Manitoba leans on veteran leadership of skip Jennifer Jones at Hearts
KAMLOOPS — Six-time Canadian curling champion Jennifer Jones exudes a poise that's propelled her young Manitoba team to the playoffs at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The 48-year-old Jones and her under-25 teammates reached the championship round in Kamloops, B.C., by stealing a point in an extra end for a 7-6 win Wednesday over Casey Scheidegger's wild card team.
"An absolute massive win," Jones said with a relieved laugh. "Needed that one."
The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to Friday's championship round.
Jones, Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville and defending champion Kerry Einarson were assured three of the six spots. The other three are still in play Thursday.
Last year's Hearts finalist McCarville secured first place in Pool B with a 7-1 record Wednesday.
Jones (6-1), with a game remaining Thursday against New Brunswick, will finish second.
Ontario's Rachel Homan (4-2) and New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly (3-3) with two games remaining will battle for third.
Defending champion Kerri Einarson was the lone unbeaten team atop Pool A at 6-0 followed by Quebec's Laurie St-Georges (5-2) and Alberta's Kayla Skrlik (4-2).
A three-way tie at 4-3 included B.C.'s Clancy Grandy, Nova Scotia's Christina Black and Kaitlyn Lawes' wild card 1.
From winning an Olympic gold medal in 2014, to her two world titles, to playing in her 17th national women's championship, there's scarcely a strategy or shot Jones hasn't played in her curling career.
Facing four opposing stones clustered on the four-foot rings in the fifth end at the Sandman Centre, Jones's businesslike demeanour gave no indication her team was in trouble.
She got rid of two to give up a steal of two and trail 4-2.
Jones then got to work plotting stolen points, which her team produced in the seventh, eighth and extra ends.
The skip's tricky double takeout attempt to score two nearly won the game in the 10th end for Manitoba.
With a Manitoba stone on the four-foot rings behind cover in the extra end, Scheidegger's draw attempt for the win was light.
"The experience of Jenn playing in so many tight games, pressure games, going down two early in the game, we still have lots of game left," third Karlee Burgess said.
"She's just calm, confident, and pressure doesn't really bother her, so I think we're a really good mix."
MacKenzie Zacharias, who is Jones's vice throwing second stones, Burgess and co-leads Emily Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine appeared in the 2021 and 2022 Hearts going 3-5 in their debut and losing a tiebreaker game last year.
"We've always wanted to win," MacKenzie Zacharias said. "This year, with Jenn, we know she's been here a bunch of times. She's been able to help us with that experience we don't have.
"We've played a lot of up and down games. She settles it with some of those big shots.
"We know that we're never out of it."
When Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen disbanded last spring, the veteran skip joined the young Winnipeg foursome and employed a five-player rotation this season.
"I really wanted them to take my experience and maybe shorten their experience time, right?" Jones said.
"If I can show them all the things I've learned a long the way, then maybe they don't have to go through 20 years learning everything I've learned."
The championship round's six teams are seeded by their pool records.
The top seed in each pool earns a bye to the championship round finals Friday night, while the second and third seeds cross over to meet earlier in the day.
The championship round final determines Saturday's Page playoff seeding, so McCarville was assured of continuing into Saturday by winning her pool.
"It's huge being number one," McCarville said. "One less game, the less pressure of the do-or-die. That two versus three game, you lose, you're out."
The semifinal and final are Sunday.
Ties for third will be solved by tiebreaker games Friday morning.
Only one tiebreaker per pool will be played, so head-to-head results and then last-stone draw ranking will eliminate teams if more than two are tied for third.
McCarville capped pool play stealing a point in the 10th end for an 8-7 win Wednesday evening over Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Quebec was a 9-6 winner over B.C. and wild-card Lawes defeated Nunavut 10-4.
Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories dropped to 3-4 with a 7-6 loss to Scheidegger's wild-card team.
Jones, her former teammate Jill Officer and Colleen Jones are the only women to own six Canadian women's championships.
Jones is well-versed in the execution level needed for her young teammates to claim their first.
"They're ready," she said. "We're almost there. We just have a couple of ends, where they're a couple of sloppy ends.
"If we can just get away from those, we're feeling pretty good."
With COVID-19 restrictions preventing the sale of tickets the last two years, Jones's teammates will experience Hearts playoffs in front of spectators for the first time Friday.
"It's fun to see the sparkle in their eyes," the skip said. "I'm loving every second of this."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press