That was the first reaction I had when it filtered in Wednesday that John Morris, who surprisingly resigned from Kevin Martin’s high-profile Edmonton squad after seven seasons, had just joined Jim Cotter’s foursome from Kamloops, B.C.
When it was also announced that Morris would call the game for Cotter but throw third stones even though he is an accomplished skip, it seemed even more bizarre. Cotter is a decent skip on the cashspiel circuit, but Morris has a much great profile.
And the fact the team would also rotate the other three members of the team – Jason Gunnlaugson, Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatzky – seemed like something straight out of the Great Britain handbook.
But Morris provided me with an explanation for the various whys and wherefores of the whole plan.
"I think people close to the curling circle would know that Jimmy and I are really good friends, so is Rick Sawatzky. I’ve done a lot of fishing with him," Morris said. "First and foremost, these guys are great. They have a lot of experience and a lot of skill in the game. It’s going to go really well. When you have a back end that really is on the same page and has great dynamic together, the sky is the limit with what they can accomplish. I know that’s going to be the case with Jimmy and I. All five of us are excited to get going. I think it’s safe to say I’m definitely motivated again. I can’t wait to get back at it."
A week ago Morris sounded as if the bottom had fallen out of his life, at least in terms of curling. Cleary that is not the case now.
While it could be understood why Morris, who made it to the Brier as a skip, gave up throwing final stones to join Martin in 2006, he clearly could have gone back to that role with another team. He admitted there were various options, but the opportunity to throw third stones and also call the game intrigued him.
"The only thing I’ve ever missed is the strategic part," he said. "Some teams are democratic and there’s some teams where the skip calls the shots. There’s nothing wrong with both those models, but the one thing I’ve missed is the strategy and the game plan and being able to read your team. I always felt that was one of my strengths as a curler. I’ve been skipping since I was 10 years old, but as far as the shooting part, I’ve always been an advocate of whatever role you need to be on the team and whatever position you need to be in to thrive and to be comfortable (is okay). I know Jim is a fantastic shooter. I have nothing but faith in his shotmaking skills. Even he said ‘I really enjoyed my role when I threw last rocks but didn’t call the game with Pat Ryan and Bob Ursel. I just felt I could concentrate on the shotmaking and the sweeping and stay loose and I didn’t have to call the game as well.’ He likes the fact it’s going to take a bit of pressure off of him that way. I think that’s just a real natural fit there."
The immediate team objective is to finish in the top two of the tournament in Kitchener this November that is the last chance to qualify for the Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Trials in December in Winnipeg. Six teams have already qualified for the trials.
Sixteen men’s and women’s teams will compete in the pre-trials. Martin’s team, currently looking for a replacement for Morris, has already qualified for the trials.
"It’s not the easiest road (to get to the Olympics) because we’ve got to take one more step compared to the teams that are already in the trials," Morris said. "We’re going to have to make some big strides in a rather short amount of time, but there’s no doubt in my mind if we can get a spot in the trials, we can win it and make it to the Olympics. I would not have gone down this road and made this decision if I didn’t think 100 per cent that was a possibility. I know how much of a challenge this is going to be, but I’m really excited about working with some great guys toward those goals."
Morris said he didn’t have this plan already in mind when he indicated to the Martin team last week his plan to leave because he had lost his competitive motivation and passion.
"I don’t do that. I don’t operate that way," he insisted. "The way that goes is you end something first if you don’t think it’s going to work out and then start something after. There were other options out there that were interesting and intriguing that I could have pursued. In the end I thought this was the best option. It’s nice to see how motivated and how keen the team is. The attitudes of this team will make it really fun to work with. I really believe with the right amount of commitment and the right amount of work and training we can get there. I’m excited with that challenge."
Morris said the team will train out of Calgary, about eight hours from where the Cotter team is based. He said the plan for the squad is solely directed on getting to the Olympics and will involve a heavy schedule on the World Curling Tour. He hasn’t talked to the team about the possibility of relocating to B.C. to make him eligible for the provincial playdowns due to residency rules if the squad fails to win the Olympic berth.
"Our focus right now is on December and we’ll cross that bridge when it comes," he said. "I love Alberta and absolutely love B.C. I go there and vacation a lot. If we do decide to play in the playdowns in B.C. and that means I have to have a residency there, I’m sure I’ll look at that possibility. Bur we’re not going there right now."