Kaitlyn Lawes has spent the past couple of years in the shadow of her skip, Jennifer Jones.
She had centre stage all to herself on Saturday, however.
Skipping in place of Jones, Lawes authored one of the best performances of her career in a 9-5 win over reigning Canadian champion Heather Nedohin in the women’s semifinal of the Canada Cup of Curling in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Playing in the only game on the ice and before a coast-to-coast live television audience, Lawes was masterful all game — but never better than on her final stone of the 10th end when she negotiated a tiny port to freeze on a Nedohin counter on the back four-foot to extinguish any designs the Alberta skip had on a game-tying deuce.
When the dust settled, Lawes had shot 94 per cent, an almost unheard of number for a women’s skip in a major championship.
"It just felt great today and it worked out for us," Lawes said afterward. "Heather’s team played really well today too. It’s a really fun game to play when both teams make a lot of good shots."
Lawes had struggled mightily throughout the round-robin and finished last in shooting percentage among the seven skips in the field at just 63 per cent — 15 points less than the leading percentage of Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton.
But Lawes appeared to finally find her game with an 83 per cent performance in a critical win over Chelsea Carey on the final round-robin draw Friday night and then somehow got even better Saturday in the semifinal against Nedohin.
"I just got more confident as the week went on," Lawes explained. "I haven’t skipped a lot on arena ice before and so it was just a matter of getting through the bumps. Fortunately, we won a couple of games early on that got us into a good position."
Trailing 3-1 Saturday, Lawes took advantage of a Nedohin mistake to go ahead with a three-ender in the fifth and never trailed again, adding a deuce in seven and a single in nine to head home up 7-5 without the hammer.
Nedohin appeared to have a game-tying deuce in play in the 10th end, until Lawes used her final stone of the game to paper two staggered guards and then lock her own rock onto a Nedohin counter at the back of the four-foot to extinguish the threat for good.
And so with that, Lawes and the rest of her makeshift foursome — third Kirsten Wall, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin — advance to this morning’s Canada Cup women’s final against Lawton (9:30 a.m., TSN).
Unlike Lawton, Lawes and company don’t require the berth into the 2013 Canadian Curling Trials that will be up for grabs.
But the $14,000 first prize and a chance to also earn a spot in the 2014 Continental Cup in Las Vegas will be plenty enough motivation, Lawes says.
"We keep saying that the more we get to play on arena ice, the better it will be for us heading into the Trials," Lawes said of the event that will be held next December at the MTS Centre.
It is the second year in a row Lawes and company will play in the Canada Cup final. With Jones skipping, they won their Trials berth in last year’s final by defeating Carey.
Jones has not been curling with her team this season as she took time off to have a baby on Nov. 13. She is expected to rejoin the team when they play in the 2013 Continental Cup in Penticton, B.C. next month and is also expected to skip the team in the Manitoba women’s provincials at the end of January.
That means today’s game against Lawton will be the final game for the reconfigured Jones foursome with Lawes at skip and the Midland, Ont.-based Wall playing third. "It’s kind of bittersweet," said Lawes. "We’re super-excited to have Jen coming back, but it’s also been so much fun having Kirsten with us. It’s been a good first half of the season."
If Lawes wins today, the Trials berth that is available to the Canada Cup winner would be transferred instead to a pool of three other Trials berths that will be awarded at the conclusion of this curling season based on teams’ standings on the Canadian Team Ranking System points race.