July 22, 2018

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Officer: 'Let's get this done'

Jones and company will miss team's emotional breaker switch

NORTH BAY, Ont. — Years ago, when they were young, Jennifer Jones made her friend Jill Officer a promise. It was the kind of vow that would usually be easy to make, harder to keep, especially as new pressures mounted.

As long as Jones was calling shots, she pledged, then Officer would have a spot on her team.

This is the story of one of curling's most enduring partnerships, and Jones has told it before. It's the tale of a bond that has spanned 23 seasons on the ice, and most of the skip and second's lives away from the sheet.

That's a vanishing rarity in the increasingly mercenary world of top-end curling. Today, most elite players join forces for one Olympic quadrennial, or maybe two. But not for virtually all of their junior and women's careers.

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NORTH BAY, Ont. — Years ago, when they were young, Jennifer Jones made her friend Jill Officer a promise. It was the kind of vow that would usually be easy to make, harder to keep, especially as new pressures mounted.

As long as Jones was calling shots, she pledged, then Officer would have a spot on her team.

Skip Jennifer Jones, bottom and second Jill Officer, top, during the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The two curlers have one of the sports most enduring partnerships.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/NATHAN DENETTE

Skip Jennifer Jones, bottom and second Jill Officer, top, during the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The two curlers have one of the sports most enduring partnerships.

This is the story of one of curling's most enduring partnerships, and Jones has told it before. It's the tale of a bond that has spanned 23 seasons on the ice, and most of the skip and second's lives away from the sheet.

That's a vanishing rarity in the increasingly mercenary world of top-end curling. Today, most elite players join forces for one Olympic quadrennial, or maybe two. But not for virtually all of their junior and women's careers.

"It almost has to be a record," Jones says. "I can’t think of anybody else who’s done it for that long."

And through it all, there was never a time when she and Officer considered parting ways.

For real, Jones says, chatting in North Bay's Memorial Gardens arena, in the calm after Friday morning's world championship draw. People ask her that question all the time, but sometimes seem skeptical of the answer.

"I think people think it's just lip service sometimes," she says. "Honestly, we really do like each other. We love each other. We respect each other as teammates, but we really, really like each other as people."

Yet there has to have been some friction, right? Something that once frayed ties between them?

Cathy Overton-Clapham (left), Georgina Wheatcroft, Jill Officer and skip Jennifer Jones (right) share a laugh during the Canadian womens curling championships in 2006.

(CP PHOTO/ADRIAN WYLD)

Cathy Overton-Clapham (left), Georgina Wheatcroft, Jill Officer and skip Jennifer Jones (right) share a laugh during the Canadian womens curling championships in 2006.

"No," Jones replies. "On the ice, or whatever. But there's no 'big team-meeting' type friction."

The proof, so much as they can offer, is this: for the skip, Officer is "like a sister." For lead Dawn McEwen, the joke is that their front-end partnership is more like "husband and wife," an easy, finish-the-sentence friendship.

They are always together. In the winters they're on the road, in planes, crammed in hotel rooms from Europe to North Bay. But even in summer, McEwen and Officer meet for dinner, or take their families camping together.

So this is the truth: when Officer, 42, steps away from full-time play after this season, what scares her teammates most isn't how they'll win without her. (They have full faith in incoming Jocelyn Peterman.)

No, it's how much they're going to miss their friend, after a near lifetime of years, tears and triumphs.

Jill Officer and Dawn Askin return after a shopping trip on their day off at the Women's World Curling Championships in Gangneung, South Korea in 2009.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

Jill Officer and Dawn Askin return after a shopping trip on their day off at the Women's World Curling Championships in Gangneung, South Korea in 2009.

"I told Jill, that's the biggest fear I have, in all of this," Jones says. "That we won't see each other all the time. But nothing will ever change. This is not the end of our life together."

And this weekend's world championship battle isn't the end, not yet: there are two grand slams in April.

Yet when Officer takes the ice in these playoffs, it could be the last time she wears the Maple Leaf in full-time competition. It could be the last time she sweeps one of Jones' rocks into the rings for a most coveted prize.

So it's a good time to reflect on how far Officer has come with Team Jones and what she's meant.

When Officer announced her impending departure earlier this month — she won't use the "retirement" word — it sent ripples through the curling world. After 15 straight seasons, it's hard to picture a Team Jones without her.

A fan of second Jill Officer shows her support in 2005. The attention that Officer gets is a reflection on her longevity in the sport and her role as a team spokesperson.

COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN

A fan of second Jill Officer shows her support in 2005. The attention that Officer gets is a reflection on her longevity in the sport and her role as a team spokesperson.

It's sad, fans Barb Hodgson and Pat Massicotte agree, chatting at the North Bay arena Friday morning.

