Popular curler John Morris has decided to leave Kevin Martin’s team after nearly eight years, which Sportsnet first reported.
Morris’ departure comes at a surprising time, with the Canadian Olympic Trials just eight months away in Winnipeg. The team had already qualified for it after winning the Canada Cup in 2011.
“Unfortunately we have had a challenging past few seasons and have not lived up to our expectations of being the best curling team in the world,” Morris said in a statement Wednesday night.
The 34-year-old played third for the Martin rink, a team that has been one of the best teams in curling for years. Morris joined Martin following the 2005-06 season after the skip disbanded his longtime team that included longtime lead Don Bartlett, second Carter Rycroft and vice Don Walchuk. He recruited Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert.
The foursome enjoyed success winning a Brier and world championship in its second season together. Overall as a unit, it won two Briers, an Olympic gold and a world title. Since uniting with Morris, Martin won nine Slams in 27 tournaments, reached the finals three other times and the semi-finals seven times. The only time it failed to qualify for the playoffs happened last week at the Players’ Championship in Toronto, ending the 2012-13 World Curling Tour.
“As much as we’ve all tried very hard to find a way to fight back and get better, in the end it was obvious that we needed a change,” Morris added. “Myself and Kevin were no longer thriving in our back-end role like we did in our 2010 Olympic gold-medal run.
“I have always been a very driven and intense athlete and right now, in this situation, I feel my passion and love for the game of curling is not where it needs to be. As a result, it is with a very heavy heart that I will be stepping down as my role of third on Team Martin.”
Morris won a Canadian and World Title as a skip in the junior ranks and made it to the Brier at the men’s level as a skip, losing in the 2002 final. He moved from Ontario to Alberta in 2004, skipping on his own before aligning with Martin.
“It is never an easy thing to have a team member decide to leave your team,” Martin said in a statement of his own. “John Morris was an integral part of what made Team Martin the best team in curling for many years and Olympic gold medallists (in 2010). But change is unfortunately inevitable.”
The team has not been playing consistently well since winning the Canada Cup. In the recent Brier, the foursome failed to make the playoffs playing in Martin’s home town of Edmonton after starting off sluggishly and then finding its form, albeit too late. It never picked up that momentum in the Players’.
Martin employed his son, Karrick, in various games in the Brier.
Morris and Martin are scheduled to address their split in separate media conferences on Friday. Morris will do his in Calgary, where he works as a firefighter. Martin will do his in Edmonton.
A possible replacement for Morris could be Dave Nedohin, who has battled Martin for many years in the Alberta playdowns.
Nedohin played third for Randy Ferbey but threw final stones. He won three worlds and four Briers, including beating Morris in 2002 final. He spared for Thomas Ulsrud's Norway team in the Players' last week.
With files from sportsnet.ca's Perry Lefko