CALGARY — John Morris shook up his team midway through the Canadian men’s curling championship by demoting himself to third and handing the house to Pat Simmons to skip.
Tuesday’s switch produced the first back-to-back wins of the tournament for Team Canada, including a 6-3 victory over Kevin Koe in the anticipated Battle of Alberta. At 4-3, the first team to wear the Maple Leaf at the Brier gained some breathing room.
“We just needed a spark. We’re sure starting to gain some confidence and Pat played amazing today,” Morris said.
The hyped clash of the two teams skipped by Calgarians was tight, but undramatic until the ninth end when Canada’s second Carter Rycroft was allowed to re-throw his second stone.
His initial delivery was pulled for a hog-line violation, but Alberta saw the sensor in the stone’s handle had malfunctioned and told Rycroft to throw the stone again. Morris scored a deuce in the end and stole a point in the 10th for the win.
“It wasn’t their fault the red light went off, but he definitely wasn’t making that shot,” Koe said. “We did the right thing. We let him have a re-go and then of course he makes it. It doesn’t matter who we lost to out here. It stings.”
A giant blue balloon was batted through the stands for entertainment during the early ends until it was confiscated by security.
The eight curlers know each other well, but the importance of the game for both teams kept the tone businesslike in front of 7,628 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs remained well out in front at 7-0 following a 7-2 win over Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers, who shook hands after eight ends.
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador was 5-2, Saskatchewan’s Steven Laycock 4-2 and Quebec Jean-Michel Menard finished the day tied with Canada at 4-3. Koe, Carruthers and B.C.’s Jim Cotter were tied at 3-3 ahead of Ontario’s Mark Kean and Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey at 2-4, New Brunswick’s Jeremy Mallais at 1-5 and 0-6 Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories.
In other games Tuesday night, Gushue downed Kean 8-6 and Menard defeated Laycock 7-5 in the evening draw.
Jacobs posted a pair of quick wins Tuesday as P.E.I. also shook hands early trailing 11-1. Jacobs, third Ryan Fry and the front end of E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden have a reputation for first-pumping and broom-shaking after executing big shots.
But the foursome has been quietly and ruthlessly efficient so far this tournament.
“That’s a testament to how well the guys are playing in front of me,” Jacobs said. “I don’t want to have to make a big shot like that if we don’t have to. The wide-open shots, the wide-open draws for two, I’m getting a lot of simple shots at my position, which I should make and the guys are playing really well.
“We’ve been really intense and really into all the games. We haven’t had a big burst of emotion or energy, but we’ve got lots of games left. I’m sure it will happen.”
After giving up four points in steals in a loss to Saskatchewan the previous evening, it was Morris who suggested moving to vice and letting Simmons take over.
“I thought our options were, keep doing what we’re doing and go .500 at the Brier and sort of fade away into the sunset or make a change and still try to win this thing,” Morris explained.“
Simmons has previous experience skipping teams at Briers, but he says the last time he called the shots was in 2010.
“It wasn’t in the master plan that’s for sure,” Simmons said. “It’s not everyone’s wish to get halfway into the Brier (and change) when you haven’t skipped in five years. The good news is I’ve skipped at this level before.”
When asked if the switch would remain in place for the duration of the Brier, Simmons replied: “As far as I know, until I hear otherwise.”
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Friday qualify for the Page playoffs.
Morris played third for Kevin Martin from 2006 to 2013. They won Olympic gold in 2010 as well as a pair of Canadian championships and a world title.
Simmons, 40, skipped Saskatchewan in four Briers from 2005 to 2008. Simmons and the front end of Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen won last year’s Brier with Koe at skip. Koe left to form a new team.
His former teammates recruited Morris, who intended to take this season off from curling but agreed to join them in wearing the Maple Leaf in Calgary.