Rocking the World

By Richard Bloom

One down, two to go.

That’s how Ottawa skip John Morris sees his team’s quest to repeat as the world junior curling champions.

Morris and teammates, based out of the Ottawa Curling Club, won the provincial championship on Jan. 10 and are now gearing up for the national championships in Kelowna, B.C., Feb. 6- 14.

“I knew we could do it,” said Morris. “We weren’t that on our game for a couple of matches but in the final, we were really prepared. It was definitely our best game of the week.”

The championship is Morris’ third straight. But this year, he is faced with not living in the same city as his teammates — they are currently scattered across southern Ontario furthering their education.

Morris, 20, moved to Kitchener-Waterloo to attend Sir Wilfrid Laurier University. His teammates also moved away from the Ottawa area. Brent Laing is in Kitchener-Waterloo, Craig Savill now goes to school in London, Ont. and Jason Young lives in Lindsay, Ont..

Their coach, Scott Taylor, lives in Barrie, Ont.

Taylor said the team usually meets at a rink in southern Ontario for an intensive day of practising before big bonspiels and tournaments. Other than that, they only get together to compete.

The team had a full schedule of competitions between September and December, which kept them busy and on top of their game, says Taylor, a 25-year veteran of the sport.

“When we practice, we really work on our mental game,” said Taylor. “When you’re not mentally prepared that’s when losses happen. Morris said their decision to remain with the Ottawa rink is a matter of loyalty.

“They were really good to us last year after we won the Worlds so we decided to be faithful,” said Morris.

“But it’s also a matter of superstition. Because we won last year, we didn’t want to change clubs.”

“We started playing there because they had such a reputable men’s league and provided excellent competition. It really made us what we are today,” said Morris, who joined the club in 1996.

Earle Morris, John’s father and former coach, has been a member of the club for five years.

He agreed it pushed John to world champion status.From page 7

“They’re really dedicated to the juniors and always make them feel really comfortable,” said Earle Morris, who represented three provinces in the Brier (the Canadian men’s curling championship).

“It’s really a dynamite club. They’re always willing to help with ice time, promotion, fund-raising, and big parties for the guys before going to big tournies.”

Located in Centretown, at the corner of Catherine and O’Connor, the club has been around since 1851.

Over the front door is a large sign, complete with pictures, proudly announcing “the home of the 1998 World Junior Curling Champions.”

“John’s got a lot of skill and desire and some great experience,” said Barbara Brown, Ottawa Curling Club president.

“We’re very proud to have such high-calibre juniors at our club. It’s because of John’s success that we attracted Jenn Hanna’s team to come play here,” said Brown.

Hanna placed second in last year’s national championships. On Jan.10, her team lost a heart-breaker in the provincial finals after an undefeated round-robin.

Even though John Morris is now hundreds of kilometres away from his home club, he said he’s still continually working on his game.

“It’s a real mental game, I’d say 95 per cent is mental,” he said “The only way to prepare is to continually practise the mechanics and play really tough games.”

One of those games came at the beginning of December when Morris’s team lost the first game at the Brantford Bonspiel. That meant they had to win seven in a row to win the finals — which they did.

But Morris said even those sudden-death wins don’t earn him complete respect in the eyes of the world curling community.

“If you win the world juniors you’re considered a good player,” said Morris. “If you win twice you’re a force to be reckoned with — but people will still want to know if we can do it in men’s. I want to prove to the world that we can do it in both.”

With a win, Morris could become the first back-to-back junior champion in more than 30 years and earn his team a spot at the world curling championships to be held March 20-28, in Sweden.

After this season, Morris, Savill and Laing are no longer eligible for junior competition. Young is still 19 and has another year of juniors remaining.

“The men’s are the real big leagues and that’s the next level that we’re taking it to,” said Morris. “We’ve played in some men’s tournaments already and have won more than $26,000, so, our next goal is the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.”