Decorated curler John Morris tackles unfamiliar position with Kevin Koe

The Canadian Press

John Morris returns to team curling in an unfamiliar position, but thinks he can handle it.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist will play second for the first time in his career for Kevin Koe next season.

The 41-year-old from Canmore, Alta., has either skipped or played vice throughout a run that began with three straight Ontario junior men's titles from 1997 to 1999.

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"I have to say it's not like it's going from quarterback to wide receiver," Morris told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "It's not that drastic of a change."

Morris and Winnipeg's Kaitlyn Lawes won the first Olympic gold medal awarded in mixed doubles two years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

After the men's team he skipped went 3-5 at the 2017 Olympic curling trials, Morris took a break from team curling, but continued to play mixed doubles.

He ended his hiatus by joining a powerhouse squad and reuniting with former teammates.

Calgary's Koe has skipped teams with at least one new player in the lineup to four Canadian championships. Koe has also claimed two world titles and won the 2017 Olympic trials.

Koe was vice for Morris for three seasons from 2003 to 2006 following the latter's move from Ontario to Alberta.

During the seven seasons Morris played third and Ben Hebert was lead for Kevin Martin, they won an Olympic gold medal in 2010 as well as a world championship in 2008.

"I wouldn't come back if I wasn't motivated," Morris said. "Playing a new position like second — I've always been an advocate of it doesn't matter what position you play on a team as long as that team is successful — and I feel like playing a new position for me will give me a newfound focus and challenge and I really like that aspect.

"I know the way the game of curling has gone, and it's where you really have to have four players who are fully committed and all exceptional at their position.

"You look at Brett Gallant and E.J. Harnden ... those are the guys I'll be going up against and they're really good seconds."

Koe, vice B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Flasch and Hebert won a Canadian title and world championship silver medal in 2019.

They lost out in a tiebreaker game at this year's Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont.

Morris was also in Kingston as an alternate for Ontario's John Epping. Morris appeared in one game throwing four stones in a loss to Northern Ontario.

Koe announced a split with Flasch on Monday to pave the way for the addition of Morris.

Morris, a part-time firefighter, and wife Maggie have a young son Jake and an infant daughter Zoe.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable working full time and curling full time," Morris said. "Something would have to give.

"That fact that it's a two-year commitment instead of a four is a lot more appealing to me at this stage because I know how much of a grind those four years can be."

A shortened season because of COVID-19 cancellations and postponements started curling's free agency earlier this year.

The world men's, women's and mixed doubles championships have all been postponed.

April's Grand Slam tournaments in Toronto and Olds, Alta., worth a combined $325,000 were called off.

Rosters are reforming in preparation for the last full curling season before the Canadian Olympic trials in November 2021.

In another move Tuesday, Rachel Homan replaced longtime lead Lisa Weagle with Sarah Wilkes.

Wilkes was Chelsea Carey's vice the last two seasons and won a Canadian title representing Alberta in 2019.

Homan's Ontario team lost the last two Scotties Tournament of Hearts finals to Carey and Manitoba's Kerri Einarson, respectively.

Wilkes was born in Toronto, but lives and works in Edmonton.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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