Jennifer Jones a favourite at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones celebrates her win in the gold medal game against Alberta at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw on Feb. 22, 2015. Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Who can topple the giant at the Canadian women’s curling championship?

The team considered the greatest threat to Jennifer Jones’s bid for a second straight national title, and the sixth of the skip’s career, did not make it to this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Rachel Homan was upset in the Ontario provincial final by Jenn Hanna, who returns to the Scotties 11 years after losing to Jones in a dramatic final.

The field for the 2016 Canadian women’s championship is a mix of seasoned teams and new faces. The main draw starts Saturday at the 3,200-seat Revolution Place.

The top four teams among the 12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round advance to playoffs. Ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games.

Alberta’s Chelsea Carey, Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville and Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche are Jones’s main challengers in Grande Prairie.

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The three teams have previous big-game experience and at both the Scotties and in other major events such as the Olympic trials.

Larouche owns a 41-25 record as a skip at the Scotties. She’s made the playoffs in five of six appearances, including the 2004 final.

“For sure I think we are able to be at the end of the week in the top four,” Larouche said. “After that, we’ll see.”

McCarville has skipped playoff teams twice in four Scotties and got as far as the semifinals of the 2009 Olympic trials.

“One hundred per cent I want to make the playoffs,” McCarville said. “There’s lots of things to get you distracted at the Scotties, autograph sessions and all that.”

“We don’t want to get distracted with those little things. I really want to focus and be together as a team and do everything that has been working for us.”

Carey spent years playing Jones in Manitoba before moving to Alberta and taking over Heather Nedohin’s team, which features Olympic bronze medallist Amy Nixon at third.

Carey skipped Manitoba to a 9-2 record at the national championship in 2014 and was fourth in the 2013 Olympic trials.

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“It’s probably the most wide-open Scotties field I’ve seen in a long time,” Carey said. “We think we have a pretty good shot at it. It’s a long week and who knows what can happen? We’ve been to the Scotties and know what it’s about.”

Carey, Hanna and Saskatchewan’s Jolene Campbell are ones to watch by virtue of the teams they beat in their respective provincial finals.

Carey defeated Val Sweeting, the finalist in last year’s Scotties in Moose Jaw, Sask. Campbell downed veteran Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon to take Saskatchewan.

“There’s definitely some names we haven’t seen for a while, but definitely names we’ve seen before for the most part,” Jones observed.

“You see Marie-France Larouche back. Chelsea Carey is there. It’s her second Scotties and the rest of that team has been there many times before. There’s a lot of people we know for sure and we know that we’re going to have to play our very best to make the playoffs.”

Jones and second Jill Officer can tie the record of six Canadian championships held by Colleen Jones with another trophy in Grande Prairie.

Lead Dawn McEwen has been in on four of those titles. They and third Kaitlyn Lawes went undefeated to win Olympic gold in 2014.

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The Winnipeg team knows how to ride out the highs and lows of a long week and peak for when it really counts.

“We really try to focus on never losing back-to-back games and if you do that you’re in pretty good shape, ” Jones said.

“You just want to make it into the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how you get it, or where you are ranked getting in, you want to get into the playoffs and start fresh from there.”

The winner of the Feb. 28 final represents Canada at the women’s world curling championship March 19-27 in Swift Current, Sask., and returns to next year’s Scotties in St. Catharines, Ont., as Team Canada.

The victor also gains automatic berths in this year’s Canada Cup in Brandon, Man., and the 2017 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Las Vegas.

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