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A shot at history

Jennifer Jones chasing unprecedented seventh national title against stacked Scotties field

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2019 (618 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SYDNEY, N.S. — Even now, it's hard for Jennifer Jones to believe a year has already flown by since she won her record-tying sixth Canadian title. The summer came and went, and then the rocks started roaring again: time flies so fast, she says.

Still, in-between, there was time for Jones and her team. Time to let the roller-coaster of the last season sink in, and slide by. Time to get away from the ice, to spend time with family, to give themselves a long and sorely needed rest.

"Take it easy." That was the goal of the off-season, Jones says. They could afford to let it glide easy. The last Olympic quadrennial was over, the new one yet to begin. The old slate was wiped clean; a long grind was ahead.

"We've never, ever been burned out, and it's because we make sure we have a plan," Jones says, chatting days before the Scotties kicks off today in Sydney, N.S. "We've done it for the past two cycles as well. It works for us."

Preview

Continuing the format installed last year, the Scotties sees 16 teams split into two round-robin pools. The top four finishers from each advance to the championship round, where they'll duke it out to seize one of four playoff spots.

Continuing the format installed last year, the Scotties sees 16 teams split into two round-robin pools. The top four finishers from each advance to the championship round, where they'll duke it out to seize one of four playoff spots.

Pool A

On paper, Pool A seems to be the group of death. Dominated by Ontario's Homan, Manitoba's Fleury and Alberta's Carey, there is also Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville, who has been a sharp competitor in her last two Scotties.

That leaves a tough uphill climb to make the championship round for the other four contenders: Nova Scotia's Jill Brothers; 20-year-old Quebecer Gabrielle Lavoie; British Columbia's Sarah Wark, and Nunavut's Jenine Bodner.

Pool B

Pool B might have more opportunity for teams on the bubble. Barring an unprecedented collapse, Canadian champ Jones will move on to the championship round, as will the wild card team. But which other two teams will advance?

Saskatchewan's Robyn Silvernagle is likely; she's put together a strong season with a team that includes former provincial skip Stefanie Lawton at third. But the last championship round spot is wide open for a rising contender.

In the mix: Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt, Northwest Territories stalwart Kerry Galusha, New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford, Yukon's Nicole Baldwin and Newfoundland's Kelli Sharpe, who once threw third for Galusha.

And they needed the rest. The 2017-18 campaign had been an emotional one, studded with triumphs and aching disappointment, capped by a goodbye that put a ribbon around one of curling history's most famous partnerships.

They'd fallen short at the Olympic trials, an ache salved when third Kaitlyn Lawes won Olympic mixed doubles gold. But they regrouped to win Canada and then, with Lawes back in the hack, blazed unbeaten through the world field.

Jones won her sixth Canadian title in North Bay last year.

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Jones won her sixth Canadian title in North Bay last year.

That day, as they embraced on the ice in North Bay, Ont., the tears fell heavier than most: it would be the last time they'd win with longtime second Jill Officer, who'd recently announced her retirement as a full-time member.

So this season, Jones says, their guiding light has been just to have fun. They had their place at the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts assured as Team Canada, neatly avoiding the shooting gallery to escape crowded Manitoba.

Plus, they wanted to give new second Jocelyn Peterman time to settle in, to get used to her new front-end partner Dawn McEwen and to the skip. So far, Peterman — previously second for Chelsea Carey — has been a perfect fit.

"She's exactly what we thought she'd be," Jones says. "Amazing person, great teammate. She's got all the shots."

Now, Jones will need every one of those shots as she prepares to lead her team into the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. If they are to defend their Canadian title in Sydney, then it will take her team giving everything they've got.

(By the by, Officer will be along for the ride as alternate: she will doubtless throw rocks at some point.)

For Jones, every Scotties is now a chance to make history. If she wins Canada again, she will set a new all-time record, passing the high-water mark of six she tied last year, first set by Nova Scotia curling icon Colleen Jones.

