CALGARY — Kerri Einarson's second Canadian women's curling championship was very different from her first.
Einarson didn't throw her last stone Sunday in a 9-7 win over Ontario's Rachel Homan in Calgary, in contrast to her nail-biting last draw to beat Homan in an extra end last year in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Einarson and her teammates also celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena without applause and adulation of spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the skip insists it still felt sweet to repeat.
"It means the absolute world to be able to repeat," Einarson said. "It's something that is very hard to do."
Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur from Manitoba's Gimli Curling Club were the first to claim back-to-back titles at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts since Homan in 2013 and 2014.
Homan has lost three straight Hearts finals going back to 2019 when her team lost in an extra end to Chelsea Carey in Sydney, N.S.
Einarson had a better feel for ice conditions Sunday than Homan, who is pregnant and due in April.
"I'm unbelievably proud of these girls for battling all week and sticking with me and doing all the extra stuff I couldn't do," Homan said. "We had a chance right to the end, but it didn't go our way.
"I pushed as hard as I could and went as far as we were able to go as a team. It was a phenomenal team effort to make this happen this week."
Einarson controlled most of the game leading 5-3 after five ends and 7-4 after seven.
But Homan scored a point in the eighth and stole two in the ninth to tie it coming home.
Einarson lay two in the rings when Homan's attempted freeze slid too deep into the rings.
"Definitely felt extremely weird not being able to run and hug my girls and my parents and family and friends," Einarson said.
Einarson retains the Maple Leaf as Team Canada for the 2022 national championship in Thunder Bay, Ont., and picked up $100,000 in first-place prize money.
Einarson faces the prospect of missing out on a women's world championship again.
The World Curling Federation cancelled the March 20-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, because the local Swiss health authority would not support it in a global pandemic.
Einarson and her teammates had arrived in Prince George, B.C., for the 2020 world championship when it was called off.
The WCF pulled the plug Feb. 8 on this year's championship. An announcement has yet to be made on whether it will be rescheduled to another date and location.
"My husband said to me before I came here 'you could be the first person to not go to worlds and win twice,'" Einarson said.
"I don't know. Hopefully something can happen for us."
Einarson beat Alberta's Laura Walker 9-3 in the afternoon semifinal to earn a championship showdown with Homan.
Walker eliminated six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Manitoba with a 9-8 win in a morning tiebreaker.
Homan earned prize money of $60,000 as the runner-up. Walker collected $40,000 for third place.
The Hearts was the first of four Curling Canada events shifted to a spectator-free, controlled environment at WinSport's Markin MacPhail Centre in an effort to have a season and get curling on TSN.
The Canadian men's championship starts Friday, followed by national mixed doubles and the men's world championship April 3-11.
Two Grand Slam events, which are Rogers Sportsnet's properties, are planned for later in April.
Tourism Calgary predicts the six curling events in Calgary will inject $11 million into the local economy.
The Hearts was the first test of the curling bubble. No positive tests for the virus were reported as of Sunday.
"I think it went really smoothly. It felt good to be out there doing what we love," Sweeting said. "Even though there were no fans, it was still special for us."
Teams arrived in Calgary with a few games played this winter, and depending on pandemic restrictions in their region, not much practice time at their local clubs.
Homan lacked ice time to adapt her stone delivery to her changing body before arriving in Calgary.
"Can we talk for a second about skipper over here?" Homan's third Emma Miskew said. "Unbelievable you curled that well. It's just amazing."
Ontario also incorporated lineup changes on the fly at the Hearts.
Homan dropped longtime lead Lisa Weagle last year for Wilkes to play second, and shifted Joanne Courtney to lead.
They didn't have the benefit of 50 games to re-establish chemistry and communication.
Einarson's advantage was an unchanged lineup from the team that bested Homan a year earlier.
Birchard and Meilleur both posted shooting percentages higher than counterparts Wilkes and Courtney in Sunday's final.
Einarson, Sweeting and Birchard were named to the tournament's first all-star team at their positions with Manitoba lead Weagle breaking up an Einarson sweep.
Homan, Wild Card One third Selena Njegovan, Manitoba second Jocelyn Peterman and Courtney were second-team all-star picks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.