Forget about directional fabric for a moment, curling fans. Let's consider the power of the moose and what it might mean to one well known team as it gets down to business for the 2015-16 season.
With the Grand Slam of Curling's second event - The Masters - underway in Truro, Nova Scotia, the Pat Simmons rink is joining the fray, after taking the first few weeks of the season off. After a tune-up event in Vernon, British Columbia, at the beginning of this month, the reigning Brier champions are easing back into a bit of a fuller schedule as part of the fifteen team men's field in Truro.
We'll see if a successful hunting trip has the team's vice, John Morris, sharpened up and ready to go as he aims to win an eleventh Grand Slam title.
“I got a moose, so the freezer’s full and now I can solely focus on curling," he says.
Fresh off some time in the wilderness, Morris is talking about turning his attention to the great indoors for the winter after feeding his great need to be outside. Hunting - which he says he does for food, not sport - is an essential part of his being, feeding his soul as well as his stomach.
John Morris claims hunting can make him a better curler, too. A better curler?
Yes it can, says the 2010 Olympic gold medalist, pointing to the patience and poise it takes to track and get close enough to a moose to drop it by bow and arrow, Morris' preferred method ever since one of the captains at his fire station introduced him to it a number of years back.
"There’s some relatable things,” between hunting and curling, he says and that's on both the mental and physical sides of things.
“I wouldn’t say my shot is my biggest asset," Morris is saying, and that's a funny thing to hear from a guy who's reputation is built, in large part, on exactly that. He's not talking about curling, though. Rather, it's his prowess with the bow that he's describing. "I’ve developed some skills with stalking. That gets me really close to the animals so that I don’t have to be a super sharpshooter.”
Those skills, moulded in the foothills and mountains of Alberta may help Morris on the ice, he says, as he links the integral aspects of one discipline to the other.
“You have to remain calm and patient and keep your composure and it’s so hard to do because my heart gets racing more than it does at any curling event, when I’m hunting. I’ve really had to learn, in hunting, to control my emotions and keep my composure and keep calm under extreme pressure because if you make a sound or breathe the wrong way when they’re twenty feet from you, you’ve blown your cover. You’re gonna miss your one chance. Sometimes that one chance comes once every ten days.”
You can translate that kind of concentration to a sheet of ice, says Morris, and it can help a guy out when he's staring down a difficult shot while in the hack.
“I find that it transfers over to curling because it’s the same thing when you’re playing in front of 20,000 fans," he says. "You’ve gotta make a draw to the button. You’ve gotta find a way to control your emotions."
“It’s helpful for my curling because I’m getting mentally tough."
Morris adds that he is not a resort kind of hunter and that he benefits from that as well. Instead of staying somewhere posh and heading out on day trips, he's out there roughing it and picking his way through rugged wilderness, getting the physical side of him in shape too. "I’m doing ten miles a day of mountain miles so my cardio is probably at its best all year and my mental fortitude is right up there as well,” he says.
Morris maintains he is very spiritual about what he's doing and is adamant that he not come across as someone who is dropping a moose just for hell of it. “I’m not one of these trophy hunters," he says. "I'm a bit of a traditionalist and naturalist. I like to say I’m somewhat self-sustaining.”
That is why, he says, he fishes in the summer just until he's stocked for the winter. The moose he felled in September will feed Morris and many more, for a year. For that, he is grateful.
“I have a few friends who are native and they taught me that honouring is very important," he says. "When a kill does take place and the animal is down, we honour it and thank it for giving its life. It sounds a little cheesy, but to me that’s very important, to be respectful."
"You’re taking the life of another living thing so to be able to honour it and respect it is vital.”
Morris points out that teammate Carter Rycroft sometimes accompanies him on hunting trips and has had moose meat before. Pat Simmons and Nolan Thiessen, however, had their first tastes when the team rented a motor home and made the six-hour road trip to British Columbia for the Vernon spiel. A little team bonding to get the season started, they set up in the parking lot at the Vernon Curling Club, a barbecue and some lawn chairs outside their door.
“I fed it to about five or six different people along the way and they said it was the best meat they’ve ever had," Morris says. "They were blown away how good it was.”
That team bonding seemed to work. Or was it the magic of moose meat? Team Simmons started the Vernon spiel slowly, but made the final where they defeated team Dean Joanisse, 6-1.
Now, they hit the ice in Truro, seeking another win but also to continue a balanced lifestyle in the wake of this week's event. That means the Simmons rink will not be slugging it out on a regular basis until they get closer to actually having to defend their Brier title, in Ottawa, in March. “We find it’s easy to get burnt out, chasing points every weekend,” says Morris.
Chasing points, stalking moose. Morris sees the differences, but also understands the similarities.
"I don't take hunting lightly," he says. "It's a thing I really enjoy doing in life and I make sure I put in the time and preparation necessary. So I can perform and for safety."
"I put the same preparation and hard work into my hunting as I do my curling. I like to make sure I'm prepared and that I'm doing everything I can to be successful."
He's been that. John Morris has a trophy case stocked with gold and a freezer full of moose meat to prove it.