CALGARY — John Morris may have returned to men's team curling this winter, but mixed doubles is still very much in his wheelhouse.
An Olympic champion with teammate Kaitlyn Lawes when mixed doubles made its Olympic debut in 2018, Morris remains driven in the discipline.
He and Danielle Schmiemann will be among the final three playoff teams Thursday at the Canadian mixed doubles championship in Calgary.
"One of the main reasons I loved mixed doubles is because you have to earn everything out there," Morris said Wednesday.
"I find in men's and women's, there's such strong brushers, you can kind of get away with maybe not being exact.
"I find with mixed doubles you've got to be exact and you've got to have every facet of your game dialed in. It really, in my mind, pits the best curlers against each other out there."
The 42-year-old, who lives in Canmore, Alta., took a three-year hiatus from team curling after 2017.
Morris didn't say no when Kevin Koe asked him to join his men's foursome this winter, but Morris had continued to curl mixed doubles with various partners after claiming Olympic gold with Lawes.
When it became clear his teammate Rachel Homan wouldn't be able to play mixed doubles in Calgary in an advanced state of pregnancy, Morris recruited 24-year-old Schmiemann from Olds, Alta.
"The approach I've tried to take this week is that I'm really grateful to be here," Schmiemann said.
"I think we've continually been getting better every game and just in time, I guess, for the playoffs."
Morris and Schmiemann faced Colton Lott and Kadriana Sahaidak in Wednesday evening's Page playoff between the top two seeds.
The winner gained a direct trip to Thursday evening's championship game.
The loser dropped to Thursday afternoon's semifinal to face the winner of a sudden-death playoff between third and fourth seeds Brad Gushue and Kerri Einarson, and Laura Walker and Kirk Muyres.
Morris and Schmiemann ended the unbeaten run of Walker and Muyres in Wednesday's draw to determine playoff seedings with a 6-5 victory.
Lott and Sahaidak, who were national mixed doubles runners-up in 2018 and bronze medallists in 2019, toppled Einarson and Gushue 8-5.
Lott and Sahaidak from Selkirk, Man., clinched a berth in Canada's Olympic mixed doubles trials as the top team at the Canadian championship not already qualified for trials.
Lott, 25, and Sahaidak, 21, may lack the big-game experience of Einarson and Gushue, but they've played mixed doubles much longer together.
Einarson and Gushue, with a combined six Canadian team titles between them, are playing mixed doubles together for the first time.
Sahaidak doesn't play with a woman's team, but concentrates on mixed doubles instead.
"Through our accomplishments and through the time we've been playing, we've learned so much about the game," Lott said.
"Personally, the strategy I call during the game is way different than when we started. It's a little bit more aggressive and really trying to get the best angles as possible."
The final four emerging from a field of 35 also learned Wednesday when and where they could wear the Maple Leaf at the world championship if they win the Canadian title Thursday.
The World Curling Federation announced there will be a world mixed doubles championship May 17-23 in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The top seven duos in the world championship will qualify their countries to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Canada's mixed doubles is the third Curling Canada event held in Calgary's bubble, in which no spectators are allowed and the participants are confined to hotel and arena to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The men's world championship April 2-11 follows the three domestic events.
When the WCF cancelled the women's championship in Switzerland, the tournament was added to Calgary's bubble April 30 to May 6.
There was apparently little appetite to also tack the world mixed doubles onto Calgary's bubble.
A WCF spokesman told The Canadian Press in an email that Calgary wasn't considered a candidate for mixed doubles and, after several months of working with the Scottish government to gain approvals, Aberdeen was given the green light this week.
Morris believes Calgary's bubble provided a template for elite curling in a pandemic. No one involved has tested positive for the virus yet.
"If this didn't go well . . . I think the whole world using this as kind of a guinea pig event," Morris said.
"I think it's wonderful that the World Curling Federation is kind of taking the initiative to follow what Curling Canada has done here."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2021.
The Canadian Press