SYDNEY, N.S. - Jill Officer is experiencing the Scotties Tournament of Hearts from an unfamiliar perspective this week.
Instead of sweeping rocks and throwing peels, the six-time Canadian champion is perched behind the scoreboard as an alternate for Team Jennifer Jones.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s weird,” Officer told TSN.ca. “I haven’t been a fifth player since 2002 when I was fifth for Jenn in Brandon at the Scotties, but I’m super happy to be here and grateful for still being part of the team and adjusting to the new routines. It’s different, but I’m happy to be here.”
After winning the Scotties and world titles last year with Jones, the 43-year-old announced she’d be stepping away from the game this season. Officer was very careful to not use the word “retirement,” keeping the door open for a possible return down the road.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to use the word retirement and whether I ever come back in any capacity or not will remain to be seen, but I like still being around the game and still playing a little bit,” explained Officer. “I’ve played in a few events this year, but I think it would have to be a pretty good opportunity for me to step back into a full-time capacity.”
Despite not being a regular player this week in Sydney, Officer is making headlines across curling as she was named the greatest Canadian female second of all-time on Tuesday as part of TSN’s Greatest Canadian Curlers project.
The vote was completed by a 31-person panel of curling experts, including writers, broadcasters and elite-level curlers.
Dawn McEwen was named as the best Canadian female lead on Monday, with the reveals of best third, skip and team to be announced throughout the rest of this week. The top 10 Canadian female curlers will be revealed on Saturday.
The men’s results will be released during the Tim Hortons Brier in March.
Team Jones’ lineup has changed over the years, but Officer has always the consistent presence at the second for all their big moments – and there have been plenty of those.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve played with the best female skip in the world,” said Officer. “I think the combination was probably a key as well, but I think for me as an individual, I think it was just a lot of hard work.”
The Winnipeg native is tied with Jones and Colleen Jones for the most Scotties titles at six and has a pair of world championships to her name as well. However, many would argue Officer’s shining moment came during the team’s Olympic run in 2014.
In the 2013 trials finals against Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh, Officer shot a blistering 99 per cent to propel her team to an 8-4 victory and a ticket to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I remember playing at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and just being so excited to get out on to the ice that day,” said Officer. “Waking up that morning and just feeling like I couldn’t wait to get out on to the ice and then having that great game and helping our team win that game”
A few months later, Team Jones rolled to an 11-0 record at the Olympics, standing atop the podium as the first Canadian women’s rink to win the gold medal since Saskatchewan’s Sandra Schmirler accomplished the feat in 1998.
“Everything about it when so well for us and we just embraced everything and it amazing to go undefeated and to win the gold medal,” Officer said. “It’s hard not to point to the Olympics as the pinnacle of my career.”
Another key to Officer’s success was her ability to adapt to the ever-changing style of how the game is played.
Officer has always been able to throw the heavy peel weight, a must for any second, but also added finesse shots to her repertoire.
“With the four-rock rule and now the five-rock rule, I’ve had to adjust to that softer game and the draw weights, I’ve had to work hard at that,” said Officer. “I think I’ve just changed with the game.”
The greatest Canadian female second has her curling idols, too. Coming up through the ranks, Officer looked up to Manitoba’s Connie Laliberte and Joan McCusker, who played second for Schmirler the Curlers.
“As time went on I just tried to do better than all the other seconds that were out there,” said Officer.
It’s fair to say Officer has done just that.