KINGSTON, ONT. — Manitoba was, by far, the best team all week at the Canadian women’s curling championship.
But they were also, by far, the lesser team Saturday night.
Winners of a record-setting 11 straight games during the round-robin, Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg foursome played their worst game of this event in the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game against Ontario’s Rachel Homan Saturday night, stumbling early and often en route to an 8-5 loss that suddenly has the once unbeatable Manitobans’ backs to the wall.
Jones and company will now have to beat Team Canada’s Heather Nedohin in Sunday morning’s semifinal (8 a.m., CT) if they are going to get the privilege of a rematch with Homan, who advanced directly to tonight’s final with the win over Jones.
Nedohin advanced to Sunday morning’s semifinal by eliminating B.C. 8-4 in Saturday afternoon’s Page playoff 3 vs. 4 game.
"I just got fooled a little bit on the ice. I think we caught on to it a little bit too late and I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be early," said Jones, taking full ownership for a 79 per cent performance at skip that was seven points less than she’d averaged during the round-robin and 10 points less than what Homan shot.
And that latter gap actually narrowed in the second half of the game — Homan owned Jones 97-72 through the first four critical ends.
While the gap in play between the two skips looked like a chasm, Jones said it couldn’t have been narrower from her perspective down at ice level.
"We just rubbed a couple of guards early — it was literally a quarter of an inch — and it kind of changed the momentum of the game."
A string of misses in the first end that began with second Jill Officer, continued through third Kaitlyn Lawes and finished with Jones missing both her shots gift-wrapped a steal of two for Homan in the first end and left Manitoba chasing a young Ontario foursome who looked on this night to be the more composed of the two teams despite their inexperience.
How bad was it? Well, Ontario third Emma Miskew completely flashed on a hit in the third end and yet Ontario still scored a deuce despite playing the end with just seven rocks.
When the smoke settled, the final score actually flattered a Manitoba team that was outshot at every position except lead.
"That was amazing," said Homan. "A full team effort — we went at them right away, tons of rocks in play the whole game, the crowd was into it and my team played amazing...
"As soon as they messed up by inches, we were all over them."
That is precisely the punishing opportunistic style Jones has always used — and never more so than in the past week as she ran out an 11-0 win streak through the round-robin, including in a 9-7 win over Homan that is Ontario’s only loss this week.
But more important than the Manitoba loss here Saturday night — just Jones’s second defeat in her past 21 games — was the manner of it: A convincing dismantling by a Homan squad about which there were doubts how they would handle the pressure of being the only game on the ice on the final weekend.
The doubts now, however, suddenly shift to a Manitoba squad which was going to have precious little time to regroup overnight for Sunday morning’s semifinal. As soon as Manitoba finished getting waxed by Ontario, they were required by event organizers to drive to a beer-soaked social hall for a mandatory attendance (for all teams) awards banquet.
Jones, Lawes and lead Dawn Askin all received first-team all-star awards, while Officer received a second-team award. But Jones, a nursing mother, was less than impressed with the late-night sojourn prior to a crucial game that begins Sunday morning at 9 a.m. local time.
"I don’t love it, but it’s something obviously we’ll do," said Jones. "But to go out at 10:30 at night when you have to play in the morning — and I have Isabella to take care of in between. So we’ll do that first and then head over and then try to get to bed as soon as possible."