CHARLOTTETOWN -- Everyone wanted this game to mean something.
And it's going to mean something when Team Manitoba's Cathy Overton-Clapham plays Team Canada's Jennifer Jones here at the Canadian women's curling championship tonight (TSN, 5:30 p.m.) -- just not in the way everyone expected.
No one expected -- not the fans, not the media and certainly not the players involved -- that Overton-Clapham would head into tonight's long-anticipated grudge match with her former skip having already been eliminated from the playoffs.
The five-time Canadian champion, who staged a thrilling upset to win the Manitoba women's title last month, was widely expected to be a playoff contender here this week as she headed into the first head-to-head matchup with Jones since the latter fired Overton-Clapham as her third last spring.
But what is even more shocking is that Overton-Clapham finds herself in such dire straits here tonight that her contest with Jones has a meaning for her team that has nothing to do with making the playoffs here and everything to do with not making Manitoba curling history of the most unenviable kind.
With a 1-6 record heading into today, Overton-Clapham is seriously flirting with setting a record for futility by a Manitoba team at this event.
Until now, that record has belonged to Barb Spencer, who went 2-9 at the 2009 Scotties to go down as the worst team Manitoba has ever sent to the Canadian women's curling championship.
The notion that the winningest curler in the history of Manitoba suddenly finds herself in jeopardy of also becoming the skip of the worst women's team Manitoba ever sent to the national stage was inconceivable less than a week ago.
And yet such is the sorry fate that has befallen Overton-Clapham and Manitoba here this week with another two losses on Tuesday -- 8-7 to Nova Scotia's Heather Smith-Dacey on the morning draw and 6-5 to Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink last night to officially find herself eliminated from playoff contention.
Put it altogether and the best Overton-Clapham can hope for against Jones tonight is to save a little face and maybe play a little spoiler.
"I don't want come here to win one game or two games," Overton-Clapham said last night. "We came here to make the playoffs and that's not going to happen. So we want to finish off on a strong note for sure.
"It will be exciting. The place will be packed. It will be fun to be part of."
Indeed, the game has attracted huge local interest. Although P.E.I. is not playing on tonight's draw, the CCA reported Tuesday night there were just a handful of tickets remaining.
Overton-Clapham did insert fifth Breanne Meakin at third against Nova Scotia yesterday, but then took her back out against Alberta last night. It's unclear what her lineup will be today.
While Jones is widely regarded as wearing the black hat in this affair, she said yesterday she has never yet heard or read a negative word about her handling of the Overton-Clapham affair.
"It's amazing the support we've received. We've gotten so many emails, people texting and phoning us, it's been incredible the support we've gotten.
"I have not had one person come up to me and say anything negative, outside of the media."
While her opponent tonight will limp into the game, Jones said she has no illusions about the challenge she will face against Manitoba.
"They're a great team and I expect them to really play well against us. I hope we can go out there and both teams have some fun. I'm assuming TSN will be showing the game. I just want it to be a good show for Canada and show everyone what curling is all about."
At least one neutral observer expressed sympathy with Overton-Clapham heading into tonight, noting her Manitoba teammates have not been equal to the task at hand here this week.
"To be frank, I think it's a bit of an unfair battle," Alberta third Amy Nixon said last night
"I don't think Cathy O has the horses she needs. She was unreal against us. She kept them in it the whole game."