"To me, she's just one of the best," Massicotte says. "She's so into her game."

For better or worse, front-end players don't typically get so much attention. That Officer does is a reflection on her longevity in the sport, and on her uniquely visible role as a frequent team spokesperson.

It is also this: Officer will leave women's curling a whole lot different than when she found it.

By now, the details of the Jones-Officer duo are familiar. They were just teens when Jones boldly approached Officer behind a Coke machine at the former Highlander Curling Club, and asked if Officer would play for her.

Officer watches the play at the Scott Tournament of Hearts in St. John's, Nfld. in 2005.

(CP PHOTO/ANDREW VAUGHAN)

Officer watches the play at the Scott Tournament of Hearts in St. John's, Nfld. in 2005.

Officer, then just 15 years old and a skip, replied that she'd have to ask her parents.

From then on, they were always in touch. They won two provincial junior championships and one national junior title. They parted ways for awhile, when Officer moved to Brandon for school; they reunited when she was done.

It was a fascinating partnership. While both curlers had strong personalities, they clicked rather then clashed. Jones was ambitious, brimming with visions; Officer would be the first behind her to say "let's get this done."

She was also outgoing and effortlessly extroverted where Jones, at the time, was more shy.

"Jill was like the big second back then," says McEwen, who first met Officer while playing lead for Jenn Hanna. "She was tall and intimidating and boisterous. She just has a really big presence. She was one-of-a-kind."

Jones gives a high five to Officer during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw in 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JONATHAN HAYWARD

Jones gives a high five to Officer during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw in 2015.

At the time, the women's game was changing. Canadian curling had instituted the three-rock rule in 1993, and games were now won as much outside the house as in it. In that milieu, Officer's strengths were explosive.

"It was an evolution in the game, to where it was more aggressive," Jones says. "It was, why can't we as women push our limits? And Jill totally agreed. We were always trying to evolve where women's curling was going."

At the time, Officer wasn't unusually strong on draws. (She developed that part of her game, as time went on.)

But she could throw laser-guided missiles, at a time when few women did. She was tall and fit, and when she wasn't launching off from the hack, she used those arms to drag rocks to paint and carve them behind guards.

That prowess allowed the Jones team to clean up problems in ways other teams could only dream.

Jill Officer reacts after delivering the rock during the women's curling semifinal game against Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Officer's strength and prowess was a weapon for team Jones, one that few others could compete with.

(AP PHOTO/WONG MAYE-E)

Jill Officer reacts after delivering the rock during the women's curling semifinal game against Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Officer's strength and prowess was a weapon for team Jones, one that few others could compete with.

"Now, if you don't have that weapon, you can't compete," Jones says. "Way back then, not every team had it."

In living rooms and curling clubs across the world, the next generation was watching. As a young curler in Alaska, Team USA second Vicky Persinger, 25, used to watch pirated TV feeds of Team Jones at the Scotties.

By the time Persinger began playing against the Jones foursome, she knew to be wary.

"You have to be really careful about where you put your guards," she says of the challenge Officer poses for a competing second. "Just because a double peel is, I don't want to say simple, but it's pretty routine for her."

So that is Officer's legacy to the sport. It's harder to capture the legacy she leaves for her team.

Manitoba second Jill Officer smiles while at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C. Teammate Dawn McEwen calls Officer the "nicest person ever."

THE CANADIAN PRESS/SEAN KILPATRICK

Manitoba second Jill Officer smiles while at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C. Teammate Dawn McEwen calls Officer the "nicest person ever."

They have no shortage of superlatives. Officer is the "nicest person ever," McEwen says, the funniest, the most non-judgmental. The first person you call when you need a pick-me-up or advice, on curling or simply on life.

And she is the team's emotional breaker switch, the one who wears her heart on her sleeve. When Officer's tears start to flow, which they do after every championship win, the rest of the team's also break loose.

That's why the announcement of her departure, at Fort Rouge earlier this month, was so emotional. They'd known her decision since before the Scotties, but once Officer started choking up, that's when it was real.

"When it became public, that's when it really became a reality," McEwen says.

Now, they will look ahead to a new Olympic quadrennial (mostly) without her. They're excited about starting something new with Peterman, a slick hitter who most recently played for expat Manitoban Chelsea Carey.

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Cathy Gauthier, left to right, pose with their trophy  after winning the Scott Tournament of Hearts women's curling championship  in 2005.

(CP PHOTO/ANDREW VAUGHAN)

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Cathy Gauthier, left to right, pose with their trophy after winning the Scott Tournament of Hearts women's curling championship in 2005.

Still, it will be different. To TSN analyst Cathy Gauthier, who helped assemble and played lead on the Team Jones that won the 2005 Scotties, what Officer brought most of all was a loyalty that never once faltered.

In a time where people "ditch and move on" when things go badly, Gauthier says, that's a rarity.

