Jennifer Jones delivers a stone during the third draw of the Roar of the Rings Canadian curling trials on Dec. 3, 2017, in Ottawa. (Anil Mungal)

Olympic Trials: Jones, Koe jump out of the gate

December 3, 2017, 11:20 PM

OTTAWA — Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones has emerged as the early front-runner once again at the Roar of the Rings.

The reigning Olympic gold medallist was the first to reach three wins picking up a pair of victories Sunday to sit atop of the table through two days of action at the Canadian curling trials.

Jones (3-0) is riding the wave of a 17-game winning streak sweeping the Masters and National Grand Slam of Curling tournaments back-to-back heading into the tournament. The nine-day event is a marathon and not a sprint though to determine Canada’s reps for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“It’s a long week here,” Team Jones second Jill Officer said. “It’s early, I mean, it’s nice to have three wins under our belt but there’s certainly a lot of time left.”

Jones beat Michelle Englot 8-5 during the morning draw in an all-Winnipeg team tilt and ended the night early with a 10-5 victory in eight ends against Allison Flaxey’s Toronto squad.

“For sure it has been a little bit busy,” said Officer, whose team also defeated Edmonton’s Val Sweeting 9-6 Saturday night. “We had to grind out a couple of ends and I think we can still pull up our socks. We’ll get some rest and come out tomorrow night hopefully a little stronger.”

A deuce in the first and a steal in two against Flaxey made it 3-0 quickly for Jones, although in 10-end games there’s plenty of curling left to follow. Jones fell behind by a similar score on a steal to Sweeting before rebounding and bookending the match swiping three points of her own.

Indeed, Flaxey managed to get on the scoreboard with a deuce in three to close within one. Jones, who has captured a record nine Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s championships, took two right back in four and stole in five to extend her lead 6-2. Flaxey bounced back with another two-count in six and pirated a point in seven to close the gap within one again.

That was as close as Flaxey would get though as Jones put the game out of reach drawing for a huge four-score in eight and then came the handshakes.

“It was just a couple of misses here or there that gave them a deuce that otherwise wouldn’t have happened,” Officer said. “We stayed patient and it worked out.”

Team Jones went 7-1 to win the 2013 Canadian curling trials in their hometown.

Marc Kennedy knows better than anyone else how life changing the Canadian curling trials can be.

Kennedy claimed the title with Kevin Martin’s club in 2009 on home ice in Edmonton en route to winning Olympic gold at the Vancouver Winter Games the following year. Even before then though, Kennedy met his wife Nicole during the 2005 trials in Halifax.

“I’ve had some good luck at the trials the last couple times and they’ve both been such incredible experiences,” said Kennedy, who now throws third stones for Kevin Koe. “Even losing them you just feel fortunate being part of such a tremendous event. We know how difficult it is to win. I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity. The trials always brings something special and you see funny things or weird things and it never quite goes the way you expect.”

Kennedy joined Team Koe in 2014 in a bid to return to the top of the curling mountain and so far it’s paying off with the Calgary club also leaping out to a 3-0 start.

Sunday turned out frantic for Team Koe with both games requiring extra ends. Koe escaped with an 8-6 OT win over Brad Jacobs during the morning when the reigning Olympic gold medallist overthrew his last and gave up a double steal. The 2016 world champion Koe held the hammer in the extra during the evening draw against Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers and faced a similar situation needing to draw for the win but didn’t miss the mark getting the 6-5 decision.

“If you would have told us before the event we would have been 3-0 or even 2-1 I think we would have taken it with the teams we’ve played,” said Kennedy, whose team also beat Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock 6-3 in Saturday’s opener. “All-in-all, we’re pretty happy. Definitely got a couple of breaks but you need those to win this event. Overall, we’re actually playing pretty well. The skip’s making a lot of shots and we’ll just try to keep the roll going.”

Have we stressed the fact it’s early? Kennedy understands the importance of pacing oneself too having been down this road before.

“It’s a long week but that’s all you can ask for is a really good start,” he said. “We get a nice break tomorrow, we don’t play until tomorrow night, so we can refresh the old bodies and just keep it one game at a time. I think it’s a race to six wins to get into the playoffs, so we’ll just try to peg them off and hopefully keep getting the breaks.”

That was more like it for Rachel Homan even if it was dicey to the finish line.

The reigning world champion and hometown hero scored big early but needed to fend off a thieving Julie Tippin to hold for an 8-7 victory.

Both teams are now level with 1-1 records and plenty of work to do with six round-robin games remaining for each.

Homan rolled out to leads of 5-1 and 7-3 before it started to unravel in the second half with Tippin scoring in six and stealing singles in three consecutive ends.

Tippin, who was the second qualifier from last month’s pre-trials, misfired her last in the 10th through the rings to give Homan an open draw anywhere into the eight-foot circle for the win.

“We love being tied with hammer and that’s where we were,” Team Homan third Emma Miskew said. “Even though we gave up a bunch of steals we still were in an ideal position for what we wanted, so we were really happy with that. The way the last end [went] we were able to clear it out. I’m confident with Rachel having a draw to the eight foot for sure.”

Still, Miskew wasn’t quite sure it was all there and jumped in to help sweep if necessary even though the six-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner Homan ended up landing right on the lid for good measure.

“I ran out a little preemptively thinking that they thought it was lighter than it was but they were like, ‘We’re fine!’ It was a great draw,” Miskew said with a laugh. “We took some risks to get big ends earlier in the game and it just curled up. We learned a lot of lines that way so we’re happy with what we learned with the game going a little bit longer.”

Homan opened with the hammer and generated a fortunate deuce when it looked like a textbook blank was in play. Tippin just nudged the lone stone in the house and Homan capitalized putting her last in for two.

After Tippin was forced to draw for one in the second, Homan made a spectacular angle raise tap to score a three-spot and take a 5-1 lead. The teams alternated deuces in four and five as that tricky trey in the third provided an early buffer zone.

“That was awesome and the reason we were short on time was because we took so much time on that shot to figure out exactly where we needed to put the broom and what the ideal weight was,” Miskew said. “That was great that we were able to do that and get a little bit of a cushion there. Then when they were putting their draws in good spots and getting the steals we had a little bit of a lead so we were able to give them those.”

Miskew and Homan threw 73 percent and 76 percent, respectively, in their tough 8-4 loss to Calgary’s Chelsea Carey during Saturday’s opening draw and the back-end pair were able to raise their averages slightly. Miskew threw at a 74 clip against Tippin while Homan, who was running at a 94 percent pace prior to the steals, finished at 79.

Homan has a doubleheader Monday facing Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., in the morning followed by Englot in the evening. That will be the big test for the team to show which direction they’re trending.

While other teams are trying to treat the Roar of the Rings like any other tournament, Team Homan doesn’t have that option with a boisterous hometown crowd on its side and wouldn’t want it any other way.

The crew has embraced the atmosphere with plenty of family, friends and fans in attendance and hopes it stays that way for the remainder of the week.

“We love the crowd and every event we play in Ontario we think it’s awesome,” Miskew said. “The crowd to us feels like another player on the team. We feel like we have somebody else that pumps us up and feel good out there so we love it. We hope people come all week.”

Pirating points was the name of the game for Tippin earlier as well. The Woodstock, Ont., native was playing back-to-back draws and swiped three in the eighth and one in the ninth to win 7-3 over Sweeting in the morning.

When it rains it pours for Sweeting, who is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jones and Koe as the first to a 0-3 record. While the three-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion is still in it to win, it’ll be an uphill battle avoiding another loss that could vanquish her Olympic dreams.