September 24, 2018

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Jones wins clash of titans at worlds

Canada keeps streak going in round robin

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press</p><p>Jennifer Jones shakes hands with Sweden second Agnes Knochenhauer following Canada’s victory on Wednesday in North Bay, Ont. Canada faces Russia and Italy today, and Japan and the U.S. on Friday to close out the round robin.</p></p>

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press

Jennifer Jones shakes hands with Sweden second Agnes Knochenhauer following Canada’s victory on Wednesday in North Bay, Ont. Canada faces Russia and Italy today, and Japan and the U.S. on Friday to close out the round robin.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/3/2018 (186 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NORTH BAY, Ont. — It wasn’t a playoff day, but sometimes it felt like one. The big games weren’t for a championship, not yet, but they had all the thrills you’d see at the end: the names, the drama, the sound.

Oh, the sound, the sound, the music peculiar to all veteran curling crowds. It rose and fell with the shots, swelling to a roar before hushing to a pianissimo hum. A whole song of fans’ hope, riding on rolling rocks.

This time, Jennifer Jones gave those faithful and fervent fans in North Bay exactly what they wanted on Wednesday.

On what could be the most pivotal day of the 2018 world women’s curling championship round robin, Jones and her Canada foursome faced down a one-two punch of new Olympic medallists, and stayed perfect.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/3/2018 (186 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NORTH BAY, Ont. — It wasn’t a playoff day, but sometimes it felt like one. The big games weren’t for a championship, not yet, but they had all the thrills you’d see at the end: the names, the drama, the sound.

Oh, the sound, the sound, the music peculiar to all veteran curling crowds. It rose and fell with the shots, swelling to a roar before hushing to a pianissimo hum. A whole song of fans’ hope, riding on rolling rocks.

This time, Jennifer Jones gave those faithful and fervent fans in North Bay exactly what they wanted on Wednesday.

On what could be the most pivotal day of the 2018 world women’s curling championship round robin, Jones and her Canada foursome faced down a one-two punch of new Olympic medallists, and stayed perfect.

In the afternoon, it was an 8-4 win over Pyeongchang silver medallist EunJung Kim (South Korea). At night, in a battle of past and present Olympic champs, Jones collected another 8-4 win over Anna Hasselborg (Sweden).

Those sparkling results lifted Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen to 8-0 on the week. What is even better, the win over Sweden meant that Canada is the last undefeated team.

They weren’t perfect games. In both, Canada struggled with draw weight. In the first end against Sweden, for instance, Jones needed only the full 12-foot for a deuce. But her last draw stopped short, leaving her with one.

Meanwhile, the Swedish crew also struggled to hold steady in the evening game. Jones missed more draws, but Hasselborg flubbed more on hits; the Swedish skip finished shooting 64 per cent, her Canadian counterpart 66.

The difference was that Canada delivered more dazzling shots when they were most needed.

"It’s still a little bit challenging out there for speed," Officer said, after her team defeated Sweden. "It’s just kind of the way the ice has been, and today it was just patchy... If you get a little outside of the broom, the speed comes off.

"We’re doing our best to manage it, but it can be challenging."

Clearly, they found a way to manage it on Wednesday, the midway point of the round robin. And at Memorial Gardens, a 63-year-old arena so intimate it feels as if fans are hovering over the ice, that brought the noise.

The crowd has been the talk of the town through the first half of the round robin. Wednesday only polished that reputation, as fans filled the stands with a sea of red and white, and lifted Team Jones with thunderous cheers.

They erupted in just the fourth end of Canada’s win against South Korea, when Jones began to climb back from a rocky start with a pair of slick hit and rolls for a deuce. When she made them, fans leaped to their feet in sheer excitement.

It would happen again in the seventh, when Jones picked up two on a draw that came down to a hair, a prayer and a measure. When that came up in her favour, fans chanted "go Canada go" as the skipper exhaled in relief.

It’s like that every time Canada takes the ice. It’s like that when they walk out in the pre-game parade. It’s been like that, Jones said, ever since they took their first few slides at their pre-tournament practice last week.

"I can’t even believe our afternoon games are like this," Jones said, after the win against Kim. "It’s awesome."

The afternoon game didn’t start well for the Canadians. The South Koreans, who played in the morning, were sharp but Jones’ team struggled with draw weight, giving up a steal of one in the very first end, and another in the sixth.

"It was probably about 10 feet heavier than it had been," Jones said. "It was hard to believe you had to throw that much more weight. We kept coming up short. Eventually we threw it harder, and better things happened."

Once they locked into the weight, they bit down on the game. Jones sealed it in the ninth, when a laser double kill left her lying three. That time, it was Kim’s draw that fell short, handing Canada a steal of two and the game.

The crowd, ecstatic, roared as if the Jones foursome had just won the whole darn tournament. And if it’s already this loud, and this wildly energetic, just halfway through the round robin — what will venue be like in the playoffs?

Well, they’ll likely have a chance to find out and for Officer, who is stepping back from regular play after this season, the vibe makes it all the more special. The last time they played a worlds in Canada was 2010.

"You almost forget what it’s like to play a worlds at home," Officer said. "Now we’re getting cheered every time we just show up in the building. It’s pretty special... we’re just really trying to soak it up, and love every minute."

Now, it’s time for the home stretch. Canada has four games remaining in the round robin, and their toughest opponents are now in the rearview mirror. Next on the docket, they’ll face Russia (6-2) and Italy (2-7) today.

Canada will close their round robin on Friday with games against Japan (4-4) and the United States (4-4).

Of the 13 teams competing in North Bay this week, six will make the playoff cut. The top two teams after the round robin will head straight to one of two semifinals; the other four will duke it out in a qualification game.

The playoffs begin Saturday morning, with the championship final set for 2 p.m. Sunday.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

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