MONTREAL -- In the opening ends of this Scotties' first playoff game, it seemed Rachel Homan might read from the script they've been writing all week.
Which script? Oh, you know, the one about four hot-shooting curlers who can light the rings up brighter than a fireworks display in these velveteen Montreal nights. The one about a razor-sharp young rink that sliced undefeated through the Tournament of Hearts' round robin, cutting up 11 games with near-surgical precision. One about the defending Canadian champions, looking for all the world like nothing would stop their repeat march.
That's what it looked like at first, anyway -- but then, Chelsea Carey came to play.
The Manitoban skip couldn't eke out a win in Friday night's top Page playoff, falling 5-4 to Homan. But her foursome made it a heck of a game, woven through with tight shots and clever plays. There was that sixth end, for instance, where Carey, third Kristy McDonald, second Kristen Foster and lead Lindsay Titheridge choked up the house so tight Homan was forced to cough up a steal of one.
In the end, they couldn't quite get the job done. Homan carried the hammer, and a game tied at four apiece, into the 10th end, and played it out straight. And although Homan still hasn't had to throw her final rock yet in this Scotties -- not once in 12 games -- this was as close as she'd come to having to make one last big play. "It was pretty crazy," Homan said, moments after the handshakes. "That's all right. We battled through, and we stayed tough, and pulled it out right to the end."
After an opening blank, Homan cashed in for three in the second end, thanks to a laser-beam double kill.
"We like making big shots," Homan said. "If I miss, I mean, it sucks, but it's early in the game. They played amazing, but because we got up that three, we could still make mistakes and still win it in the game."
Carey blanked the third, and in the fourth end her plans were foiled again when the Canadian champions made two beauties: One, a pretty raise takeout from Homan second Alison Kreviazuk, the other a gentle double kill Homan delivered bang-on. With nothing else to play, Carey took the draw for one and moved on.
Then the Manitobans hoisted themselves into the driver's seat, albeit with the help of a few Homan rink misses.
By the final rock of the fifth end, Carey and her crew were laying three in the rings without a Homan rock around. The Ontario skipper played it conservative, going for a takeout, but her shooter didn't roll close enough to the button.
That handed Carey a steal of one. After the break, she stole another; then the bison crew forced Homan to take a single in the seventh end, and Manitoba carried the hammer into the eighth, with Carey shooting 100 per cent that deep in the game.
There, Homan managed to hold Manitoba to a single to tie the game at four. She couldn't stop Homan, Kreviazuk, third Emma Miskew and lead Lisa Weagle from blanking the ninth end. So in the final frame, Homan and her teammates kept the house wide open, and the Manitobans' hope to force a steal melted away. That's the game.
"You can't go too aggressive in nine, because you can't really give her a deuce," Carey said. "You're trying to get a force out of it, but there wasn't much going on there."
And then in the 10th?
"I mean, Lisa Weagle makes two perfect ticks, and the game's over," Carey shrugged. "That's the challenge being tied coming home without against them, is that she's so good at that shot. What can you do? It was a good battle, and hopefully we get another shot at them in the final."
Because Team Manitoba may meet the Homan crew one more time this Scotties, if they can claim victory in this afternoon's semifinal. Their opponent will be decided this morning, in the second Page playoff between Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton, and Alberta's Val Sweeting.
And while Homan will be waiting, the Manitobans are hungry to take a third shot at the defending champ. They've beaten Homan before. With another chance, they could again.
"We know we can play with them," Carey said. "We know that they can beat us, and we can beat them. I think there's a lot of mutual respect there."