SPORTS

Morris and curling team develop chemistry on the fly in preparation for Brier

10/22/2014 06:05 EDT | Updated 12/22/2014 05:59 EST
CALGARY - John Morris's curling team has a double challenge in this "completely unusual" season.

As the first team to wear the Maple Leaf at the Canadian men's curling championship, Morris, third Pat Simmons, second Carter Rycroft and lead Nolan Thiessen will attempt to peak for the Tim Hortons Brier next March in Calgary while playing fewer events this winter.

So Morris has fewer games in which to develop chemistry with his new teammates. He was recruited to skip the team earlier this year when Kevin Koe departed to call shots for an entirely new team.

"We didn't put this team together if we didn't think we could be the best team in the world, so we're putting a lot of hard work in," Morris said Wednesday at the Glencoe Curling Club in Calgary.

"We're not playing as much on tour. We're not going every weekend to a different city in Canada. What we're doing this year is we're putting a lot of time in the preparation."

The four men were in the middle of a training camp in Calgary, which is unique in itself. Men's teams at that level tend to play more games and practice less. But almost everything about the Morris team's season is different.

The Canadian Curling Association introduced a men's Team Canada to the Brier in 2015 in order to mirror the women's national championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The defending women's champion has earned a bye to the following year's women's championship since 1985.

It adds a strong team to the field and gives the organizing committee a team to market for the event. Koe, Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen won the 2014 Brier in Kamloops, B.C. They happened to beat a B.C. team skipped by Morris in the final.

Koe made the stunning announcement following the world championship in April that he was forming a new team with Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert.

So the skip of the first team to earn the Maple Leaf for the following year's Brier abdicated that right. What's more, Koe is a Calgarian and the Brier is in his hometown.

Koe can still qualify for the Brier by winning the Alberta men's championship. Morris and Simmons, who are Calgarians, and the Edmonton front end of Rycroft and Thiessen get to bypass provincial playdowns completely as Team Canada.

"Completely unusual," Rycroft said. "Usually you have two parts to the season. You have your bonspiels leading up to the cash events and Slams. Then you have the Brier playdowns, zones, districts."

But when Morris came aboard, the four men agreed that after devoting so much time and travel to prepare for last year's Olympic trials with their respective teams, jobs and families had to be more of a priority in 2014-15.

Morris will play in the Brier, Canada Cup and Continental Cup of Curling which are all conveniently located in Alberta this winter. They'll play in the Skins Game in Banff, Alta., and their World Curling Tour events will be limited to four Grand Slams.

"The most exciting part of being Team Canada is to play in your province," Rycroft said. "With my new baby boy and my business, it couldn't be better for me not to have to get on a plane and travel an extra day on either end.

"Now I can get in a car and drive to where I need to go and curl and that's great."

Morris, who won Olympic gold in 2010 playing third for Kevin Martin, is a firefighter. Simmons is a chiropractor, Rycroft owns an equipment rental business and Thiessen is a chartered accountant.

To compensate for a light schedule of games, Morris and his teammates intend to get together for regular training camps where the emphasis will be as much on communication as throwing rocks.

"A lot of the things we're doing this week, it's not all on-ice stuff," Morris said. "A lot of stuff we're doing is behind in the scenes, in the conference room, in the boardroom in team dynamics, team communication and strategy to get on the same page and really get a good dynamic going that way.

"It helps we know each other. We've played against each other long enough that we do know our tendencies. It will take a few bonspiels under our belt to really start molding and gelling, but I don't have a big concern with this team. I think we're pretty much on the same page already."

The Home Hardware Canada Cup is Dec. 3-7 in Camrose. The World Financial Group Continental Cup, which is a Ryder-Cup style event against European teams, is Jan. 8-11 in Calgary.

The Tim Hortons Brier runs Feb. 28 to March 8 at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

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