Darn that Jennifer Jones.
If it wasn’t for her rink sneaking in through the back door in the Manitoba playdowns to make another appearance at this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which gets underway Saturday afternoon in Red Deer, Alta., this would have been arguably the most wide-open field in recent memory.
Instead, Jones is the odds-on favourite to win her fifth national ladies’ curling championship, which would put the skipper only one trophy away from tying Colleen Jones for the all-time record.
In addition to that feat, second Jill Officer would have a fifth title, lead Dawn Askin would win a fourth Scotties ring, and young third Kaitlyn Lawes would capture her first national women’s title.
However, I’m getting way ahead of myself in crowning Manitoba as this year’s Scotties champ. After all, we were all reminded last year—when Saskatchewan’s Amber Holland upset the Jones rink in the final in Charlottetown—that the games are played out on the ice and not in columns.
The fact of that matter is that other than the Jones rink (who I still think that if they don’t win would be the biggest shocker in a number of years), you could make a legitimate case for six other teams to potentially win the event.
Obviously, Holland has to be considered a contender, with her rink coming back as Team Canada by virtue of winning last year’s title, and I personally will be hoping she does well.
Okay, this goes against everything I stand for as I’m not a fan of the Team Canada concept. But having met Amber while covering the 2010 Scotties in Sault Ste. Marie, she’s far and away the greatest interview subject I have ever encountered due to her tell-it-like-is attitude and her very dry (and somewhat wacky) sense of humour.
For example, she claimed in an interview that the key to her team bouncing back after a rough day was due to the fact that she had a couple of glasses of rum the night before (you really had to have been there to see the reaction from the entire press row when she told us that).
However, the one problem with the Holland rink this year is that they were maddeningly inconsistent on the cash ’spiel circuit, which may carry over into next week’s event.
You also have to throw B.C.’s Kelly Scott into the discussion, as she has won the title twice before. But with a different look to her team this year with her third, Jeanna Schraeder, taking the season off, it will be interesting to see if that changes things.
A lineup change also is a big issue for Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche, who has yet to win the Scotties but always has turned in strong showings.
However, her team has been changed from top-to-bottom for the 2012 event, which sometimes hasn’t worked out the best for top contenders. Just ask P.E.I.’s Suzanne Birt, who failed to qualify for this year’s Scotties.
Then you have Nova Scotia’s Heather Smith-Dacey, who was the most pleasant surprise of last year’s event as she nabbed a bronze-medal finish over Ontario’s Rachel Homan. This year, though, a lot more is expected of the Smith-Dacey team, and it will be interesting to see if she can make the playoffs once again or if she is just a one-year wonder.
Which brings me to the two wild-cards in this year’s field—one featuring a skip making her first trip to the Scotties in 12 years and another making their first national appearance.
Heading into this year’s Scotties, Heather Nedohin of Alberta was arguably the best rink not to make a national championship appearance on the women’s side in the last few years as her team came up short in the last three provincial finals.
This year, though, was a different story as the former world junior champion and 1998 Scotties winner (though at that time she was a third on Cathy Borst’s rink and went by the name Heather Godberson) finally broke through and made it back to the national stage.
Now playing strong on the World Curling Tour, and making it to the national championships and performing well, is something different entirely (just ask Manitoba’s Mike McEwen). However, having done this before, the Nedohin rink potentially could be a sleeper team.
Which leads me to my other dark-horse pick for playoffs, Ontario’s Tracy Horgan, which features Devlin native and former Muskie Jenna Enge at second.
On a national scale, the Horgan rink’s dramatic victory over Rachel Homan in the Ontario Scotties final in Kenora was a massive surprise. However, the Horgan team had been to the playoffs in their last two provincial playdowns, making them no slouches.
And even though not much is expected of them this coming week, the same could be said for B.C.’s Marla Mallet in 2009 and Kathy O’Rourke of P.E.I. in 2010, when they made Cinderella runs to the finals and nearly defeated Jennifer Jones.
In the end, though, if you were to go to the bookie’s office and place a wager on the Scotties champion (and if you are able to find a bookie who is making curling bets, I’m highly impressed), the smart money would be to take Jones to win it all.
However, do so at your own peril.
Darn that Jennifer Jones.