KINGSTON, ONT. -- And with that, the real show can finally begin.
Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, Ontario's Rachel Homan and Canada's Heather Nedohin continued to shred the competition on Day 4 at the Canadian women's curling championship on Tuesday and make an emphatic case that the only matter still to be determined here this week is which of the three undefeated teams remaining will win this year's national championship.
In her only game of the day, Jones throttled a hopeless -- and winless -- Alberta foursome 9-6 last night to improve to 6-0. That's the same record as Ontario and Canada, who also won their only games last night to improve to 6-0 -- Ontario 8-4 over Quebec and Canada 7-5 over B.C.
Put it all together and the Big 3 in this event are now two wins clear of the rest of the field heading into this afternoon, when the first head-to-head matchup between the teams will finally occur as Manitoba's Jones faces Canada's Nedohin in the only game of the day for both teams.
But if you're thinking the two teams have been hotly anticipating this matchup and the chance to use it as a measuring stick, you'd be wrong.
Both Jones and Nedohin separately protested last night that they didn't even know they were playing each other until reporters told them,
"OK... And what time?" Nedohin replied when informed of her opponent today. "I'm being honest -- we go day by day."
Jones had a similar response. "Heather? Nedohin?" she replied when asked about her team's record this season against the defending Canadian champions.
Jones, who missed most of this season as she recuperated from knee surgery and delivering a baby, said she was unsure if her team had faced Nedohin in her absence.
But Nedohin recalled vividly a meeting in the semifinal at last December's Canada Cup between her team and the Jones squad -- minus Jones and with third Kaitlyn Lawes skipping.
Lawes won that game 9-5 but went on to lose the final to Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton. "It was a fabulous game. Kaitlyn had a wonderful game," recalled Nedohin.
Indeed, Lawes shot 94 per cent in the win over Nedohin. And it might take something similar today if Manitoba is going to keep their undefeated record intact against a Team Canada foursome that is making very clear with their dominating play this week that last year's Cinderella title run was no fluke.
Meanwhile, lost in the focus on today's marquee matchup between Canada and Manitoba has been Ontario, who continued yesterday to do as they have all week -- score early and often and make short work of obviously overmatched opponents.
"We always try and play with a bit of confidence," said Homan. "We've been preparing so long for this and practising all the shots you need to make and really working on everything we need to (do) to get here... We're trying to keep our confidence up."
Ontario plays their only game today against Saskatchewan, who dropped to 4-2 last night with their second consecutive loss after opening at 4-0, thanks to an early schedule of soft opponents.
Manitoba, meanwhile, is in the midst of an extraordinarily light schedule of a different kind.
In a bid to do away with unpopular mid-week morning draws, the Canadian Curling Association put a new schedule in place for this event and the Brier next month in which there are only afternoon and evening draws on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
For Manitoba, that has meant just one game a day Tuesday and today before closing with four games over the final two days of the round robin -- against Ontario and Quebec on Thursday and against New Brunswick and Saskatchewan on Friday.
LOOSE HAIRS -- Manitoba native Sarah Wazney, the lead for B.C., missed both her team's games on Tuesday with illness... Alberta fifth Renee Sonnenberg filled in at skip last night against Manitoba for Kristie Moore, who Sonnenberg said was feeling overwhelmed by a brutal 0-5 start for her team this week. "Kristie is mentally exhausted. She just said, 'I don't have it in me. I'm overreacting to little mistakes.' She just wasn't confident... She said, 'Would you mind stepping in?' "