John Morris delivers a rock during the fifth round-robin draw of the Humpty's Champions Cup on April 24, 2019, in Saskatoon. (Anil Mungal)

Morris skips Team Shuster past Team Jacobs in Champions Cup

April 25, 2019, 1:13 AM

SASKATOON — As John Morris prepared to throw his first skip stone of the extra end against Brad Jacobs, one question popped into his mind: What would Kevin Martin do?

Why, a four-second pistol peel, of course. Easier said than done but Morris was able to channel his former skip to fire a rocket Hail Mary and electrify the near-capacity crowd at Merlis Belsher Place.

That held up to secure the 7-6 victory during Wednesday night’s action in the Humpty’s Champions Cup. Morris, filling in for American skip John Shuster, didn’t need to throw another circus shot with his final rock as Jacobs, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., over-curled just enough on his last to only lie second stone.

“I was thinking there were a few different shots here and what it boiled down to was, I said, ‘What would the Old Bear do?’” Morris said. “The Old Bear would throw the four-second peel right near the nose of the rock and hope for some action, so that’s what I did. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Today it worked out.”

“It was funny watching (second) Matty (Hamilton) keep up with that last one,” he added. “I thought he was going to pull a groin. Hopefully, we won’t have to be icing that tonight.”

With Shuster away at the world mixed doubles championship, the reigning Olympic men’s champions tapped the two-time Winter Games gold medallist Morris, from Chestermere, Alta., to fill in for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season finale. Team Shuster moved up to a 2-0 round-robin record for a share of the lead in the men’s division while Team Jacobs, the 2014 Olympic gold medallists, split their day at 1-1.

“They’re awesome,” Morris said. “We’ve been great friends for many years, so it was kind of nice to get one team event in this year. I’m having a great time with them and just a lot of fun. It’s just nice to be having fun with them.”

The 40-year-old Morris, who has won 11 Grand Slams, decided to step back from men’s play after last season and focus on mixed doubles. With no pressure as a spare, Morris’s relaxed, loose demeanour on the ice has contributed to the strong start.

“Sometimes when you try too hard, and that’s kind of what we were doing the last few years in these Slams, and when you just come here and have fun and sort of let things be and go with your gut, sometimes you get better results,” Morris said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing and having a great time.”

Morris gave kudos to the great crowd on hand and was particularly thrilled to see superfan Hans Madsen sporting a half-American, half-Canadian colourful beard.

“I forgot what great curling country there is here in Saskatchewan,” Morris said. “They’re such great, positive fans and our friend Hans with the beard. … We asked him the other day, hey, why don’t you get half American flag and half Maple Leaf out there, so he was rocking that today, which was great to see.”

The game was defined by hits as much as misses. Morris opened with the hammer but gave up back-to-back single steals to start. After Jacobs just missed out on a runback double in three, Morris captialized to draw for the tying deuce.

Another uncharacteristic whiff from Jacobs against three counters in the fourth secured the momentum swing for Morris and jump ahead 5-2.

Jacobs trailed by two coming home in the eighth end but held the hammer and fired a runback triple to get the equalizing deuce and force the tantalizing extra frame.

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Elsewhere in the fifth round-robin draw, Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., also moved up to a 2-0 record at the top of the table following a 7-5 win over Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller (0-2).

Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe opened their tournament with a 9-5 victory over local favourites Team Kirk Muyres (0-2).

In women’s play, Winnipeg’s Team Alli Flaxey, with Laura Walker subbing at skip, took down Team Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask., 11-4 and Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg, with Eve Muirhead at skip, defeated Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones 7-5.

Team Hasselborg (2-0) climbed into a three-way tie for first with Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan and Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man. Team Flaxey, Team Jones and Team Silvernagle all have identical 1-1 records.

Walker’s squad rebounded from a tough 7-1 loss to Muirhead from the night before where their opponent shot the lights out at 100 percent.

“We actually played quite well as a team last night,” Walker said. “Eve didn’t even give us an inch anywhere so we knew that if we just took what we did last night into tonight we would be tough to beat and we did that. If anything we stepped it up a notch so it felt really good to come out and get a win.”

Although it’s Team Flaxey’s final event together, it’s also a bit of a preview for the new Team Walker. Third Kate Cameron and second Taylor McDonald will link up with Walker for good next season.

“It’s awesome,” Walker said. “It’s a head-start and I’m learning a lot about not just how they throw but how they work as teammates, how we’re going to work together on the ice and we’ll feel like we have an event under our belts before we even start next year.”

Round-robin action resumes Thursday at 8:30 a.m. CST. Broadcast coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET / Noon CST on Sportsnet with online streaming available via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

Notes: The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the seventh and final Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of the season featuring 15 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams who won high-profile events over the course of the season to qualify. … The total purse is $250,000, split evenly between the men’s and women’s divisions, with the winners earning $40,000. … A new rule is being tested at the event where teams cannot perform tick shots on rocks sitting on the centre line during the eighth and extra ends.