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After 10 months away, Jones looks like she never left

Skip in top form with last rock draw at Continental Cup

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She's had knee surgery, delivered a baby and endured a 10-month absence from curling competition.

And yet the Jennifer Jones that marked her return to competitive curling with an apprearance at the Continental Cup in Penticton, B.C., on Thursday looked and played like she'd never been away at all.

Just as she's done so many times before, the Winnipeg skip cooly drew the four-foot with her last rock Thursday morning to score a final end deuce and salvage a 6-6 tie against Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson on the opening draw of curling's version of golf's Ryder Cup.

The tie earned Jones and North America a half-point and allowed them to avoid what otherwise would have been an opening draw sweep by Team World in all three women's games.

Put it altogether and it would appear that Jones made her belated return to curling this winter in pretty much the same position as she left the sport at the end of last winter -- as one of the game's best shooters in pressure situations.

"It was just so much fun to be back on the ice and competing again," Jones said in a phone interview. "It felt really good. I can always be better, of course. That's what the sport is all about.

"But I feel really confident and really good -- way better than I could have expected... Honestly, I feel like I haven't been away from the ice at all."

In a way, that's because she hasn't been. Jones says she practised every day this fall and winter with the exception of about two weeks immediately before and after the November birth of daughter Isabella.

Add to that a training regimen in the gym throughout her time away and Jones is hoping it will all mean a seamless return to the sport this month -- first this weekend in Penticton and then again in Stonewall at the end of the month where she will be attempting to win her sixth Manitoba women's curling championship.

Jones said the abbreviated format and relatively light schedule of the 12-team, four-day Continental Cup made it a perfect event for her to make her return to competitive curling.

And even better is that her partner -- and Isabella's father -- Brent Laing is also in Penticton this week as second for Glenn Howard's Team North America rink.

The event gives the couple, which continues to live in different cities, the chance to spend some time together as a young family off the ice.

And it will also provide them a unique opportunity on the ice on Saturday morning, when Jones and Laing will for the first time ever compete together in the quirky mixed doubles event that was pioneered at the Continental Cup.

"It's awesome. To come back and be able to play with Brent and to have Brent here to help with Isabella, I couldn't really ask for a better scenario," said Jones.

"And playing mixed doubles together should be a blast. It's an experience we never thought we'd really have. It's pretty special, we're really excited."

Team World led Team North America 4-2 after the first two draws on Thursday. The first team to 31 points wins the event, which concludes on Sunday.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2013 C8

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Updated on Friday, January 11, 2013 at 9:53 AM CST: replaces photo

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