Mike Harris, Olympic curling medallist, making comeback
Skip jokes that Brier win would 'set curling back at least 15 years'
Veteran skip Mike Harris isn't concerned about ranking points, playing in the Grand Slam events or even curling on a full-time basis.
The 1998 Olympic silver medallist is back on the curling scene though and will be in the field at the Feb. 1-7 Ontario Tankard in Brantford. His crew of part-time players impressed at the regional qualifier — topping former world champion Glenn Howard along the way — to earn a berth in the 11-team competition at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.
The Tankard is the southern Ontario provincial championship and the winner will represent Team Ontario at the Mar. 5-13 Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa. The winner of the Canadian championship will qualify for the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings and the winner of that competition will represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It has been almost two decades since Harris won silver at the Nagano Games. Despite his recent comeback, he has no plans to get back to that level.
"We have zero chance of going to the Olympic Trials. If we happen to win provincials and we happen to accidentally win the Brier, it will set curling back at least 15 years, maybe 20," Harris said with a laugh.
Harris plays regular league matches at the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club in his hometown and has played a couple dozen games with his lineup of third Mike Anderson, second Scott Hodgson and lead Scott Foster.
"We're all like-minded," he said. "We don't want to play a lot but we're ready to go. It's good."
The 48-year-old native of Georgetown, Ont., has stayed connected to the sport by working as a coach and broadcaster. Harris also keeps busy by working as a consultant for a golf company.
Enters on winning streak
Harris, whose lone career Brier appearance came in 2004 at Saskatoon, has only played a handful of semi-competitive games in recent years but notes his team enters the Ontario playdowns on a 13-game winning streak.
"It'll be interesting at provincials for me to play two games a day for a full week to see how my body will hold up," Harris said in a recent interview. "That's the challenge really. I think mentally, especially for me as a skip, mentally I've learned as much over the last 10 years commentating. I haven't really lost a beat there.
"But [the challenge is] just really figuring out ways to [highlight] what my strengths are and what kind of shots I'm able to play."
Harris said two of his three brothers talked him into playing zone qualifiers last season and he literally signed up a week beforehand. He ended up losing to Howard but had a "bit of an itch" to get back to provincials.
"This was a bit more of a planned season and it was nice to have three like-minded guys," he said.
Harris's current lineup has played in big games and isn't intimidated by facing top skips. There's also very little pressure since their expectations are in check.
"The guys have enough experience and they're good players," he said. "They've all had success at different levels. There's something to having a team that knows how to win. Even though we haven't played in a while, all the guys on the ice, we're not afraid to play against Glenn Howard."
Toronto's John Epping and Howard, from Penetanguishene, are both in the top 10 of the Canadian Team Ranking System and will be favourites to advance. Other potential contenders include Harris, Mark Bice of Sarnia and Greg Balsdon of Toronto.
"The real question for us is going to be consistency," Harris said. "Are we going to be able to maintain some consistency? That, for me, is the challenge. Not just me, but my whole team. But we've managed to play really well."
Harris and Richard Hart, now a second with Howard, were teammates in 1997 when they upset Kevin Martin to win the Canadian Curling trials in Brandon, Man. They settled for silver at the Nagano Games after dropping a 9-3 decision to Switzerland's Patrick Hurlimann in the final.
"I'm going to really enjoy playing in an arena again in front of some friends and family," Harris said. "I do miss it. I get my fix of curling being a commentator but I do miss being in the middle of it. So it'll be fun to be back on the ice again for sure."