KINGSTON, ONT. -- There have always been, of course, the provinces -- and territories -- that every year seem to be the doormats at Canadian curling championships.
But what's evolved only more recently -- and which we are seeing here at the 2013 Canadian women's curling championship in particularly sharp focus -- is a trend that has seen a couple of provinces ascend to a whole new competitive level all their own.
Put it all together and what you have now is a competitive framework that's not very competitive, where in addition to the teams who annually struggle to compete with anyone on the national stage there is now a second set of teams with whom almost no one else can compete.
And so it is that we head into Day 4 here today with a standings board in which the three teams everybody expected would still be standing come the playoffs this weekend -- Manitoba, Ontario and Canada -- are still undefeated at 5-0 and threatening to turn this into a three-way race before the event is even half over, with only the fourth and final playoff berth likely left to be determined over the final four days of the round robin.
Manitoba's Jennifer Jones romped through her Monday schedule, overcoming a 3-1 early deficit to drum Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault 11-4 Monday afternoon and then hammering NWT's Kerry Galusha 9-1 last night. Jones plays a winless Alberta team skipped by Kristie Moore this evening in her only game today.
Things are unlikely to get really interesting for Jones until Wednesday, when she will finally be tested by Canada's Heather Nedohin. Her second big test will come the following day against Ontario's Rachel Homan.
If it seems like the gap between the top teams and everyone else is widening, it's not just happening in the standings. Consider the shooting percentages: The Top 3 teams in the standings are also the top three teams in team shooting percentage. And the top three skips in shooting percentage also come from those same three teams.
Care to guess which three teams in this 12-team field has also spent, by far, the most time this winter -- and every winter lately -- competing on the World Curling Tour?
The result of all this is a playing field at the national championships that's not even close to level -- and that includes for former six-time Canadian women's curling champions.
Nova Scotia's Colleen Jones admitted her team got schooled -- literally -- by Manitoba Monday. "They can put on a clinic. They can just make the right shots all the time really, really well," said Colleen Jones. "They're just absolutely world-class. They've clearly worked at the game for a long, long time."
But while it's looked easy here this week, the Manitoba players insist it hasn't been. "I don't think that's true," said Manitoba third Kaitlyn Lawes. "I think early on in our games, we've had some tight battles. It's been us trying to figure out our rock placement. And once we've been getting a hold of it, I think we've been starting to build a little momentum.
"But I wouldn't say it's been a runaway by any means."
Lawes insisted upsets will still happen -- even if they really haven't here this week yet -- and pointed to a lightly travelled Saskatchewan team skipped by Jill Shumay that was raising eyebrows here the first couple days with a 4-0 opening record, until a 12-7 loss to PEI Monday night brought them back to earth.
"There's always an upset. There's always some team who kind of has a great week and kind of breaks through. I don't think that's still out of the question."