April 25th, 2024

Alberta’s Sturmay, six-time champ Jones to meet in Tournament of Hearts playoff game

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on February 22, 2024.

Team Manitoba-Cameron skip Kate Cameron directs her teammates as they play Team Manitoba-Jones at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Cameron scored one in the 10th end for a crucial 5-4 win over Nova Scotia's Heather Smith in Thursday's opening draw at the Canadian women's curling championship. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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.

Ontario’s Rachel Homan (7-0) and Jones (6-1) ranked first and second respectively in Pool B regardless of the results of their remaining pool games Thursday evening.

Defending champion Kerri Einarson capped Pool A with a 7-1 record, but was second to Alberta because of a loss to Sturmay in their pool. Einarson 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.

The winners of the playoff games between the top two seeds in each pool moves onto Saturday’s Page playoff game, in which the victor banks an express ticket to Sunday’s final and the loser drops to Sunday’s earlier semifinal.

The losers play again Friday evening against the third-place teams in each pool. Those victors get into Saturday’s Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds for a semifinal berth.

Manitoba’s Kaitlyn Lawes squeaked in the final playoff berth in Pool A with a 6-5 win over Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville on Thursday afternoon.

The last available playoff spot in Pool B came down to B.C.’s Clancy Grandy (5-2) and Kate Cameron (4-3) on Thursday evening.

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 for third with 4-4 records in Pool A alongside 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 to grab a playoff spot.

“It seems to be the way curling is going,” Lawes said. “I love tiebreakers. 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.

“I wish there were tiebreakers. My hearts goes out to those teams that are on the other side of it.”

Lawes was eliminated in a tiebreaker game last year in Kamloops, B.C., in her first season skipping a team. Lawes won a Canadian and world title, as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2014 as Jones’s vice.

Lawes, 35, had asked for her teammates’ patience earlier in the week as she ironed out her shotmaking.

“We knew we just had to keep hanging tough and see what happens,” she said. “At the end of the week, we didn’t really know how everything was going to fall, but I’m just so proud of the girls for hanging in with me.

“The last three or four games, I feel like I’ve really started to make a lot more shots.”

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.

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