Lopsided loss shouldn’t put Morris’ s future on thin ice

By Brian Blom

It was shocking when curling sensation John Morris questioned his future in the sport following his loss to Alberta in the final at the Nokia Brier in Calgary.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play this game much longer,” a frustrated Morris told the media. “There’s lots of other things to do in life.”

This is hard to believe, coming from a 23-year-old curling phenomenon, who burst onto the Brier scene as the youngest skip in the coveted championship. Hard to believe, coming from a guy who has brought a fresh new face to a sport whose popularity has skyrocketed in the past two months.

Say it ain’t so, John.

Morris, who spent his younger years curling at the Ottawa Club on O’Connor Street, just couldn’t solve the host Albertans in Calgary. Led by now four-time Brier champ Randy Ferbey, the Alberta squad won all three matches it played against Morris’s Ontario rink. This included a 9-4 romp in the final.

With Alberta ahead 3-2 in the fifth end, third David Nedohin iced the shot of the tournament, a triple takeout that put four points on the board and Ontario’s hopes of a championship in the gutter.

All the while, Morris watched on in silence, clearly frustrated with what was happening and struggling to maintain his composure. “Oh, that was the ball game,” Morris told a newspaper reporter afterwards, referring to Nedohin’s gem.

It seems that from the start of the Brier, Morris was the target of media controversy. A young punk among a crowd of veterans, the kid from Ottawa was labelled a “hot head” who couldn’t control his temper. After blowing a 7-3 lead and losing 10-8 to Manitoba in the fourth draw, the media jumped all over him for expressing frustration during and after the match.

One Calgary reporter called him “the young and the frustrated,” and said Morris had to “keep a tight reign on his stallion of a temper after blowing shots in both the ninth and 10th end.” Another called that loss “a bitter taste of big league reality” for the young rink.

It’s easy to pick on the rookie, but in reality, who wouldn’t be upset over such a loss? When Morris lashed out at teammates Joe Frans, Craig Savill and Brent Laing after the loss to Manitoba, it served as a kick-start for a rink that had lost focus and let a sure win slip away.

Besides, isn’t the skip supposed to be the vocal leader of the team? In this case, it worked well enough to boost the squad all the way to the national final.

While Morris may have gaffed by swearing on national television following the loss in the final, that type of fire can add credibility to a sport. Take tennis star John McEnroe for example. He was always known as a “hot head” who often crossed the line with his antics on and off the court. But that added to the excitement of watching him play.

If Morris is seriously considering packing in his broom, he should think again. In a two-month period that has seen curling go from an unpopular pastime to a prime time event at the Olympics and the big screen in the Canadian flick Men With Brooms, Morris has given new curling fans like myself something to cheer about.

His performance at the Brier, an event that drew over 200,000 fans in Calgary, has secured him a spot among the nation’s elite curlers. He’s young, he’s animated and he’s accomplished what most athletes his age can only dream.

The Ottawa Curling Club has benefited from his success. The ice has been booked solid since the Olympics, and the club says it owes a lot to Morris’s recent rise in stardom.

John Morris was born to curl. He follows two generations of curlers, including his father Earle, who participated in three Briers. He has the tools to be a champion, and the fire to succeed.

For that, he should think twice about leaving the game.