BY PAUL FRIESEN, WINNIPEG SUN
It’s become the cold, hard truth of the Manitoba women’s curling championship: when Jennifer Jones is in it, she wins it.
The last five times Canada’s First Lady of the rock has played for a provincial title, she’s left with the crown.
The numbers would no doubt be even more staggering, but Jones hasn’t had to play the provincials in the years after she wins the Canadian Scotties, which she’s done four times.
Named the top seed on Wednesday to absolutely nobody’s surprise, Jones this year will try to become the first woman to win seven Manitoba titles as a skip.
“I had no idea,” Jones, on the line from Banff, site of this week’s Skins Game, said, Wednesday. “I remember winning the first and thinking that all my dreams have come true.”
That was 2002.
Since then, she’s added provincial titles in ’05, ’07, 08, ’12 and ’13, those four Canadian championships and an Olympic gold medal, last year.
So, with apologies to the good folks of Winkler who’ll be hosting the event, is there any reason to even bother playing — can’t we just hand Team Jones the win and another trip to the national stage?
“Nobody’s invincible,” the 40-year-old said. “Anyone can be beaten on any given day. Like I said even heading into the Olympics: all you can ever ask yourself is to do your very best. And that’s all we want to do next week.”
If they do that, nobody stands a chance.
If they don’t, the challengers will be ready to pounce.
Who’s the top contender?
The seedings say Jill Thurston and Kristy McDonald, in that order.
McDonald is the only remaining member of last year’s winning Chelsea Carey rink to play here next week.
With Carey playing in Alberta, McDonald went back to skipping and the results have been a pleasant surprise for the new mother.
“I’ve been curling a ton, way more than I set out to curl this year,” she said. “I skipped for a long time, so there’s no reason to think I couldn’t have stepped back into it real easily. But I didn’t want any expectations, either, because I didn’t know how it was going to go with the baby and child care.
“And it started off well and we got invitations to a couple of Slams, and things kind of took off from there. And it’s hard to turn those down when you get the call.”
Comparing this Scotties to last year’s is like night and day for McDonald.
Her history of heartbreaking losses had her actually dreading the event 12 months ago.
“You lose your fourth final, and it just kept getting tougher and tougher every time,” McDonald said. “I’m sure if you asked (Mike) McEwen he’d say the same thing. It just becomes this thing, this beast that lingers. And you try to ignore it, but it’s not fun.
“Honestly, the last four or five years I’ve not looked forward to provincials at all. It was a miserable experience. I’m just glad that build-up of losing finally ended.”
Of course, Jones contributed to that miserable run. More than once.
But with a trip to the national Scotties under her belt, McDonald has a new-found appreciation for the work that’s gone into making the best women’s team on the planet.
“I know the amount of professionalism they bring — I’ve been on a professional team,” McDonald, 35, said. “And I don’t begrudge them winning. I’m not in that place anymore where I think we deserve a chance. I know what they deserve, because I know how hard they work.
“If they win they’ll be the best to represent us.”
As for what it will it take to knock them off — how about near perfection.
At least, on the final Sunday.
“It’s going to take an elite final,” McDonald said. “Experience is so huge. And nobody’s as experienced as them. There’s plenty of teams capable of beating them. Beating them in the final is a whole other story. They know how to play their best in this thing, and they usually do.”
McDonald ranks one spot behind Thurston on the World Curling Tour money list and order of merit.
“There’s a lot of great teams,” McDonald said. “It’s just that Jones has set the bar pretty high, and it’s tough to beat them.
“But it’ll be interesting to see people try.”