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Team Canada defeats Northern Ontario to win Canadian men's curling championship

03/09/2015 12:32 EDT | Updated 05/08/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - The first team to wear the Maple Leaf at the Canadian men's curling championship found the chemistry in time to win it again.

A bold move during the tournament embraced by all four men turned Pat Simmons, John Morris, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen into the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier champions.

The Glencoe Club foursome from Calgary upset Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs 6-5 in an extra end Sunday at Scotiabank Saddledome.

They'll represent Canada at the Ford World Curling Championship in Halifax later this month and earned an automatic entry into next year's Brier in Ottawa as Team Canada again.

They looked very far from a championship team on the third day of tournament when they were 2-3.

After a demoralizing loss to Saskatchewan, Morris made the eyebrow-raising decision that night to demote himself to third and hand skipping duties over to Simmons.

"It was one of those things that as soon as we made the move it felt good, it felt better, it felt natural and that's what we needed," Morris said. "We didn't have the right lineup for most of the season and it took us until March to figure it out."

They went 7-1 after the switch to get to Sunday's championship game.

With a guarded Northern Ontario stone on the four-foot rings, Simmons drew for a piece of the button and the win in front of 11,846 fans.

"That's the shot I wanted, Simmons said. "I told the boys in between the 10th and 11th 'we've seen that in-turn path a bunch'. I knew the weight there."

Northern Ontario went 10-1 to top the preliminary round. The reigning Olympic champions won the Page playoff game Friday against Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador to earn an express ticket to the final.

"We made him throw his last one. They earned it," Jacobs said. "We're going to learn from this. There's a lot to take away from this and this is only going to push us and drive us to work even harder."

Team Canada won two hard playoff games Saturday with the first going an extra end against Saskatchewan and the semifinal coming down to Simmons' last rock against Gushue.

"I'm drained. I'm sure the guys are too," Simmons said. "We went through a lot and more than most teams would go through in a week like this obviously."

The first Brier final featuring eight players who had previously won it tested their patience early and also those watching with five of the first six ends blanked. The drama really started in the ninth end.

Down two points coming home with hammer, Northern Ontario scored a deuce to force an 11th end. Simmons attempted a runback double with his last throw for the win, but left one in the rings for a Jacobs draw for two.

Canada led for the first time after the ninth end when Simmons drew for a piece of the button and a pivotal three-pointer.

Jacobs had attempted to nestle between two Canadian counters on the button and force Simmons to one point. The skip was slightly heavy on his draw and left the opening for Simmons' three.

Curling Canada introduced a defending champion into this year's Brier field.

Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen won last year's title in Kamloops, B.C., with Kevin Koe at skip to earn the automatic berth. They lost in the bronze-medal game at the world championships.

Koe left to form the team that represented Alberta in Calgary, but they finished outside the playoffs. His former teammates recruited Morris last April to skip them this season.

The 36-year-old had announced just a few weeks earlier he'd planned to take this season off from curling. They played a light game schedule this winter with Rycroft and Thiessen travelling from Edmonton for training camps at the Glencoe.

Their chemistry not well established coming into this Brier, Morris says he recognized early that "the keys weren't fitting in the keyholes."

He had enormous success playing third for Kevin Martin from 2006 to 2013 as they won Olympic gold, a pair of Canadian championships and a world title during that span.

Morris moved seamlessly back into that position. The question was would Simmons be able to as well? While he'd skipped Saskatchewan at four straight national championships from 2005 to 2008, he hadn't played the position in five years when Morris handed him the reins.

The 40-year-old chiropractor assumed leadership plotting strategy, outcurled the opposing skip in six of eight games prior to the final and made the final shot to win both the semifinal and the final.

"(I) had a great team behind me," Simmons said. "They were supportive and they fully bought into things. They let me do what I needed to do and helped me out, but gave me space. It was just a great combination."

Morris is a firefighter in the Calgary area. Rycroft, 37, owns an equipment rental company and Thiessen, 34, is a chartered accountant.

In the box of bonuses that go to the Brier winner, Team Canada earns a combined $75,000 in prize money and sponsorship money for wearing crests.

They're eligible for up to $144,000 over a two-year period from Sport Canada, as well as funding from Own The Podium for training and competition costs. Second place was worth $55,000, the bronze $45,000 and fourth $35,000.

They gain automatic entry into this year's Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling and next year's World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas. They've also qualified for the 2017 pre-trials for the next Winter Olympics.

Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock beat Gushue 7-5 in an extra end in the bronze-medal game.

Jacobs, his third Ryan Fry, Rycroft and Manitoba lead Colin Hodgson were named to the tournament's first all-star team. Gushue and Alberta's Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert were chosen as second-team all-stars.

Although television ratings are up for curling this winter, attendance in Calgary was down from the 246,126 of 2009 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Even with an extra bronze-medal game that wasn't played in 2009, the 2015 Brier drew 151,835.

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