It won't be easy. Sydney will feature one of the most competitive national fields in years, loaded with top-end talent: notably, it's the first time since 2015 that the Scotties has included both Jones and Ontario dynamo Rachel Homan.

Ontario's Rachel Homan is going into the Scotties with a 51-13 record.

NATACHA PISARENKO / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Ontario's Rachel Homan is going into the Scotties with a 51-13 record.

And Homan has been electrifying this year, silencing critics after her Olympic disappointment. She's won five of the nine World Curling Tour events she's competed and qualified in all the rest. Her record going into Scotties is 51-13.

That right there makes it a tough fight. Then you add hotshots including Alberta's Carey, expat Manitoban and 2016 Canadian champion, or Manitoba's Tracy Fleury, fresh off a stellar playdown effort to win the buffalo jacket.

Plus, there is whoever comes out of tonight's wild-card game, which will pit Gimli's Kerri Einarson — the second-ranked team in Canada — against Alberta's Casey Scheidegger for a last-chance bid to make the Scotties draw.

If Einarson wins, it would be the second year in a row the 16-team field will include four current or former Manitoba champions. But no matter which of them takes the wild card's black jacket, they will be a serious playoff threat.

There are other contenders. Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville is seeded ninth, in part because she doesn't travel as much as other teams; but she is dangerous at Scotties, having made the semifinal and final in her last two visits.

Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville made the Scotties semifinal in her last two visits.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville made the Scotties semifinal in her last two visits.

So Jones will enter Sydney as a favourite, although not — as she was in 2018 — a runaway one.

At 44, Jones is still one of the most daunting skips on the circuit, but she is not as dominant as she once was. Other teams have caught up: this season, Jones sits at third on the Canadian team rankings, trailing Homan and Einarson.

But even in the current "take it easy" season, her team has been solid. They've gone 39-21 on the tour circuit and qualified for playoffs in all of the nine events they entered, except one: January's Canadian Open was the lone flop.

Early Games To Watch

Click to Expand

Friday, Feb. 15, 5:30 p.m. - Wild Card Game

Manitoba's Kerri Einarson faces Alberta's Carey Scheidegger in a winner-take-all battle for the last Scotties berth. Einarson won the black jacket last year, when the wild card made its debut; will she get back to black for 2019?

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7:30 a.m. - Manitoba vs. Ontario

Too bad this match is banished to the morning draw, because Homan-Fleury clash could make playoff ripples. Fleury's only faced Homan twice this season, and lost both; but with a good showing, she could edge past her.

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 5:30 p.m. - Canada vs. Wild Card

If Einarson does win the wild card, this could be one of the highlights of the week. These days, sparks fly whenever the Manitoba rivals face off: their 2018 Scotties 1-vs-2 Page tilt was a showstopper, and we'd love to see it again.

And the skip still has the razzle-dazzle. When she won a record-setting fourth Canada Cup in December, she did it with a highlight-reel hit, one of the best fans have seen all year. It was a long runback double to score three over Einarson.

"We're really happy with our season," she says. "We’ve lost in a couple quarters and semis, a shot here and a shot there we'd like to take back... but we won the Canada Cup, which was one of our goals. And it's been a ton of fun."

Now, she's going into Scotties on a high note. She is fresh off the TSN All-Star Curling Skins Game in Banff, where she beat Scheidegger and Fleury to clinch $51,000 in prize money; not bad, for two games and a weekend's work.

"It was fun," Jones says. "We got to play with tons of rocks in play, and having to draw a lot. It’s great practice and we had a training camp right after. So we felt really good, felt like we had really prepared heading into the Scotties."

The 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts runs through to Feb. 24. The tournament round robin kicks off Saturday, with the playoff-placement battles of the championship round set for Thursday and Friday of next week.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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History

Updated on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 10:03 AM CST: Corrects times given in sidebar

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