BOW VALLEY – Proceeding as planned, Canada's mixed doubles representative for the Olympics will be determined next week and that's good news for Canmore's John Morris and teammate Rachel Homan who have something to prove.
Two of the nation's top curlers, Morris and Homan's men's and women's teams didn't qualify for Beijing last month and their final shot to go to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games comes down to the trials from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2.
"We both have something to prove after not winning the men's and women's trials," said Morris. "[Homan's] keen, I'm pretty excited to go in. I love mixed doubles and I think it's going to be a wonderful event and a great game so it'll be exciting and we're going to be working our darnedest at getting back to the Olympics and wear that maple leaf and give our country the best chance at a medal."
Taking place in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, the 2022 Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Trials were green-lit Tuesday (Dec. 21) following consultation between Curling Canada and the Manitoba government to align the event with current public health orders.
"As per recently announced Manitoba restrictions, attendance at Stride Place will be capped at 50 per cent, and athletes, Curling Canada staff and officials will be restricted to a bubble-like atmosphere, limiting them to their hotel rooms, the arena and the vehicles they will use to get back and forth," a Curling Canada statement said.
Sixteen teams will vie for the lone Olympic spot including Brendan Bottcher and Bobbie Sauder, John Epping and Lisa Weagle, and Brent Laing and Selena Njegovan.
Four years ago, Morris and then teammate Kaitlyn Lawes won trials and went on to claim gold in mixed doubles Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
The historic moment began after skip Homan qualified for PyeongChang with her four-women team, forcing a change and the golden team of Morris and Lawes was created.
This year, Lawes, a member of Canada's Beijing qualifying women's team of Jennifer Jones, is ineligible to participate in the mixed doubles trials with teammate and nephew Connor Lawes.
Back-to-back Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic champs, Homan and Morris had a bit of a warm-up to next week's trials – on opposite sides of the country – in men's and women's curling.
With Calgary's Team Kevin Koe, Morris played a part-time schedule at the Banff ATB Classic from Dec. 16-19. The two-time Olympic gold medallist rested his shoulder for Manitoba.
"I tore my labrum in my shoulder at the last Olympic trials in mixed doubles and when I curl too much it can get pretty sore and banged up," Morris said. "I just didn't want to put too much on that shoulder and now I'm still feeling pretty good and with one week of recovery I should be good for the mixed doubles trials."
Team Koe made its way to Sunday's semifinal, going 4-1 in round robin action.
Koe faced Team Deis on one sheet and Team Epping and Team McEwen were on the other.
Epping made quick work of McEwen with a 5-0 shutout. McEwen conceded after five ends.
Things were much tighter on the other side.
After Deis went up 3-0 in the first end, Koe battled back and chipped away at the lead to tie it up in four ends. In the fifth, Koe snatched its first lead and never looked back, winning 7-3 to set up the final against Epping.
Morris, normally the second on Koe, sat out in the semis. Koe alternate Carter Rycroft filled in for four games in Banff.
In the final, Calgary's Team Koe, with Morris playing, once again trailed on Sunday to Toronto's Epping after dropping four in the first end.
The teams traded two point gains in the next three ends until the fifth when Koe stole one back when Epping had the hammer to cut the lead to one at 6-5 going into the final end.
The curlers from Toronto and area finished off Calgary-based Team Kevin Koe, 7-5, Sunday's (Dec. 19) final at Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre to claim a $9,000 grand prize. Epping went undefeated at the sophomore classic.
Team Koe won $6,000.
"They just played really well," said Morris. "We were a bit rusty early and that's a tough trench to get out of. I'm proud of our team for battling back strong, we almost had a valiant comeback there, but just fell a little bit short and it gives us something to work on before provincials."
Steven Young, president of the Banff Curling Club and Curling Alberta, said the 12-team classic in its sophomore event was a great warm-up opportunity ahead of provincials and also sport development.
"Take Team Deis from Saskatchewan, wouldn't have thought they'd make it to the semis, but they beat team [Team] Flasch, they beat Team Van Amsterdam and they made a good run and got there," said Young. "The great thing with the young teams is ... getting the chance to play against [top players] it's just going to make them better and stronger because they get to watch what they do, they get to see the strategy and they get to test their skill and see what they also need to do."