MOOSE JAW, Sask. – It’s crunch time at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Ontario’s Rachel Homan, Team Wild Card’s Jennifer Jones, Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson and Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville have all booked their spots in this weekend’s Page Playoffs at Mosaic Place.
There was a slew of storylines this week at the Scotties. Robyn Silvernagle’s hometown Saskatchewan squad gave fans plenty to cheer about early on before gassing out in the championship round. The defending champs led by Chelsea Carey also fell short of expectations while New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford broke a Scotties record, scoring a seven-point end against top-ranked Manitoba in the round robin.
None of that really matters anymore, however, as the final four all go back to square one to determine the 2020 Canadian champion.
There are no surprises with this group. Einarson, Jones and Homan are ranked second, third and fourth respectively in Canada and are all in the top 10 in the world. McCarville would be, too, if not for her light schedule playing way up north in Thunder Bay, Ont.
TSN.ca takes a deeper look at that the matchups which features two pairs of provincial rivals going head-to-head.
Page Playoff 1 vs. 2 Game – Manitoba vs. Team Wild Card
Saturday at 7pm ET on TSN 1/3/4 or streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct
MB Scotties Record: 9-2
WC Scotties Record: 9-2
It will be the Battle of Manitoba in the Page 1 vs. 2 game as Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, representing Team Wild Card this week, takes on Gimli’s Kerri Einarson, who is wearing the Buffalo for the third time in her career.
Jones has a career 23-10 record against Einarson with her most recent victory against the provincial rival coming Friday afternoon (12-7 in just eight ends) in championship pool play. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist might have the advantage all-time, but Einarson has taken nine of their past dozen matchups.
That stat might not mean much given how well Jones is playing this week. After beating Tracy Fleury in the Wild Card game last week, Team Jones dropped their opener to Ontario’s Rachel Homan before reeling off nine straight, including four extra end games. They lost their final championship round game to Northern Ontario Friday night.
“It was little bit of an emotional rollercoaster. We lost our first game [in the main draw] and now lost our last game. Maybe we can get on a bit of a winning streak again,” Jones said.
Last year in Sydney, N.S., Jones missed the playoffs for the first time in her career. The 45-year-old says they feel much more comfortable this year, especially when it comes to the ice.
“We didn’t love the ice last year and that kind of got us,” said Jones. “We struggled a lot with draw weight and this year we feel the ice has been a lot more consistent and we’re more in love with the ice so that’s helped us a lot.”
A Canadian title this weekend would be No. 7 for Jones, passing Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones for most all-time.
“We were anticipating having to beat the top teams coming in,” said Jones. “It’s kind of played out the way we thought it would so we know we’re going to have to play great in order to win this thing.”
On the other side of the sheet will be Einarson’s squad of third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Brianne Meuilleur, who are in their second year as a foursome after creating a super team of former skips. Einarson lost to Jones in the 2018 final in Penticton, B.C., as a skip for a different team.
The team out of the Gimli Curling Club are playing in their first Canadian championship as a foursome after losing in the Wild Card game in 2019. It’s been an up-and-down week in Moose Jaw for Einarson and company.
Manitoba came into the week as the top seed thanks to a 49-18 record and two wins on the WCT. They won their first four games in Moose Jaw before ending up on the wrong side of Scotties history during a game against New Brunswick. Manitoba allowed seven in a wild seventh, the most points scored in a single end in the history of the Canadian women’s curling championship.
“What seven?” Einarson joked with reporters Thursday night after clinching a playoff spot, seemingly putting that memory to bed.
“You have to be able to shrug a loss off and move forward. That’s what creates the best teams in the world. As long as you can toss that one and move forward and come out focused,” Einarson said Friday.
The last day of championship round play was an interesting one, too. Manitoba allowed two scores of four in a 12-7 loss to Team Wild Card before turning things about and beating Ontario in the evening draw.
As the No. 1 seed, Manitoba will have hammer in the first end against Jones’ Wild Card team.
Page Playoff 3 vs. 4 Game – Ontario vs. Northern Ontario
Saturday at 2pm ET on TSN 1/4/5 or streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct
NO Scotties Record: 8-3
ON Scotties Record: 9-2
It’s safe to say Rachel Homan has had Krista McCarville’s number over the years.
Since 2011 the two Ontario skips have played each other 15 times, with Homan taking 14 of those games, including a convincing 9-4 victory in Moose Jaw earlier this week.
Some of those wins have came in the Scotties playoffs as well, with Homan eliminating McCarville in the 2017 semi-final and the 2019 Page 3 vs. 4. McCarville’s only win came in late 2016 at a Grand Slam event.
“It always comes down to the last rock when we play them,” said Homan. “We know they’re going to be wanting that just as bad as we are, so we have to come out and play our best game.”
Homan is in the playoff hunt once again as the 30-year-old pursues a fourth national championship. The rink out of the Ottawa Curling Club dropped a heartbreaker in the final last year against Chelsea Carey.
“Whether you’re playing the 3-4 or 1-2, we’re all playing close to the same amount of games to get through this. If you can get that momentum rolling it looks good for you,” said Homan.
Dating back to 2010 when she finished third, this will be McCarville’s fifth straight appearance in the Scotties playoffs. It’s an impressive feat given that you simply don’t see the school teacher on the World Curling Tour or Grand Slam circuit very often due to family and work commitments as well as travel constraints given the team’s northern home base.
McCarville says a lighter schedule may not help when it comes to getting used to arena ice but can be beneficial in other ways.
“Just coming to the event we’re fresh and we’re excited and we’re ready,” she said. “I think if we travelled a lot maybe we wouldn’t feel that way. Just being [in] the playoffs, we’re super excited. We’re fired up to be playing on that Scotties ice because we don’t get to do this all the time.”
Third Kendra Lilly says it might be a slight advantage given that other top-calibre teams don’t know their game plan as well.
“I think some of those other teams would know [what] each of those teams are going to do when they hammer or when they’re up one with [hammer]. Us, we’re kind of like a sneak attack – they don’t know what we’re going to be doing – we’d like to use it to our advantage,” said Lilly. “It is a benefit. We had really great ice at provincials to help us get on that arena ice. We don’t play on arena ice as much.”
Including the Scotties, the Thunder Bay foursome of McCarville, Lilly, second Ashley Sippala and lead Jen Gates have played in five events this season and hold a record of 29-6.
McCarville admits the image of winning her first Scotties title and wearing Team Canada colours at next year’s event in her hometown of Thunder Bay does start to creep into her mind at this point in the week.
“There’s always those thoughts, but there’s still three really big wins we need to go there and so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said McCarville. “One game at a time, just keep on plucking along and that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple days so we’re pretty happy with it.”