SAPPORO, Japan — The call came out of the blue last August.
Understand, Wendy Morgan had established herself quite nicely in the Canadian curling world. She’s Curling Canada’s manager for the world’s top-ranked wheelchair curling program, a team leader for three Winter Paralympic Games gold-medallists, a team leader for three World Wheelchair Curling champions.
Her focus at the time was on laying the groundwork for another Paralympic run leading to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Then, a phone call from Jennifer Jones changed everything. During the conversation, Jones, whose team’s longtime coach Janet Arnott retired following the Olympic victory in Sochi last February, wondered if Morgan might be interested in taking on the job of working with herself, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen.
“I don’t know who they talked to or how many other people they talked to, but anyway, they asked if I would be interested,” recalled Morgan, 60, a longtime coach from Burlington, Ont., at the Tsukisamu Gymnasium, as Team Canada prepared for its Page 1-2 playoff game against Switzerland’s Alina Pätz on Friday at 8 p.m. ET on TSN at the 2015 ZEN-NOH World Women’s Curling Championship, presented by Ford of Canada. “I asked them what they were looking for, and they said they were looking for someone positive, someone with some fresh eyes. They obviously have an entourage of people who can help them with technical stuff, but I think they respect that part of what I can bring to the game, too.”
Jones and Lawes had worked with Morgan previously as coaches at curling camps, so she was hardly a complete stranger. Still, it was clear that Jones and Co. weren’t going to turn to just anyone when it came to finding a replacement for Arnott.
“Janet was an amazing part of our team and, obviously, a huge contributing factor to our Olympic gold medal, so we were really sad to see her retire,” said Jones. “But when we put together the list of people we thought could help take our team to the next Olympics, Wendy was at the top of our list. and we were just absolutely thrilled that she agreed.
“She is one of the nicest people you’re ever going to come across. She’s organized, smart, she’s great technically and she’s had so much experience — she brings a different perspective to our team, which is always great to have. She’s fitting right in.”
Still, the decision for Morgan wasn’t automatic due to her longtime (and continued) relationship with Canada’s world No. 1 wheelchair team.
“I still have a foot in the world of wheelchair curling, so I wasn’t sure how committed I could be, but they (Team Jones) said they were starting slow this quadrennial,” said Morgan, who’s been working with Canada’s wheelchair national team since 2005 alongside national coach Joe Rea. “They knew that I knew how to manage the four-year process because I’ve been doing that with the wheelies.
“I just love the program and I love the people, more than anything. So there were some mixed emotions. I had to tell the team that I was going to take a little time away from them to work with Jennifer’s team, but wouldn’t it be great if I found some things from that team that I could bring back to them. They were all extremely supportive.”
So far, the results indicate the move has paid dividends. Morgan helped the team win both the Manitoba and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles, and is now two wins away from Canada’s first World Championship gold medal since Jones prevailed in 2008 at Vernon, B.C.
“It’s like, ‘pinch me,’ ” said Morgan with a laugh. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to step in to such a high-performing team, right? It’s incredible to see the inner workings. It’s been great, and I’ve really enjoyed it. When they won the Scotties? That was an emotional moment for me, too.”
“What can I tell her, right? But they want to get better. They wanted fresh eyes, and I think I can help them that way. But the first year is about building trust and a relationship, and once you have that, maybe you can make some headway on other things. I‘m not going to overcoach or over-talk. Sometimes you just put a suggestion out there and see where it goes.”
Evidently, her suggestions are working.
The winner of the Page 1-2 game will go to Sunday’s gold-medal game at 1 a.m. ET, while the loser while drop to the semifinal Saturday at 3 a.m. ET.