June 22nd, 2024

Defending champion Kerri Einarson sprints into Tournament of Hearts playoffs

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on February 21, 2023.

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones delivers a rock while playing Northwest Territories at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, in Kamloops, B.C., Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Jones drew closer to the playoffs Tuesday with a 10-8 win over Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Speeding into playoffs at the Canadian women’s curling championship is a Kerri Einarson specialty.

A sixth straight win at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Tuesday launched the three-time defending champion into the championship round well before the conclusion of pool play Thursday.

“When you’re just playing loose and relaxed, it kind of just all goes hand in hand and it seems to flow well,” Einarson said following a 10-3 win over Saskatchewan.

Their opener in Kamloops, B.C. mirrors previous fast starts which Einarson, vice Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Harris have parlayed into Hearts crowns three years running.

The Gimli Curling Club foursome from Manitoba started 6-0 last year in Thunder Bay, Ont. – and went unbeaten in pool play – and also won their first six games in Calgary’s curling bubble in 2021.

They went 5-1 in their first half-dozen games in Moose Jaw, Sask., en route to the first of their three straight titles in 2020.

Their stiffest test so far in Kamloops was trailing Kaitlyn Lawes’ wild-card team 5-1 after four ends and duking out a 10-9 victory.

“I think we just feel really comfortable here at the Scotties and we know what kind of ice we’re in for,” Harris said.

“And if it’s a little different, we just try to learn it as quick as we can, not panic and get frustrated, and just try to work with it until we start making more shots.”

The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to Friday’s championship round. Saturday’s four Page playoff teams emerge from that group of six.

The semifinal and final are Sunday.

Six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Manitoba won twice Tuesday to lead Pool B at 5-1 ahead of Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville (4-1).

McCarville had a game at night against Northwest Territories’ Kerry Galusha tied with Ontario’s Rachel Homan at 3-2.

Jones’ former vice Lawes skipping wild card 1 was 3-1 in Pool A.

Alberta’s Kayla Skrlik, Nova Scotia’s Christina Black and B.C.’s Clancy Grandy were in a three-way tie at 3-2.

Einarson’s team posted a combined 93 per cent accuracy in both draws and hits over its first six games.

“We have really good weight control and amazing sweepers, They make a lot of shots for me,” the skip said.

“Really good rock placement and, yeah, just making it tougher on the other teams.”

After a game-free Wednesday – they’ll throw rocks in the afternoon – Einarson finishes up pool play Thursday against Alberta and Nunavut.

The six teams in the championship round bring their pool records with them. The top seed in each pool earns a bye to the championship round finals.

“We definitely don’t want to go into playoffs with any losses,” Einarson said.

“It kind of sucks that you have a whole day off because when you get a good rhythm going, you don’t really want to break that, but it’s good that we get to throw at least for a little bit.”

In addition to a function with a sponsor on the team’s day off, Einarson says she’ll take her twin daughters to the hotel pool.

Harris, who is pregnant with a June due date, was ready for a breather.

“I know I’m going to be not moving,” the lead said.

“My energy actually hasn’t been too bad. I’ve felt really good that way, so that’s good.

“Just body co-operating is the main thing right now.”

Canada, well in control of the game against Saskatchewan, brought alternate Krysten Karwacki in for Harris for the final two ends.

Jones, who employs a five-player rotation, was a 10-8 and 10-5 winner over N.W.T. and Yukon respectively Tuesday.

Her current vice MacKenzie Zacharias, who throws second stones, sat out the win over Yukon with Emily Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine playing front end.

“It’s just always a team decision and Emily’s a career second so we really wanted to get her in game at second,” Jones explained.

“Mackenzie on a two-game day, Mackenzie hasn’t swept this much in her entire life.

“This day was decided in advance just to try and give everybody a break.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.

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