Coming into this week’s Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre, no Manitoba-based women’s team had ever so much as even qualified for a Canadian curling trials final, much less won it.
Well, Jennifer Jones is halfway to history.
With a heart-stopping 7-6 win over defending Canadian champion Rachel Homan Wednesday night, the Jones foursome improved to 5-1 and have now clinched first place overall in the round robin and a berth in Saturday night’s women’s final, where the winning team earns the right to go to Sochi in February to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.
Not that Jones — or any other member of her team, for that matter — knew, however.
Moments after stealing the game-winning point in the 10th end against Homan to secure their bye to the final, Jones was asked by reporters what it felt like to be just one more game away from being an Olympian.
"Oh are we? Are we in the final? Wow — I had no idea. Yay!," Jones blubbered. "I really had no idea. I thought for sure we clinched a playoff spot and we were happy with that."
Jones had a lot more than just making the playoffs to be happy about Wednesday night. With just three of the eight teams in the women’s field advancing to the weekend playoff round, there is a big advantage to finishing first this week and earning a bye directly to Saturday’s final, while the second and third place teams must first play in Friday night’s semifinal.
Who finishes second and third in the women’s field, meanwhile, is still very much up in the air — and Winnipeg’s Chelsea Carey is also still very much involved. With a 6-4 win over Edmonton’s Val Sweeting, Carey improved to 4-2 and heads into the final women’s draw of the round-robin this afternoon needing a win over Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh to finish second and earn her team the hammer and choice of rocks in the semifinal.
One thing at a time, said Carey.
"I wouldn’t say we’re so close — we’re still a bunch of games away from anything," Carey said. "We just wanted to come out and put on a good show and make some shots and we’ve done that. So we’re going to try to keep doing it and just enjoy the experience and see where we end up."
Four teams come into today tied for third place at 3-3 — Middaugh, Homan, Sweeting and 2012 Canadian women’s champion Heather Nedohin.
Jones’s win over Homan — a replay of last February’s Canadian women’s championship final won by Homan — wasn’t exactly a classic, with both teams missing opportunities to put the other away. But in a game filled with mistakes, Homan made the last one with the game tied 6-6 in the 10th end.
After Jones used her final rock of the game to make a perfect freeze to two Homan rocks nestled on the four-foot, the Ontario skip sailed a draw attempt into the back rings to hand Jones the game-winning steal.
It’s the second time this week Homan missed a game-winning draw — and just like the first time she did it, she once again blamed ice conditions.
"We deserved that win," Homan protested. "But that’s all right. They got away with one. And we’ll get them back."
All of which is bold talk from a woman who has yet to secure a playoff spot at this event, much less a berth in the final against Jones.
The Jones team, meanwhile, knows exactly where they’ll be Saturday evening. Plus, with a win in their final round-robin game today against Nedohin, they would also secure hammer and colour of rocks in the final.
"We’re right where we want to be," said Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes. "That’s exciting."
While Jones and Carey could still finish tied at 5-2 at the end of today’s round robin, Jones would still clinch first in that scenario because she beat Carey when the two teams faced each other on the very first draw.
An all-Manitoba women’s final, now very much in play, would be a dream matchup for event organizers, of course. The Roar has drawn 76,713 spectators through 11 draws this week and crowds will have to pick up dramatically through the weekend if this event is going to top the 165,000 spectators that attended the 2008 Brier — a mark host committee chairman Mitch Tarapasky pledged before this event began would fall.