ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Three-time champion John Morris is the only skip in the Tim Hortons Brier main draw who throws third but still calls the game.
It’s a setup that has worked well for Morris and B.C. fourth Jim Cotter since they reunited last spring.
“There’s people in this world that you work really well with and there’s people that you don’t,” Morris said. “That’s not a knock on anyone. It’s just sometimes you work really well with people. Jim and I are just two peas out of the same pod.
“Just two sort of old-school guys and really good friends on and off the ice. He’s a pleasure to play with so I’ve always enjoyed my time with him.”
The B.C. team started slowly at this year’s national men’s curling championship but has rebounded with five wins in its last seven games.
The latest victory was a 9-1 rout of Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories on Wednesday morning. Morris pushed local favourite Brad Gushue to an extra end in the afternoon before dropping a 5-4 decision.
Morris remains in the playoff mix at 5-4 after 13 draws at Mile One Centre. The top four teams at the end of round-robin play Friday morning will advance to the Page playoffs.
“We’re feeling strong,” Morris said after the morning win. “We feel like we’re making a pile of shots out there.”
Manitoba’s Mike McEwen leads the standings at 7-1. He beat Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy 9-3 in the evening draw. McEwen also came through with a draw for two and a 6-5 win over Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs earlier in the day.
After a pounding sweep, McEwen and his teammates jumped in the air as their rock moved a whisker inside the Jacobs stone.
“We’ve probably been pretty emotional winning games,” McEwen said. “But that’s certainly our upper limit I think.”
In the other evening draws, Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard (5-3) had his winning streak end at five games after a 7-3 loss to Gushue. Canada’s Kevin Koe beat Jamie Koe 8-6 and Ontario’s Glenn Howard downed New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy 8-6.
Gushue and Kevin Koe have 6-2 records, while Jacobs is at 6-3.
Kevin Koe also posted an 8-7 win over Saskatchewan’s Adam Casey, who split his games to sit even with Morris at 5-4. Howard (3-5) defeated Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher 6-3 in the other afternoon game.
Bottcher fell to 3-6 while Murphy is 2-6. Kennedy and Jamie Koe were last with 1-7 records.
Morris was a skip until moving to third when he joined forces with Kevin Martin in 2006. They teamed with Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy to win Brier titles in 2008 and 2009 before adding an Olympic crown in 2010.
Morris left the team in 2013 and teamed with Cotter the following season. They made it to the final of the Olympic Trials and reached the final of the 2014 Brier.
Morris took some time off before joining the team Koe had left after the 2013-14 season. They were the Canada entry at the 2015 Brier and won the title after Morris swapped positions with third Pat Simmons midway through the event.
When that team went its separate ways at the end of last season, Morris returned to the Cotter rink. It has been a good fit with the intense Morris and laid-back Cotter playing nicely off each other.
“I’ve always felt like I could get a good mental map of the ice and have a good strategy,” Morris said. “I feel like it utilizes my strengths the most and also with Jim, he’s just a really good pure rock thrower.”
A handful of elite teams have had a non-skip throw fourth stones. Randy Ferbey, who anchored the Ferbey Four teams with Dave Nedohin throwing last, is the most well-known example.
At this year’s Brier, skip Craig Kochan threw third rocks for Yukon behind Jon Solberg. Kochan lost the qualification final to Murphy and did not reach the main draw.
Morris feels it’s a positional setup that gives his team the best possible chance to win and Cotter agrees.
“John is so keen on all the details,” Cotter said. “He’s just unbelievable at reading ice. I trust him 100 per cent completely with that role. I really enjoy throwing the last rock. I think it takes a little bit of pressure off me.”
With a steady front end in second Tyrel Griffith and lead Rick Sawatsky, it did not take long for the team’s chemistry to return.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good balance and equilibrium on this team and we’re getting really close to finding a really good groove,” Morris said. “Right now it feels like we can beat anyone so it’s feeling pretty good.”
The playoffs begin Friday night. The Brier winner will represent Canada at the men’s world curling championship next month in Edmonton.