By Melissa Martin
WINKLER, Man. -- The game Jennifer Jones called was tight, precise, an exercise in patience from the first push out of the hack to her final 10th - end slide.
CALL it the Jennifer Jones effect, call it a dose of southern Manitoba love, but residents of Winkler and the surrounding area turned out in droves for the 2015 Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts from Day 1.
The cumulative attendance Wednesday through Sunday was 5,810. That included three sold-out days at the 1,200-seat arena, while even the opening days of the round robin came close, with 1,062 filling the stands on Wednesday and 1,148 on Thursday.
While the variation of venue sizes and locations makes comparison a chancy business, Jennifer Jones said the atmosphere reminded her of the record-breaking crowds in Portage la Prairie in 2012, where she won her fifth provincial title.
When that last rock struck its target, Jones became the Manitoba women's curling champion. Again.
That makes seven times now for Jones. Seven buffalo jackets. She won the latest Sunday, after chiselling out a 5-2 win over Kerri Einarson in the final of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The win was expected, but still an emotional cap to a breathtaking run through these provincials -- one in which the Jones foursome from St. Vital never even trailed on the scoreboard, let alone lost a game.
The team will roll out to Moose Jaw, Sask., next month, on the hunt for Jones' fifth Canadian title -- though it would be her first with third Kaitlyn Lawes on board.
"It's truly special," Jones said moments after handshakes, with the Winkler arena crowd still roaring its approval. "I never dreamed of winning one Manitoba title, and here we are with seven. We played great from start to finish, and the girls just played outstanding. We had a ton of confidence coming into the playoffs."
They also knew not to take Einarson's sparkplug East St. Paul rink lightly. The two teams met Saturday in the 1 vs. 1 Page playoff game, where Einarson, third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish gave the Jones foursome more trouble than any team they'd played in the round robin. On Sunday, making their second final appearance in the same number of years, Team Einarson held the game close and played gunning to win.
"I thought we gave her a pretty good game," Einarson said. "We were doing really well... I wanted to be one of the teams to give 'em a run for their money. We did a great job of that. The girls came out to play tonight, so did I, and we just missed a couple of key shots."
For the most part, the game wasn't one of explosive weight or YouTube-gold hits. It was quiet, patient even, as the Jones foursome placed rock after rock with surgical precision. There were pretty come-arounds, perfectly-placed guards. Jones opened with a single; Einarson blanked the next two ends. She picked up a single in the fourth, then kept Jones to just one in the fifth end. The teams went into the break with the Olympic champions leading 2-1.
"It wasn't the most entertaining game for fans, so sorry about that," Jones said, with a little laugh. "We did our best. I felt like we made a bunch of shots when they needed to be made, and we never really gave up control of the game."
Eventually, something needed to break, and in the eighth it did. Einarson's rock slid too deep, giving Jones a path to the only deuce of the game. That end, Jones agreed, "totally changed the momentum." When Einarson's hammer in nine didn't curl the way she expected, it handed Jones a steal of one. That dried up the last of Einarson's championship hopes, as the Jones foursome -- which also includes lead Dawn McEwen -- proceeded to run her out of rocks.
The crowd issued up a thunderous round of applause after Einarson threw her first (and game-final) rock.
For Jones' second Jill Officer, the throw that sealed the win was especially emotional: Einarson's lead, MacCuish, is Officer's niece, and the two have long been close. After the match was over, they met their families together at the side of the rink, where aunt and niece shared a long embrace.
"That was actually one of the harder games I'd ever had to play," Officer said, wiping away tears. "It was hard yesterday, when we played them in the 1-1 game, but I knew they had another chance. Today was different... but I'm really proud of her, I'm proud of her team. And I know they'll be back."
Einarson advanced to the final after a mucky 5-3 win over Assiniboine Memorial's Barb Spencer in the midday semifinal. It was not, strictly speaking, a particularly beauteous game of curling, as both teams wrestled with a slew of misses. In the end, Spencer's simply came at worse moments.
The teams were tied 3-3 when Spencer's ninth-end draw curled too far and wrecked on a guard, handing Einarson a steal of two. Then in the 10th, an Einarson miss gave Spencer a chance to pick up a deuce and force an extra end; but the skip's first throw came in too light, and settled outside the house.
All Einarson had to do then was peel off the last Spencer rock in the rings to run her opponent out.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2015 C1