When Canada's best women's curling teams convene in Kingston, Ontario for The Scotties on February 16th, it will mean a field chock full of past champions and experienced crews, mixed with the inevitable addition of some up and comers and flat out surprise provincial winners.
Kelly Scott, Jennifer Jones and returning champ Heather Nedohin will garner most of the attention ahead of the tournament. Between them, they have won seven national titles.
Scott is now a six-time winner of the British Columbia women's championship, four in a row. She'll attempt to avenge last year's loss in the final to Nedohin, the Albertan who steps in as returning champ wearing Team Canada colours.
Jones has returned to action after taking the first half of the season off while preparing for the birth of her daughter, Isabella. Coming back at The Continental Cup, she has shown very little rust, racking up a 6 and 1 round robin record in the Manitoba playdowns and then breezing to a 9-3 win over Barb Spencer in the final.
With Nedohin not needing to qualify this year, she was not in the field at the Alberta Scotties. With favourites Crystal Webster and Shannon Kleibrink falling by the wayside, Kristie Moore defeated 2-time Alberta champion Renee Sonenberg in the final, drawing the button in the eleventh end to take an 8-7 decision. Moore's an interesting story. Having played with Sonenberg last year, she found there was not a spot on that team for her after she gave birth to twins over the summer. She formed the team that would go on to beat her former skip, only last September.
Another bit of a surprise came out of Saskatchewan, where Stefanie Lawton was taken down in the final by Saskatoon's Jill Shumay, 8-7. Lawton, whose team stands first on the Canadian Team Ranking System for 2012-13, has now lost the provincial final three straight times. Shumay had an outstanding week, losing just once - to Lawton in the page playoff one-two game - so those who were in atendance might not be quite so surpised by the outcome.
Another surpise came courtesy of The Maritimes, where some familiar faces will head to Kingston wearing Nova Scotia blue. Just not the familiar faces you'd expect. Heather Smith-Dacey was eliminated in the playoffs, with Mary-Anne Arsneault's crew taking the crown. Arsenault's vice (but throwing second stones) is none other than Colleen Jones, who's won 6 national titles as a skip, 5 of them with Arsenault has her second.
In Ontario, Rachel Homan, it seems, carried a scorched earth policy through the week, running the table and suffering not a single defeat. Her 7-3 win over Cathy Auld put the capper on a dominating week. She returns to the national scene after a one year absence, having skipped Ontario at the 2011 Scotties.
Another familiar face is that of Kerry Galusha, who won the Territories Championship and makes her eleventh appearance at The Scotties.
Suzanne Birt will wear Prince Edward Island colours, skipping that province's Scotties team for the seventh time.
Allison Ross (Quebec), Stacie Devereaux (Newfoundland & Labrador) and a yet to be determined New Brunswick champ - to be decided this week - will round out the field.
UPDATE: The New Brunswick title was won, on February 3rd, by Andrea Crawford.