Friday, April 26, 2013

The Break-Up: All Four Players Weigh In

In the end, it was all about winning. And for five years, Kevin Martin’s team won more than anyone – Briers, cashspiels, Grand Slams and, of course, a Gold Medal.

But over the past year and a half, for some reason, the winning stopped. The rink that once dominated the ice lanes, looked positively mediocre as it trudged through big events. As the losses mounted, the tensions increased. In fact, they grew to such a level that something had to give. That something came Wednesday when third John Morris informed his teammates he was leaving.

“There wasn’t a specific moment,” said Morris when asked how he made his decision. “It was a tough season and any time a team isn’t playing well you start to question things. But it wasn’t like I woke up one day and said ‘I’m done.’ I just realized that I had to make a change.

“It was extremely tough. I’ve broken off with a few girlfriends and it wasn’t as tough as this.”

Morris informed his teammates in a conference call, leaving them equally surprised and sad for the end of the rink. It was all done without anger or malice, a clean parting of the ways.

“The bottom line is the team wasn’t playing like it should have and could have, especially with the talent we have, and when that happens something has to change,” said Martin in his first interview since the departure. “John stepped up and decided to make a change.

“John handled things really well. There was no negativity between any of the team and John. He laid things out well and said he would send out a release announcing it. It went viral pretty quick.”

“We weren’t thinking [he was leaving],” said lead Ben Hebert when asked about the call. “We knew they were leaking a little bit of oil, Kevin and John. They were just playing very poorly, surprisingly poorly. They were practicing hard and putting the time in but they just couldn’t seem to make it work. I think they were having some personality conflicts that neither one of them could get over. Either they had to get over it or something needed to happen.”

In the release, Morris said he and Martin were no longer thriving in their back-end roles as they did in the run to the gold medal and that his desire for the game had waned.

“When I play, I need to feel passion and excitement,” Morris stated. “That wasn’t there. I don’t think anyone has any fun when you’re losing.

“We were losing to teams and players we should have been beating and that was hard to take.”

While Team Martin still won games here and there, and managed to earn $70,000 on the World Curling Tour, this past season was close to a disaster. It went 1-5 at the Canada Cup, failed to make the playoffs at the Brier in front of the hometown fans, never reached a Grand Slam final and only got as far as a tiebreaker at the season-ending Players Championship.

“We were a team that was used to winning but we weren’t so there was tension that way,” admitted Martin. “I think we were all waiting for things to get back to normal and they never did.”

The tension between Martin and Morris was evident on the ice and Morris’s body language often told the story. As the year went on, it only became worse.

“The consistent losing and the way we lost, just never getting eight shots in a row any more,” Hebert stated. “Someone was missing here and there, and then there was pointing fingers and the blame game . . . it just wasn’t a good vibe. We could have tried to go through it one more year and hope for the magic to come back [but] John decided he wanted to make a change.”

“It was tough to feel like we couldn’t really control it as much as Ben and I wanted to fix things,” added Marc Kennedy. “It was tough to just watch them. We have so much respect for both of them. When we were going good, they were the two best curlers in the world so to see them not be able to get it together to play their best at the same time was difficult.”

Martin said there was no personal animosity between the two, calling Morris a good friend. But he added that the difference in ages and personal situations – Martin, married with grown-up kids and Morris single – meant there wasn’t always a lot in common off the ice. Still he noticed a change in his third.

“I could tell over the last four months that he wasn’t his old self,” Martin said.

The three players are now coming to terms with the end of one era and the start of another.

“The last day and a half has been pretty sad,” admitted Kennedy. “We were an amazing team and having a chance to reflect on the last seven years and everything we’ve accomplished and it’s just sad to know it’s come to an end.”

“I heard John say ‘We’re turning into Ferbey in their last couple of years,’” said Hebert, “because they were still a really good team and would win the odd event, or qualify and bow out. But at the same time they weren’t the same team they were when they were flying. They played together because they wanted to shake hands at the end and call it a good run. They were pretty much irrelevant at the end. We didn’t want to be that.”

Morris said he’ll focus on the good times the team enjoyed as he moves on.

“I think we had a fantastic run and to know I had a chance to play with the best player ever in Kevin is something I’ll remember for a long time.

Now the search for a replacement begins and for Morris, the hunt for a spot on a new team is likely underway. Martin stated emphatically that he’d only briefly talked to one other person prior to our conversation but that something would likely happen within the next couple of weeks.

The rumours are already flying on social media with names dropping left and right. One possibility that wasn’t denied by the team was to have Kennedy move up to third and bring in a new front-ender.

“Our goal hasn’t changed,” Martin stated. “We are still trying to get to Sochi.”

Morris said he’s going to take a deep breath and reassess where things are and what he wants to do.

“I feel like I’m in the prime of my career,” he said. “I know I still have it in me.”

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