Summerside, P.E.I., to Sault Ste. Marie for this week’s Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament. Fortunately for them, their first round-robin game at the BOOST National isn’t until Wednesday at Noon ET against Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen.
“We had a long travel day today coming in from P.E.I. but we’ll be fresh,” Morris said. “The guys were looking good out there throwing rocks. We celebrated on Sunday night a little bit there but there’s too much on the line to be taking a day or two off. We’re ready to get at it again tomorrow.”
Cotter too admitted to some fatigue but is hyped about maintaining the momentum.
“Maybe a little tired more or less from our activities the last couple days,” Cotter said. “We’re excited to be back in the Soo and keep building off of what we started there last week.”
Team Morris won its first pair of games at the pre-trials but dropped the next two and believed something was missing. Morris, who used to throw third while skipping, switched with Cotter at fourth stones and split their remaining round-robin games to finish their pool tied for second at 3-3. The change did them good for the playoffs as Morris beat Charley Thomas 4-2 in the semifinals and topped Brendan Bottcher 4-3 in the A qualifier to punch his ticket to Ottawa.
“Jim and I are really competitive guys so after our second loss [we] just went for a beer and started racking our brains, what do we got to do to right the ship and play like we know we need to,” Morris said. “We decided to shuffle things up and give ‘er a go. We didn’t feel like we had much to lose. That’s the great thing about the guys on this team. It doesn’t matter what position we play in we just want to win and we want to win championships. It’s good that no one has an ego on this team and everyone is willing to do whatever needs to be done to get Ws out there.
“It sure feels great. I feel really confident in the back-end with Jim. He makes a ton of shots. That shot he made in the ninth end of the pre-trials final was a game-changer, making that triple to get us out of a bit of glue, and to keep the blank on so we could have the hammer coming home was just vital. It feels really good and we feel really confident with this lineup moving forward.”
Cotter added he had no qualms about giving up fourth stones to Morris and knew what needed to be done for the greater good of the team.
“When it comes to the playdowns and the Olympic Trials and that sort of stuff it’s just a different beast,” Cotter said. “You definitely want to bring out your best and we did that. We got off to a good start then lost a couple and changed things up. Basically, it’s part of the team. Sometimes you’ve got to change the batting order to spark the team and that’s what we did. John and I both never cared who threw skip rocks or third rocks. We work really well together and it was pretty seamless.”
Morris won the 2010 Olympic gold medal playing third for Kevin Martin and parted ways in 2013 to join Cotter leading up to that year’s pre-trials. The team was victorious that time as well and made it all the way to the Trials final falling to Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who went on to win the Olympic gold medal in Sochi, Russia.
After playing two seasons with Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen from 2014-16, Morris re-joined Cotter’s crew last year and that extra time together leading up to the pre-trials was huge.
“We were still ironing out some kinks as you could tell from the last few Slams. We’ve definitely dealt with some adversity and had a few highs and lows this year,” Morris said. “We feel really good. This is the strongest we’ve felt all season. We’ve got the Slam here to really build on that momentum and we’ll be chomping at the bit to get at it in Ottawa.”