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Rookie Alberta skip Sturmay, six-time champ Jones to meet in Hearts playoff game

CALGARY — A host-province rookie versus a decorated curler in her national women's curling championship swan song gives Friday's playoff game between them a sense of occasion.

Edmonton skip Selena Sturmay facing six-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion Jennifer Jones injects buzz into a non-elimination game at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre, but one with stakes nonetheless.

Three of Alberta's four women made their Hearts debut in Calgary, yet topped Pool A with a 7-1 record Thursday. The 49-year-old Jones, who has said this year's national championship will be her last, is in the running for a record seventh crown.

"Jen has been one of the most dominant female curlers in Canada of all time, so definitely look up to her style of play and just the way that she leads her team out there," said Sturmay, 25.

"The pressure's probably on them knowing that it is Jennifer's last. We're kind of just coming in, I don't want to say happy to make the playoffs. We're definitely looking to push even further, but I think definitely probably pressure's more on them than us at this point."

The top three teams in each pool of nine advanced to Friday's playoff round, from which Saturday's four Page playoff teams will be determined.

Manitoba dominated the playoff field with four of six teams hailing from that province.

Ontario's Rachel Homan (8-0), Manitoba's Jones (6-2) and Kate Cameron (5-3) emerged from Pool B. Defending champion Kerri Einarson of Manitoba and Sturmay (7-1), as well as Manitoba's Kaitlyn Lawes (4-4) advanced from Pool A.

Einarson, who ranked second to Sturmay because of a loss to Alberta in their pool, clashes with Homan in Friday's other afternoon playoff game.

"We're super-excited to be in the position we are," said Einarson, whose team is chasing a record fifth consecutive title.

Homan's was the only team to go unbeaten in pool play after closing with a 6-3 win over Nova Scotia's Heather Smith on Thursday night. Her reward is last-rock advantage to start each playoff game and choice of a set of rocks.

"We've been playing really well, really solid and just making a few more than the other team, but we need a little bit of luck," Homan said. "You've got to be good to be lucky too."

The winners of Friday afternoon's games between the top two seeds in each pool move onto Saturday's Page one-two playoff game, in which the victor banks an express ticket to Sunday night's final and the loser drops to Sunday afternoon's semifinal.

The losers play again Friday evening against the third seeds in each pool. Those victors get into Saturday's Page three-four playoff with a semifinal berth on the line.

Cameron gained entry to the Hearts as the highest-ranked, non-qualified team from the Canadian women's rankings this season at No. 7.

A 7-4 win over B.C.'s Clancy Grandy on Thursday night after a 5-4 victory over Smith in the morning vaulted her team into a playoffs that resemble a Manitoba provincial championship.

"Everyone knows Manitoba has got such a strong women's curling field," Cameron said. "Glad we could join the other three."

Lawes squeaked in a playoff spot with a 6-5 win over Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville in the afternoon.

Curling Canada changed the playoff format for the men's and women's national championships for the third time in four years. Tiebreaker games were eliminated this year to mirror world championships and Olympic Games formats.

Lawes was among five teams tied with 4-4 records McCarville, Saskatchewan's Skylar Ackerman, B.C.'s Corryn Brown and Quebec's Laurie St-Georges.

Head-to-head results the first metric to solve ties didn't produce a front-runner, so it came down to the lowest cumulative score in the closest-to-the-pin draws that precede each game. Lawes' team ranked first overall in the pool to grab a playoff spot.

"It seems to be the way curling is going," Lawes said. "My heart goes out to those teams that are on the other side of it.

"I love tiebreaker (games). I wish it didn't come down to a draw-shot challenge. The conditions can change so much depending if you are first practice or second practice. Because you're doing two draws, it can change a lot."

Yukon's Bayly Scoffin claimed her first win of the tournament Thursday night with an 11-4 victory over New Brunswick's Melissa Adams (2-6), while Northwest Territories' Kerry Galusha (3-5) beat Jones 8-4.

The winner of Sunday's final represents Canada at the world championship March 16-24 in Sydney, N.S., and earns a return trip to the 2025 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as defending champion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press