"What makes Jill a standout is her unwavering support for Jen," says Gauthier . "Good shot or bad. Good game or bad. On ice or off. No player in my opinion, either past or present, is as stalwart in her support of the skip.

"That puts a couple of points on the board in games where a skip's confidence struggles."

Yet that part isn't over, not really. Officer will help out next year, as an alternate. She plans to remain their biggest cheerleader, just as she's always been, through championships and heartbreaks and one Olympic gold medal.

That's the game, though. In the life outside the ice, it's a whole lot more simple.

"We love her to death," Jones says. "And we're going to miss her."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

More Images

Canada's Jill Officer throws against Great Britain during women's curling semifinals at the Ice Cube Curling Center during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT) TRIBUNE MEDIA MCT Left to right, Jill Officer, Cathy Gauthier, Jennifer Jones, Trish Eck, and Cathy Overton-Clapham gather for a photograph before departing to Scotland from Winnipeg monday afternoon to represent Canada in the 2005 World Womens Curling Championship. JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Skip Jennifer Jones, lead Cathy Gauthier, second Jill Officer and third Cathy Overton-Clapham, left to right, in their new Team Canada uniforms at the World Women's Curling Championship in Scotland, 2005. (CP PHOTO/ANDREW VAUGHAN) Officer poses with the Canadian flag at the base camp of Mount Everest on on Kala Pattar in May, 2006. (CP PHOTO/HO) Team Canada's Dawn Askin, Jill Officer, Cathy Overton Clapham and skip Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, celebrate after defeating China 7-4 to capture the World championships in 2008. MICHAEL BURNS PHOTO Team Manitoba wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Regina in 2008. TROY FLEECE/LEADER-POST Team Canada lead Dawn Askin (left), second Jill Officer and skip Jennifer Jones (right) smile during the Women's World Curling Championships in Gangneung, Korea in 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones, left to right, Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Dawn Askin celebrate their teams 8-5 win over team British Columbia during the final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Victoria, B.C., 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/JONATHAN HAYWARD Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones, left, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second left, second Jill Officer, second right, and lead Dawn Askin, right, pose with the trophy after defeating Team Prince Edward Island 8-7 during final game action at the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/NATHAN DENETTE Dawn Askin, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, and Jennifer Jones celebrate their win of the 2012 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Portage La Prairie Manitoba, 2012 JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba's skip Jennifer Jones, left, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin pose with their silver medals after losing 9-6 to Ontario the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kingston, Ont. in 2013 THE CANADIAN PRESS/RYAN REMIORZ Skip Jennifer Jones, Third Kaitlyn Lawes, Second Jill Officer, and Lead Dawn Askin of Team Jones celebrate winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Stonewall, Manitoba in 2013. DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jennifer Jones, Dawn McEwen, Jill Officer and Kaitlyn Lawes celebrate after winning in the finals of Roar of the Rings curling at the MTS Centre in 2013 to win the right to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Canada's Jill Officer releases the rock during the women's curling semifinal game against Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia. (AP PHOTO/WONG MAYE-E) Canada skip Jennifer Jones (right to left)), Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen and alternate Kirsten Wall celebrate on the podium after defeating Sweden to win the gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ADRIAN WYLD The Olympic champions return to hundreds of family and supporters at the Winnipeg Airport Monday, February 24, 2014. JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Olympic gold medal-winning curling team (from left) Jennifer Jones, Dawn McEwen, Jill Officer and Kaitlyn Lawes take part in the ceremonial puck-drop before the Winnipeg Jets took on the New York Islanders in Winnipeg in 2014. COURTESY OF THE WINNIPEG JETS HOCKEY CLUB Jill Officer and her 2 year old daughter, Camryn, at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, 2014. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist Desiree Scott, right, and Officer at the KidSport Winnipeg 2nd Annual ‘Her Turf/Her Turf’ Contest. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Canada's second Jill Officer yells as the team plays Russia during the fourth end of their semifinal match at the women's World Curling Championships in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, March 21, 2015. (AP PHOTO/SHIZUO KAMBAYASHI) Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones, left to right, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen celebrate their win in the gold medal game against Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask. Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/JONATHAN HAYWARD Team Jones pose with the trophy after defeating Team Homan at the Canada Cup of Curling final in Brandon, Man., in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - MICHAEL BURNS Jill Officer confirms that she will be taking a step back from competitive curling beginning in the 2018-2019 season at the Fort Rouge Curling Club. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS CanadInn Mixed Doubles Curling Trials with Jill Officer, Reid Carruthers in January, 2018. CURLING CANADA/ MICHAEL BURNS PHOTO Left to right, Jennifer Jones, Shannon Birchard, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen pose with the trophy after winnipeg the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/SEAN KILPATRICK
Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

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