Jennifer Jones and Shannon Birchard in the house during the 11th draw of the Meridian Canadian Open on Jan. 19, 2018, in Camrose, Alta. (Anil Mungal)

Birchard honoured to sub for Lawes on Team Jones

January 19, 2018, 2:24 PM

CAMROSE, Alta. — It wasn’t that long ago Shannon Birchard was looking up to Jennifer Jones.

The 23-year-old Birchard now finds herself in a “super surreal” situation standing side-by-side in the house discussing strategy with the nine-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner at the Meridian Canadian Open.

Third Kaitlyn Lawes will miss the Scotties Tournament of Hearts as she’ll be off representing Canada with John Morris in the inaugural mixed doubles competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Birchard, who skips her own squad on tour, received the call to fill in for Lawes on the Manitoba squad at the Canadian women’s championship in Penticton, B.C.

“It’s super exciting and it’s quite the honour to have been chosen,” Birchard said Friday. “It’s been great so far out here, I feel really comfortable and they’ve made me feel super welcomed on the team. I’m just really excited for next week.”

Birchard joined Team Jones for the Meridian Canadian Open triple knockout stage this week to get some reps in and enjoyed the experience.

“It’s super surreal. I feel lucky to be able to contribute,” she said. “I think we have a good relationship starting going forward so I’m really excited about what’s to come.”

Jones offered strong praise for Birchard, who is a two-time Canadian junior finalist and has made two Manitoba Scotties playoff appearances. Birchard also topped Jones to capture the Colonial Square Ladies Classic tour title earlier this season.

“She’s so great on the ice,” Jones said Thursday. “You can never replacement Kaitlyn but Shannon has been outstanding. It’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be so we’re really excited to have her next week.”

The Meridian Canadian Open happens to be Birchard’s Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut too and she can’t wait to return to the series.

“I love the environment here and I hope to be back soon,” Birchard said. “I’ve got a little bit of experience with arena ice and the larger crowds but to have the opportunity to do that more often and in this kind of setting is really nice. I love getting that extra experience.”

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Jones earned a playoff spot Friday morning making quick work of Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson 9-3 in a B-qualifier. The win improved Jones’s head-to-head record versus Einarson to 17-0.

“I felt really good on the ice,” said Birchard, who threw an impressive 99 percent. “I think everybody played really strong and put the pressure on Einarson and that was all we needed.”

Jones jumped out of the gate with a deuce in the first and stole three in the second for a commanding 5-0 lead. Einarson, who won September’s Tour Challenge Tier 2 title, got back into it taking two in the fourth and stealing one in the fifth.

The gloves came off early though as Einarson crashed her last in six with Jones, who didn’t throw her final stone, already sitting four.

Jones captured the Players’ Championship last season and the Masters and BOOST National in the fall as she looks to become the first to hold all four major titles at once by winning the Meridian Canadian Open.

Elsewhere, Calgary’s Chelsea Carey also cruised into the playoffs crushing Michelle Englot’s Winnipeg team 8-1 in their B-qualifier.

Defending champion Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., has been eliminated after falling to American Nina Roth 7-4 in a C-semifinal.

South Korea’s EunJung Kim ousted Winnipeg’s Darcy Robertson 8-4 and Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland knocked out American Jamie Sinclair 7-3 in the other C-semifinals.

The Meridian Canadian Open features a triple knockout preliminary format where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the weekend playoffs.

Sixteen of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s team from around the world are competing in the fourth tournament — and third major — of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

Action continues at Encana Arena with Draw 12 at Noon MT on Sportsnet and watch online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or (international).

NOTES: Winners of the Meridian Canadian Open earn berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. … Points are also up for grabs for the Bonus Cup, awarded to the overall season champions.