There are two major women's curling events on the local calendar before Christmas. Jennifer Jones will be an Olympian if the second one goes nearly as well as the first.
Jones went a perfect 7-0 through the $60,000 Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Women's Curling Classic at Fort Rouge over the weekend, which also just happened to be the final score of her emphatic win in the final over fellow Winnipegger Jill Thurston.
Jones scored three in the first end against Thurston, added a steal in the third end and had Thurston offering handshakes after a steal of three more in the fourth had the Jones foursome up a converted touchdown at halftime.
The win in the final was in keeping with a dominating performance all weekend by a Jones team that outscored their seven opponents by an eye-popping 48-17 -- and that in a field including the expected Olympic curling representatives from Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden and Russia.
But while this win on home ice -- and the $15,000 oversized novelty cheque that came with it -- was nice, it pales in comparison with the biggest prize of all up for grabs the next time Jones takes to the ice at a curling event in Manitoba.
That will happen in December when Jones and a field of seven other Canadian women's teams compete at the MTS Centre for the right to represent Canada in curling at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi against some of those very same international opponents Jones just finished dispatching with relative ease.
Jones said she's hopeful all the same things that worked in her favour at Fort Rouge -- a hometown crowd, great ice, her parents nearby to help with young daughter Isabella -- will also tip the balance in her favour in December at an Olympic curling trials event that has thus far only frustrated her in an otherwise charmed curling career.
"We're just so excited to play at home, honestly," Jones said Monday night. "Just to have the hometown crowd and the energy, and I think they're going to do a fantastic job. We've done everything we've wanted to do and hopefully that means great things for December."
How impressive was Jones at Fort Rouge? Well consider this: The Jones foursome was actually playing as a threesome -- Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes and lead Dawn McEwen -- plus a spare all weekend.
After longtime Jones second Jill Officer decided to take the weekend off with what was described as a "tweaked" back, the Jones team tracked down Ashley Howard on the other side of the country to fly to their rescue.
Howard -- the daughter of hall of famer Russ Howard and the former second for Cathy Overton-Clapham -- was visiting family in New Brunswick when the call came last Wednesday.
"I took the red-eye back here and played at 9 a.m. in the morning (on Friday)," said Howard, who is without a team this fall and said she felt like she won the lottery. "This was fantastic. I couldn't have picked a nicer group of girls to play with. Or a better group of players.
"I had to try to miss -- they're just that good. With that line-calling and sweeping, it's hard to miss."
The loss in the final was bittersweet for a Thurston team that had to peel off six straight sudden-death wins in a row to get to the final after losing their first two games.
"We started off so rough and then to rattle off that many wins a row, I'm happy with that for sure," said Thurston, who was supported by third Brette Richards, second Brandi Oliver, lead Blaine DeJager and spare D'Arcy Maywood.
"We put a really good string of games together and that should only help a new team like ours build for the season."
LOOSEHAIRS -- Jones's victory marked just the third time in nine years a local team won what is annually the province's richest women's bonspiel. Winnipeg's Chelsea Carey won in 2010, while Jones also won in 2005... Jones had just $4,000 in earnings coming into the weekend and will now vault from 27th on the women's tour money list to the Top 5...Winnipeg's Barb Spencer made it to the semifinals before losing to Thurston... Winnipeg's Janet Harvey lost a quarter-final to Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni.
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