Jones opens her final Scotties Tournament of Hearts appearance with 7-5 victory

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones delivers a rock while playing Team Canada during the final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday, February 26, 2023. Manitoba's Jennifer Jones opened her 18th and final Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a 7-5 victory Saturday over Nova Scotia's Heather Smith. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck. DD

Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones opened her 18th and final Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a 7-5 victory Saturday over Nova Scotia’s Heather Smith.

Jones scored three in the third end to break a 2-2 deadlock and led the rest of the way as Winnipeg rink representing the St. Vital and Altona curling clubs posted a 7-5 victory.

Jones, a six-time Canadian champion and Olympic gold medallist in 2014, announced earlier this week she will retire from team curling at the end of the season to spend more time with her family that includes her two daughters, ages 7 and 11.

The 49-year-old will still play mixed doubles with her husband Brent Laing.

In Pool A on Saturday night, Skylar Ackerman’s clutch double in the 10th end drew a roar from the many green-clad fans at Calgary’s WinSport Event Centre and helped Saskatchewan (2-0) hold on for an 8-6 victory over Manitoba’s Kaitlyn Lawes (0-2).

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“That one’s a first, for sure,” said Ackerman when asked about the magnitude of the moment. “It feels pretty crazy. It was so cool to see the crowd just light up after and just see all my family in the stands cheering us on.”

The 22-year-old is the youngest skip to ever represent Saskatchewan at the Hearts.

Joining Saskatchewan in a three-way tie atop the pool at 2-0 was Alberta’s Selena Sturmay and defending champion Kerri Einarson.

Sturmay picked up an 8-3 win over Prince Edward Island’s Jane DiCarlo (0-2).

Einarson prevailed 7-4 over Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville (1-1).

The defending champs continued to be minus regular lead Briane Harris, who was declared ineligible to compete just hours before Einarson’s opening game Friday.

Curling Canada and Einarson continued their silence on the matter Saturday. Curling Canada referred to its statement of the previous day, in which the organization said it was “made aware” of Harris’s ineligibility.

Einarson refused to comment. Alternate Krysten Karwacki continued to play in Harris’s absence.

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown improved to 1-1 with a 12-4 win over Newfoundland and Labrador’s Stacie Curtis (0-1).

In earlier Pool B games, Manitoba’s Kate Cameron won 10-5 over New Brunswick’s Melissa Adams, British Columbia’s Clancy Grandy downed Ontario’s Danielle Inglis 9-4, and Ontario’s Rachel Homan was victorious 9-5 over Northwest Territories’ Kerry Galusha.

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When her longtime team broke up in 2022, Jones took over as skip of a young team comprised of players almost half her age.

In two seasons under Jones, who is also a two-time world champion, her young teammates have relished the opportunity to be mentored by one of the sport’s all-time greats.

“It’s been phenomenal,” said 25-year-old third Karlee Burgess. “Being able to play here at the Scotties, and knowing Jennifer Jones is throwing your last rock, it’s a pretty sweet feeling.”

It’s a lot of experience to draw upon and learn from.

“She teaches us a lot about how to make a shot and I know that probably sounds basic, but thinking about the way to miss a shot, the pro-side miss, essentially,” explained 23-year-old lead Lauren Lenentine.

“Being able to share the ice with a legend at the end of her career is something special that I’m never going to forget.”

“We’ve watched her growing up, and she’s the legend we’ve looked up to,” said second Emily Zacharais, 22. “So to get to finish off her career with her and just see how special it is to her to get to play with us and get to play for the crowds and just how much this event has meant to her over the years, it definitely makes it extra special.”

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Burgess says her skip’s passion and drive resonates with her most.

“No matter the shot, she wants to throw it,” Burgess said. “She wants to have that last shot to win the game.”

That cool demeanour was on display in the eighth end when Jones delivered a perfect late breaking shot to grab a bite of the button to keep the lead.

“Throughout my career, the first time I step on the Scotties ice, I still get that same adrenalin rush,” said Jones. “I do find myself just trying to soak up the atmosphere a little bit more, but other than that, it just feels like curling and one of my favourite events.”

Jones and company reached last year’s final in Kamloops, B.C., before losing to Einarson.

Winning it this year would make for quite the Cinderella exit for Jones, whose six Hearts titles ties Colleen Jones for the most.

“Last year, we were super close and it left us wanting more, so we’re back for more,” Lenentine said.

Click to play video: 'Team Alberta hoping for hometown advantage at Scotties Tournament of Hearts'
Team Alberta hoping for hometown advantage at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

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