Alberta's rink ready to rock

TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 PM ET

John Morris just returned from R ‘n’ R in the Jasper area.

But the super-curler stayed off the ski hill, opting instead to stick with his sport of choice.

Good plan.

“I’m not crazy,” said Morris, when asked if he strapped on the skis while on the weekend hiatus, which was spent winning the firefighters provincial spiel in Edson.

“I don’t think the skipper would like that too much.”

Certainly not this close to the Brier.

And certainly not given Morris’ history of bad luck leading up to Canadian curling championships.

In fact, if skip Kevin Martin had his wish, he might put his world-class third in a bubble during the lead-up to the Brier, which begins Saturday in London, Ont.

“Yeah, I’ve had a couple of tough breaks in the past,” said Morris, who lives in Chestermere. “I was hit by the car a few days before the Brier (in 2007), and I broke my hand (a year later) just weeks before the Brier.

“Just bad luck, but we battled through it, and my teammates pulled together with me.”

Fast-forward to today — just hours before they take the ice at the John Labatt Centre — and Martin, Morris and front-end stars Marc Kennedy and Calgary’s Ben Hebert have seemingly pulled together again at just the right time.

After limited competition during a post-Olympics season, the 2010 Games gold medallists are healthy, running hot and — perhaps, most importantly — ever-excited in their return to the Brier.

“One of our goals is that we don’t let ourselves get complacent,” Morris said. “It’s never old hat playing in the Brier. The Brier is always very exciting. It’s always a good feeling to represent your province. We just love the competition.”

And how …

The Old Bear, Martin, forever marvels at how thrilled his young-ish troops get whenever they win a meaningful game, whether it be in playdowns, in cashspiels or on the road to Olympic gold.

Hebert says it’s no show but the real deal — and a big reason why the Saville Sports Centre’s fearsome foursome continues to be a force in curling circles.

“After we won the province, I was just jacked,” Hebert said. “It’s my sixth Brier, and it’s still fun to be going. I’m super excited, and I think that’s the way it should be. I’m still getting the butterflies.

“Maybe when you stop getting those butterflies, maybe that’s when you don’t care about going anymore.”

As it stands, the Edmonton-based rink is shooting for a third Brier title, after running the table in both Winnipeg and Calgary.

“Everybody’s going to be gunning for us after going undefeated in ’08 and ’09 and, of course, being Olympic champions,” Hebert said. “So we’ve gotta go in there and put some games together.”

A victory would mean the fourth straight for an Alberta rink, following Kevin Koe’s claim last year in Halifax.

But to keep the provincial run intact, it’s a matter of triumphing over a few rivals, including nemesis Glenn Howard, the last skip not from Alberta to win the national title — in 2007 in Hamilton.

Then there’s ever-slick Manitoban Jeff Stoughton, who has enjoyed a measure of success against Martin this season.

Also on the contenders list are Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue, New Brunswick’s James Grattan and Saskatchewan’s Pat Simmons.

“All the usual suspects,” Hebert said. “There are no surprises coming out of each province. Every single team that won was the best in each province, in my opinion — except for maybe Quebec.

“But it’s all the big names everywhere else. So it’s going to be a great one.”

Now if they can just show up with all their limbs intact.

“I’ve got the reins on John,” Hebert said. “No car accidents and no brawling, you know.”

todd.saelhof@sunmedia.ca


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