January 16, 2018

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Upsets order of Day 1 at Scotties

Top-seed Jones falls to Charleswood skip

PHIL HOSSACK / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Skip Joelle Brown works her sweepers during the first day of the 2018 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts Wednesday.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / Winnipeg Free Press

Skip Joelle Brown works her sweepers during the first day of the 2018 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts Wednesday.

KILLARNEY, Man. — In most years, Day 1 of a Manitoba curling championship is not all that exciting. The week is young, the slate clean, top seeds face low-ranked teams. The thrill of most opening days is just that it’s happening.

But on the first day of the 2018 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, well, it was not like that at all.

It was a day of upsets, big and small. A day that saw top-fivers Jennifer Jones, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur fall. A day in which, unusually, all eight teams in one round-robin pool finished their two games at 1-1.

“It’s not very common,” said Joelle Brown, who served the loss to Jones. “But even when I saw who all was in our pool, it was the automatic thought that there’s lots of potential upsets, and potential 1-and-1s on the first day.”

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KILLARNEY, Man. — In most years, Day 1 of a Manitoba curling championship is not all that exciting. The week is young, the slate clean, top seeds face low-ranked teams. The thrill of most opening days is just that it’s happening.

But on the first day of the 2018 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts, well, it was not like that at all.

It was a day of upsets, big and small. A day that saw top-fivers Jennifer Jones, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur fall. A day in which, unusually, all eight teams in one round-robin pool finished their two games at 1-1.

"It’s not very common," said Joelle Brown, who served the loss to Jones. "But even when I saw who all was in our pool, it was the automatic thought that there’s lots of potential upsets, and potential 1-and-1s on the first day."

The roller-coaster started in the morning, when Carberry’s Alyssa Calvert — skipping for the first time since junior — dispatched fifth seed Meilleur 10-5. It continued in Draw 2, when Rebecca Lamb eked past Jennifer Clark-Rouire.

Lamb is just 21, and fresh off her final junior provincial; Clark-Rouire is a seasoned curler and longtime Jones fifth. Team Lamb set a humble goal to win one game in their women’s Scotties debut; they didn’t expect it to be so quick.

"We were a little surprised," Lamb said, admitting to some nerves. "We were just hoping to have a good game. In the first end, I was like, ‘let’s go into the house so we don’t get plummeted in the first end.’ Then we ended up winning."

But the headline of the day belonged to Brown, the veteran skip out of Charleswood Curling Club. She knocked Jones down in a third-draw stunner, building a 9-5 win on a pair of early deuces and an eighth-end steal of four.

That end didn’t start so well for Brown: her team missed a shot and ticked a guard. She braced herself for impact.

"My immediate thought is ‘uh oh, here we go,’" Brown said.

"Jen and the hammer... she’s unflappable. But draw weight is really important, and they gave us an opportunity to get out of the end with draws that weren’t perfect."

With Brown’s rocks crowded around the button, Jones tried a narrow shot through a port for one. It didn’t get there.

"It was an all or nothing," Jones said. "Take one, or give up a steal of four. Unfortunately, it was the steal of four. We liked it, but it just didn’t work out. Live and learn, and if we had that shot again, we’d probably find a way to make it."

It was a bounce-back game for Brown, who lost a morning nailbiter to fourth-seed Birchard. For Jones, it was a rare early stumble at a provincial event, after cruising to a comfortable morning win over Dauphin’s Lisa Hale-Menard.

Still, Jones has been down this road before, and roared back to win. ("I feel like we’ve done it all," she said later.) And just like Brown, she too had skimmed over their round-robin pool and thought it was one of the toughest she’d seen.

Besides, she pointed out, last year she cruised through the round robin, but lost the semifinal. If given a choice between losing some games early, or losing some late — well, Jones, like any skip, would rather take the former.

"We were expecting it was going to be everybody beating anybody on any given day," she said. "It’s probably going to turn into a tough battle to make the playoffs, so you can’t really give many more games away."

While that was happening, Birchard was also struggling against Hale-Menard, who collected two four-enders en route to a 10-4 win. Meilleur, meanwhile, bounced back from her own morning loss to beat Jennifer Briscoe 10-3.

There was less drama in the other round-robin group, where — other than Lamb’s spirited win — there were few surprises. Playoff favourites Kerri Einarson and Darcy Robertson collected two wins, as did savvy Barb Spencer.

So that just ratchets up the tension, then, for the coming days. That’s good news for the fans in Killarney, where Scotties logos bloom on store windows, curling gossip buzzes in a local pub, and ticket sales have been flying.

Truly, the hype is real in Killarney. Opening days are often casually attended, but the 500-seat Shamrock Centre was crowded on Wednesday, and the parking lot full. Day passes for today sold out; organizers raced to print more.

"This morning’s draw was unbelievable," said Elaine Hunt, host committee co-chairwoman, of the brisk sales.

"We knew it (ticket sales) would be good, but I never expected it the first day. This is awesome, so we’re ready for a busy week."

The provincial women’s championship continues through Sunday, with playoffs set to begin on Saturday night. Sunday’s 8:30 a.m. semifinal and 2:30 p.m. final will be broadcast live on Sportsnet.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin .

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