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Tim Hortons Brier: The jump from junior curling harder than some players expect

Jim Morris
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John Morris.

EDMONTON -- It's no secret some NHL first-round picks struggle when they, to quote Tom Cochrane, make it to the big league.

"A lot of people think you can win a world junior and you are going to get right in there and be one of the top men's teams," said Geoff Walker, the lead on Brad Gushue's Newfoundland and Labrador rink at this year's Tim Hortons Brier.

"Only a few teams have done that. You look at a lot of the other junior champions and there's not a lot that are still at the top."

The 27-year-old Walker won a world junior title in 2006 as a member of the Charley Thomas rink from Alberta. Thomas would repeat as world champion in 2007 with a team that contained Brock Virtue, who is skipping Saskatchewan at this year's Brier.

Thomas recently returned to curling after taking five years off.

Saskatchewan lead D.J. Kidby was a second with the Kyle George rink that won the 2005 world juniors.

"It's kind of a different game," said Kidby, 25. "The strategy is a whole lot different.

"You have to be patient out there. They don't miss. In juniors you are going to get away with a couple of misses here and there. You don't always have to be on the top of your game. Out here, it seems if you're not sharp it's pretty tough to beat these guys."

Walker said junior curling is like playing in the high school band. The men's game is the London Symphony Orchestra.

"A lot of it is just putting your rocks in the right spot," said the Beaverlodge, Alta., native. "You can get away with missing by a couple of feet the placement of the rock in junior. When you are playing at the top level, you can't do that."

Randy Ferbey, the three-time world champion, said the junior game isn't as aggressive as what the men play.

"In juniors they play for misses," said Ferbey. "In men's you don't play that way."

John Morris and his Ontario rink of Craig Savill, Jason Young and Brent Laing won back-to-back world junior titles in 1998 and 1999. Morris skipped a team of Joe Frans, Savill and Laing to the final of the 2002 Brier before losing to Ferbey.

Savill and Laing are now part of Glenn Howard's defending world champion rink.

Morris, who is third for Kevin Martin's Alberta team, said finding competition is hard for junior teams.

"A lot of junior teams just play against other junior teams," he said. "You see (Brendan) Bottcher (the 2012 world junior champion), they'll play against men's teams in their last few years of juniors.

"That really helps you prepare. Not a lot of junior teams do that."

Life also gets in the way of some junior players. There are career demands and young families.

"It's hard to play on tour when you are just starting," said Morris, who is a firefighter in Calgary. "When I did it for about eight years I was eating Kraft dinner and staying four to a hotel room. It wasn't a luxurious lifestyle.

"A lot of people just stop curling competitively because they want to get a career."

Former world champion Randy Ferbey worries about the lack of good junior curlers making the jump to the men's game.

"I don't think there is any," he said. "We have been talking about this for years.

"As soon as a good junior team wins we always assume they are the next ones. It doesn't happen."

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