There’s a new star free agent in the men’s curling game.
John Morris is out after a successful seven-year run as a third on Kevin Martin’s rink. They won national, world and Olympic titles together but decided to go their separate ways this week.
The Martin team made the announcement in a statement Wednesday night. Morris did not divulge what his future curling plans might be and there was no immediate word on his replacement.
Morris, Martin, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert won Tim Hortons Brier titles in 2008 and 2009, going undefeated en route to the title each year. They also won Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
However, the team has struggled of late, turning in mediocre performances at the recent Brier in Edmonton and again at last week’s Players’ Championship in Toronto.
The timing of the move has left many curling observers scratching their heads since the Canadian Curling Trials — the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — are just six months away.
"I thought that team had one more year left in them and they’d make a run at the Olympic trials and see what would happen," said Brent Laing, who plays second on Glenn Howard’s rink. "I was pretty surprised yesterday to hear that it happened now and that it was John that decided to leave the team."
Laing, who teamed with Morris to win world junior titles in 1998 and 1999, doesn’t think his former teammate will be off the ice for long.
"I would almost guarantee that John got calls last night from people," Laing said.
Six of the eight berths for the Dec. 1-8 trials have been set with the two remaining spots to be finalized at a pre-trials competition in Kitchener, Ont., this November. The winner of the trials will represent Canada at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
"I’m sure he had some teams from the pre-trials calling," Laing said. "I’m sure there’s at least one or maybe two feeler calls from teams that are already in the trials that would make room for John.
"So he’ll be out of a team as long as he wants to be out of a team, and he’ll be on another team as soon as he wants to be."
Martin, from Edmonton, earned a spot at the trials by winning the 2011 Canada Cup. Howard, from Coldwater, Ont., Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg, Calgary’s Kevin Koe, Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen and Toronto’s John Epping have also qualified.
Morris was not available for comment Thursday and Martin and his teammates also could not be reached. Morris will hold a media availability Friday morning in Calgary while Martin was scheduled to speak to reporters later in the day in Edmonton.
Hebert weighed in on Twitter shortly after the news broke.
"Super Tough Day.. Thx for best 7 years of my life (at)johnnymocurler … Good luck down the road pal!," Hebert said in a tweet.
Craig Savill, who plays lead for Howard and won two world junior titles with Morris and Laing, was also surprised at the timing.
"It’s shocking that it happened now," Savill said. "I thought it would happen after next year. It’s just strange timing with pretty much all the teams set for next (season) playing in the pre-trials and the trials."
Savill added it will be challenging for both Morris and Martin next season since it can often take several months for teams to find a rhythm when a new player comes on board.
"It’s huge shoes to fill though with Morris leaving," Savill said. "There’s not very many people that can play at his level so it’s pretty tough to find a replacement for him."