Nova Scotia's Black steals into final four at Canadian women's curling championship

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Christina Black's opportunistic Nova Scotia curling team stole its way into the final four at the Canadian women's championship Friday.

Black won back-to-back playoff games by stealing a point in an extra end.

Her Dartmouth Curling Club foursome eliminated three-time champion Rachel Homan of Ontario from contention with a 7-6 victory.

Nova Scotia, defending champion Kerri Einarson, Manitoba's Jennifer Jones and Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville were the teams still in contention at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kamloops.

Black stole a point in the 11th end to beat Kaitlyn Lawes' wild-card team 7-6 in a Friday morning tiebreaker.

Black's larceny also got her to that tiebreaker as Nova Scotia stole one in the 10th end the previous evening to get by Quebec 7-6.

Nova Scotia's marathon three-game Friday ended with a 6-3 loss to McCarville, but Black continues to Saturday's Page playoff.

"I can barely see straight. I'm so tired," Black said. "I'm super-proud of making that game a good, decent game. It was pretty hard. We've been in this building more than 12 hours.

"I think we showed we do belong and we're capable of playing with any team here."

Nova Scotia meets Einarson in Saturday afternoon's playoff game.

The winner advances to Sunday afternoon's semifinal, with a chance to go to the final later that day, and the loser is eliminated.

Einarson fell 7-6 to Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, who takes on McCarville on Saturday evening. An express ticket to Sunday's final is up for grabs in the Jones-McCarville matchup.

Einarson is attempting to skip just the second team in history to win four straight Tournament of Hearts after Colleen Jones from 2001-2004.

Losing to Manitoba was Einarson's first hiccup after posting an 8-0 record in pool play.

Her team couldn't complete the comeback after Einarson pushed a draw through the rings to give up a steal of four in the opening end.

"If we didn't spot them four, I think it's a different game," Einarson said. "We never let up though. We put some shots together and made them throw some more precise shots. We didn't play badly."

Her team claimed a third straight title last year in Thunder Bay, Ont., by taking the long route. They won the Page sudden-death game, semifinal and final, which Einarson now must do again for a four-peat.

Black's clutch draws and finesse forced her opposing counterparts into low percentage shots on their final throws.

Black's freeze on the button to an Ontario stone with another Nova Scotia counter higher in the rings had Homan attempting a double takeout for the win.

Homan's attempt jammed and left Nova Scotia as shot stone.

"We had a double and missed it," the Ontario skip said. "We didn't think it would fall that much there."

Six-time Canadian champion Jones is two wins away from a record seventh. Manitoba won both playoff games Friday having ousted B.C.'s Clancy Grandy 9-4 in a sudden-death afternoon playoff.

While Black brings new blood to the upper level of Canadian women's curling, so does Jones. Her four new teammates this season all under the age of 25 reached the final four for their first time in their careers.

Jones employed a five-player rotation this season to play more games than any other women's foursome at 88.

"I just was really happy with how we played today with our backs against the wall. I thought we played quite well," the 46-year-old skip said.

"I feel like we're getting better. If you're going to have a best day, it's good to do it later in the week and hopefully we'll just keep getting better."

McCarville lost last year's final in her hometown of Thunder Bay to Einarson.

Northern Ontario finished pool play early in Kamloops so Friday's win over Black was McCarville's first game in 48 hours.

"We were a little bit worried about that," McCarville said. "We had a practice. Not a very long practice. It's different when you're playing games.

"I've been on her side. I have had three games in a day, stressful games. That's tough, too.

"We keep gaining momentum. We're reading the ice well. I feel like we're getting our draw weight well."

Black went 5-3 and lost in the playoffs to McCarville in her skipping debut for Nova Scotia last year.

She'd apprenticed under Marianne Arsenault, who was a five-time champion front-end player with Colleen Jones.

Black reached the Hearts semifinal playing third for Arsenault in 2018.

"I had three Scotties appearances with Marianne," Black said. "If you're going to learn the game from someone, like a five-time champion, she's amazing.

"I always imagined myself skipping in the Scotties. Once she left (Nova Scotia), it was time for me to step up and skip."

The expressive Black doesn't hide her emotions on the ice.

"Yeah, I don't have a good poker face," the 35-year-old said.

The Hearts winner represents Canada at the world championship March 18-26 in Sandviken, Sweden, and returns to the 2024 national championship in Calgary as the defending champion.

The victor also earns $108,000 from a total prize purse of $300,000 and is eligible for Sport Canada "carding"' money as part of Curling Canada's national-team program.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press