Laura Walker knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park Friday.
Her Alberta rink needed a two-win day to essentially stay in contention for glory at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The crew from Edmonton’s Saville Community Sports Centre got one in the afternoon — a 7-6 extra-end victory over Quebec — and hoped to pick up another in the evening draw against two-time Scotties queen and Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba team.
And they got it — for a big 7-5 triumph — in a bid to become one of three teams from eight advancing from the championship pool to the final round of playoffs.
“Big is the word,” said Walker, with a prize smile. “It was key. It was mandatory for us pretty much at this point. I guess mandatory’s a good word for it. We needed it, and I’m proud of the way we went out and got it.”
Indeed, the evening win was crucial in the pursuit to be on top of the podium at the conclusion of the 10-day Canadian women’s curling championship in the Calgary curling bubble.
Alberta faced trouble to start the day with records carrying over from preliminary pool play into the championship round at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.
While it was strong enough to give Walker & Co. a final-eight standing, the Albertans’ 5-3 mark put the rink in chase mode from the first end of Friday’s two-fer.
That’s because both Canada and Ontario headed into the evening draw with 8-1 records, and another win each would virtually lock them into two of the three playoff spots available. Canada scored a 9-3 victory over Wild Card 1, skipped by Calgary’s Chelsea Carey, to improve to 9-1, while Homan played great late to shock Quebec 8-7 and advance to 9-1 as well.
The other berth?
At 7-2, Manitoba had the upper hand in the chase for it heading into Friday’s nightcap against Alberta.
But with the win over the legendary Jones, the Albertans — also at 7-2 — now have that edge heading into Saturday’s action.
“We’re just communicating a lot and doing a lot of talking out there keeping our energy levels high,” said Alberta lead Rachel Brown. “We know this championship round goes by really really fast, so we’re just making sure we’re doing a lot of communicating and reminding the girls to stay in the moment and the rest will happen.”
That proved true against Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges.
Alberta got out to a quick 3-0 lead through three ends and looked prime for a steal of one and firm game command in the fourth before skip St-Georges — thinking she’d missed her shot — angled in to count two and put Quebec back in it.
“We had to take a big, deep breath as a team,” Walker said. “It’s tough watching it, thinking they had missed it and then somehow getting it for two. We just took a big breath — we said before this game we want to focus on what we can control. And I thought we did a good job of taking a second to let it out and move on to the next end and get our two right back.”
Indeed, up 5-2 midway through, the Edmonton rink allowed one in the sixth end and blanked the seventh to continue its domination.
Only a rough eighth, when Quebec stormed back with two made it a game again, and then it really was on after holding Alberta to one in the ninth and then scoring one in the 10th to force more curling.
The extra end saw St-Georges wreck on an Alberta guard with her last rock to surrender the game.
“To start off the championship pool with a win — and a very grindy win — is big for our team,” Walker said.
“We had one bad end,” continued Walker of a game that put both teams on 6-3. “I feel like we had complete control of that game from the git-go, and unfortunately, one end and one shot in this game can be the difference. But I actually thought we played a lot better than what the scoreboard showed.”
It was a see-saw affair in the win over Manitoba, with Walker’s clutch hit-and-flop with hammer in the seventh end sending the teams into the home-stretch tied 7-7.
The swing came in the ninth end for Alberta.
After Jones uncharacteristically hit-and-rolled out when she needed her stone to stick around, Walker then deftly drove a Manitoba stone out of back of the house with the hammer to count three and take a commanding lead.
In the 10th, Alberta then ran Jones & Co. out of rocks to wrap it up.
“All wins are pretty big,” added Walker. “I think we have to win all our games from here on out, and if we do that, then the fate is in our own hands.”
The other afternoon scores saw: Team Canada, skipped by Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson, defeat Saskatchewan 10-6; Ontario, skipped by three-time Scotties champ Rachel Homan, top Wild Card 1 (5-5) 7-6; and Manitoba out-last Wild Card 3, skipped by Manitoba’s Beth Peterson, 12-8 … The other evening games saw: Wild Card 3 (6-4) edge Saskatchewan (6-4) 10-9 in an extra end; Ontario vs. Quebec … Saturday’s final two draws of the championship round go at 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., both on TSN, after which teams with the second- and third-best marks play off in Sunday’s semifinal (12:30 p.m., TSN) to decide which one challenges the crew with the best record in Sunday’s finale (6:30 p.m., TSN).