ON THE ROCKS: Last year’s Scotties playoff teams rising to the top again in championship round

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With one day left in the round robin at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the same teams that made it to the final at last year’s event were starting to separate themselves from the rest of the field.

Team Canada’s Kerri Einarson, the defending champion, and Ontario’s Rachel Homan both ran their records to 9-1 with a pair of wins Friday afternoon at the Markin MacPhail Arena in Calgary, putting them close to clinching playoff spots and continuing their heated battle for first place in the round robin.

The winner of that race will earn a berth directly into Sunday’s final.

Einarson beat Homan in an extra end to win the Scotties final in 2020.

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“I think experience is huge once we get to these games,” Einarson’s third, Val Sweeting said.

“I feel like we’re in a really good place and I think experience will pay off, for sure.”

There’s also a heated battle for third place between six-time champion Jennifer Jones and Alberta’s Laura Walker, who have 7-5 records.

Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson,Quebec upstart Laurie St-Georges and Wild Card No. 3’s Beth Peterson still have a shot, sitting at 6-4.

Einarson defeated Anderson 10-6 and topped Chelsea Carey’s wild card team 9-3, while Homan stole points in the last end on both occasions in beating Carey and Quebec.

The fact that several former champions — Homan is a three-time winner — are leading the way really should come as no surprise. None of the teams in the 18-team Scotties field had any real opportunity to practice or prepare for the championship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many thought the teams with the most talent would handle that the best and, so far, that has been the case.

But Jones, who is playing in her 16th Scotties, cautioned that there is still plenty of curling to come, with two more Championship Pool draws scheduled for Saturday.

“You’re hoping you’re never doing the math, because that means you’re winning and in a good spot,” Jones said after a 12-8 win over Beth Peterson (Wild Card No. 3). “I don’t even know exactly what the standings are looking like. We’re just trying to win every game that we play.”

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HOMAN’S HIGH PERCENTAGE

Homan had to grind her way to an afternoon 7-6 win over Team Tracy Fleury (with Chelsea Carey skipping), complete with a stolen point in the 10th end and then steal a point in an extra end to beat Quebec in the evening.

Carey (5-4) attempted a raise-double takeout with her last rock in the 10th, which was very nearly successful, but unfortunately for her one of the Ontario rocks stuck around to count the winning point.

“My team played phenomenal and I couldn’t quite figure out the broom on my last one there for a while,” Homan said. “But they hung in there with me and we made some good ones in the end. Chelsea’s team played phenomenal and I thought she almost had that last one in the end.

“It went right to the end obviously and it took a lot of grit and determination to keep pushing forward.”

Homan, who is eight months pregnant, leads all skips in shooting percentage at 82% and it has been impressive to watch.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Ontario second Sarah Wilkes said. “She’s been playing amazing all week and it’s just inspiring. I hope one day if I’m eight months pregnant that I can play half as good as Rachel is right now.”

WALKER LEANING ON TEAMMATES

Alberta had two huge wins on Friday and the team looks very much like contenders right now.

Walker stole a point in the 10th to beat St-Georges in the afternoon before taking out Jones in the evening.

“All wins are pretty big right now,” Walker said. “I think we have to win all of our games from here on out and if we do that our fate is in our own hands. To start off the championship pool with a very grindy win I think was very big for our team. I thought we played a lot better than what the scoreboard showed.”

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Walker has never made it to the championship round before, but she has experienced players on her team. Third Kate Cameron once played in a Scotties final, with Michelle Englot, and lead Rachel Brown and alternate Dana Ferguson won the Canadian championship in 2019 as members of Carey’s Alberta foursome.

Brown and Ferguson were on the ice when Carey overcame a 5-1 deficit in the 2019 final against Homan to come back and steal points for an extra-end win.

“(Brown) has made the biggest comeback in Scotties final history,” Walker said. “She knows that no game is ever over, no matter what you might think. Having someone like that, who has been there, done that and been on the right side of it, is really calming to our team. To have her out there with us has been big.”

PRAISE FOR PETERSON

The win by Jones over Scotties rookie Peterson, a fellow Winnipegger, was much closer than the 12-8 score suggested.

Peterson actually led 8-7 going into the final end after coming back from a 4-0 deficit to take a lead in the fourth end.

Jones was heavy on a draw against three in the fourth, putting Peterson up 5-4 at the time. It went back and fourth until Jones scored a big end — while Peterson was trying to steal — in the 10th.

“I threw a bad shot,” Jones said of her fourth end gaffe. “I can’t do that. I’ve got to make that draw against three. The team played great in front of me. I thought it was a really great team effort and, other than that one end, I was pleased with how the game went. I’ll have to eliminate those mistakes in the next game.”

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Peterson fell to 5-4 and is now a long shot to make it into the playoffs, but her team had garnered a ton of respect from its peers in making it this far this week.

“They’re an outstanding team,” Jones said. “Just great people and they love to play and they’ve done so well here. I’m so happy for the depth of talent in Manitoba. I think we’ve got a great future ahead.”

KUDOS FOR ICE MAKER

While some teams have had a lot of difficulty dealing with changing conditions and high-quality, swingy ice, Jones had nothing but kudos for the work of head ice technician Greg Ewasko.

“It’s some of the best Scotties ice we’ve ever had the opportunity to play on,” she said. “Lucky for us that we get to play one of our only events of the year on some of the best ice. It’s just a lot of fun out there.”

Manitoba section Jocelyn Peterman said the ice conditions have helped the curlers get back into a groove, despite having not played for almost a year, for the most part, leading into the Scotties.

“We’ve had enough games on the ice that we’re feeling comfortable with the ice and comfortable with our throws. It feels like normal season right now.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

STANDINGS

After 19 draws

CHAMPIONSHIP POOL

x-Canada (Einarson) 9-1

x-Ontario (Homan) 9-1

x-Alberta (Walker) 7-3

x-Manitoba (Jones) 7-3

x-Quebec (St-Georges) 6-4

x-Saskatchewan (Anderson) 6-4

x-Wild Card 3 (Peterson) 6-4

x-Wild Card 1 (Fleury/Carey) 5-5

FRIDAY RESULTS

DRAW 20

Canada 9, Fleury/Carey 3

Alberta 7, Manitoba 5

Ontario 8, Quebec 7 (EE)

Peterson 10, Saskatchewan 9 (EE)

DRAW 19

Alberta 7, Quebec 6 (EE)

Canada 10, Saskatchewan 6

Ontario 7, Fleury/Carey 6

Manitoba 12, Peterson 8

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