'I'm just so proud:' Curling legend Colleen Jones watches son make Brier debut

LONDON, Ont. — Luke Saunders turned to his left and waved in the direction of the Nova Scotia supporters as his team was introduced Saturday at the Canadian men's curling championship.

In the back row of Section 103 at Budweiser Gardens, his mother — legendary skip Colleen Jones — was crying tears of joy watching her son make his Tim Hortons Brier debut.

"This has been in his blood for a long time," Jones said. "So to see him — I mean look at this arena, these lights, this feeling — I'm just so proud."

Saunders grew up in curling rinks across the country and around the world. When he was old enough, he'd often lead the cheering section for his mother's teams.

Now it's her turn. Jones was sporting full Nova Scotia kit — complete with cowbell and provincial flag — in a row with family and friends.

"I definitely had the pre-game jitters today," Jones said. "I was on edge, like it was me going out there, which is really weird I find. I'm nervous and excited for them."

The young Nova Scotia crew went on to push Alberta's Kevin Koe the distance, scoring a deuce in the 10th end but still dropping a 5-4 decision.

Early jitters may have been at play as Saunders struggled with his pre-game draw to the button. But the 29-year-old third settled in quickly and finished at 88 per cent.

"We're here, we're present and we're playing well," he said.

Nova Scotia lead Nick Zachernuk and second Jeffrey Meagher also had strong percentages, but skip Matthew Manuel finished with a middling 74 per cent.

"This is the biggest event they've ever played in," Jones said. "They've played in arenas before but not like this where there's television cameras shooting up your nose and you've got your mother wearing a Nova Scotia flag. The stakes are high."

Saunders reached the semifinal at the 2013 Canadian junior men's championship but fell to Matt Dunstone. He went on to earn bronze as a second for Nova Scotia skip Stuart Thompson.

Jones, a six-time national women's champion, said she hadn't experienced pre-game butterflies since her world championship appearances some 20 years ago.

"Luke was always running around the arenas in either a Canadian flag or a Nova Scotia flag," she recalled. "He was a really good cheerer … he was leading the Canadian cheers (at worlds) or the Nova Scotia cheers at the Scotties.

"So you want to give some of that back because you know that sometimes it can lift a player. 'We're with you and we've got you.' So I'm fully decked out."

His Nova Scotia rink was scheduled to return to action Sunday against Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories.

"The support shoe is nicely on the other foot," Jones said. "I'm just excited that we can do it and be here. It still blows my mind that we're here. It gives me tingles."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press