Jennifer Jones isn’t feeling the weight of 1,000 kilograms of granite on her shoulders this week.
If she’s to be believed — and one the world’s most decorated curlers has, most assuredly, earned the benefit of the doubt — then Friday evening’s 10-end showdown for the final spot in the 2020 national Scotties is just the latest on a long list of big games for the Ontario-based skip and her Winnipeg team.
In an all-Manitoba wild-card game, Jones meets Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul on the eve of the Scotties women’s championship in Moose Jaw, Sask., (7:30 p.m. on TSN). It’s a battle between the top two teams on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) that didn’t win their provincial or territorial championship.
The surviving foursome slides into the 16-team main draw as the third seed, and immediately faces Rachel Homan’s powerhouse team from Ottawa on the Saturday evening draw.
For Jones, with it comes the opportunity to become the Scotties’ all-time winningest skip. She’s currently the owner of six Canadian titles, and winning at Mosaic Place would vault her past the legendary Colleen Jones of Halifax.
But the 45-year-old mother of two is treating the much-hyped last-chance clash as just another game.
"Every time you step on the ice, your goal is to win. There’s not much more we can do than just try your absolute best. Whether it’s one-game sudden death, like playing in a final, or it’s the start of a round robin, you go out and try to put your best game forward and give yourself an opportunity to win," Jones said Wednesday. "We’ve always had a really good perspective on winning and losing in curling. We’d really like to go into the wild-card game and put in our best effort and see if it’s good enough to win.
"We’ve been practising together and we feel like we’re playing well. Hopefully, we’ll go out and love the ice and make a lot of shots, and see where that takes us. All in all, really positive and looking forward to playing on arena ice in a venue that brings back great memories."
Jones captured the 2015 national crown in Moose Jaw, nearly a year to the day after striking gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Jones and her husband, competitive curler Brent Laing, and their two daughters, Isabella and Skyla, make their home in Shanty Bay, Ont., not far from Barrie. She travelled to Saskatchewan late Wednesday to join her teammates, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Dawn McEwen.
The team out of St. Vital lost the Manitoba final to Kerri Einarson of Gimli on Feb. 2 in Rivers. Fleury’s team of third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish lost to Jones in an extra end in the provincial semifinal.
Fleury, Einarson and Jones are stacked 1-2-3 atop the CTRS standings. Jones said she’s a big proponent of the wild-card game — adopted for the Scotties and Brier’s men’s championship — a reward to premier teams for consistent play.
"There needs to be the inclusion of the top teams, and the wild-card is a great addition. But my husband played in it last year (the Brier in Brandon) and he said it wasn’t much fun to lose," Jones said, laughing.
Team Wild-Card will slot into the eight-team Pool B at the Scotties and compete in a round robin with Ontario’s Homan, Corryn Brown of British Columbia, Suzanne Birt of Prince Edward Island, Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia’s Mary-Anne Arsenault, Hailey Birnie of Yukon, and Erica Curtis of Newfoundland/Labrador.
Einarson, a two-time Manitoba champion, will compete in Pool A against Chelsey Carey, defending her 2019 title as Team Canada, Laura Walker of Alberta, Saskatchewan’s Robyn Silvernagle, Krista McCarville of Northern Ontario, Andrea Crawford of New Brunswick, Quebec’s Noémie Verreault and Lori Eddy of Nunavut.
The Scotties champ will don Canadian colours at the world championship next month in Prince George, B.C.
In addition, the team will gain direct entry berth into the next Olympic trials, set for late November 2021 in Saskatoon — a major carrot being dangled by Curling Canada.
"The ultimate goal is still a year-and-a-half from now. But we’d love to move the needle a bit forward," said Jones. "We took a more laid-back approach last year, and this year we really focused on some things we could be better at as a team. I think we’re all really happy with where we are midway."
Laing plays front end for the John Epping team out of Toronto, which prevailed in the Ontario playdowns to nail down a Brier spot after losing in the 2019 wild-card game. The Epping team, too, is building momentum for a possible run at the Olympic trials.
The couple is blessed to have family and close friends that help care for their daughters during the hectic curling season, Jones said.
While her name’s etched on just about every piece of hardware that exists in women’s curling, bidding farewell to the game isn’t an option.
"I love playing. I love being with my teammates, competing in big games, just the feeling of being out there," Jones said. "I’ve never lacked that motivation to play. It’s my passion and definitely a true love. That’s why I’ve always played. It’s never been about any of the outcomes. Obviously, we’ve had a lot of great outcomes, which has been — I almost said a gold lining — a silver lining.
"At the end of the day, it’s about having fun with my teammates and working hard to achieve a dream. You feel like you’re living a dream every day."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).