Kerri Einarson heads into the Canadian women’s curling championship playoffs in command of her bid for a fourth straight title.
Bold tactics, precise shot execution, plus an understanding of changing ice conditions propelled the defending champion to a perfect 8-0 record in pool play for the second year in a row.
“It’s tough. Every team out here is an amazing team and they work hard just like we do,” Einarson said Thursday. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
“We had some really good games and we really had to fight for it.”
Einarson, Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville, Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Ontario’s Rachel Homan secured berths Thursday for Friday’s six-team playoff round in Kamloops B.C.
A pair of tiebreakers Friday morning were needed to determine the fifth and sixth entries.
Nova Scotia’s Christina Black faces Kaitlyn Lawes’s wild card 1 team in one game.
Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges takes on B.C.’s Clancy Grandy in the other.
The victors move onto sudden-death afternoon games against Manitoba and Ontario.
Those winners meet Einarson and McCarville in the evening draw and the losers are eliminated.
Northern Ontario and Manitoba both at 7-1, and Ontario at 6-2 emerged from Pool B.
Behind Einarson atop Pool A, a five-way race for the last two berths made for a dramatic Thursday evening draw.
When the dust settled, Quebec’s 7-6 loss to Nova Scotia created a four-way logjam at 5-3 for second in the pool.
Black stole a point in the 10th end when St-Georges’s attempted draw for the win was light.
B.C. eliminated Alberta’s Kayla Skrlik in a hard-fought 8-6 win.
Lawes scored a 10-6 victory over Prince Edward Island to stay in contention.
“I think this is the strongest field we’ve ever had and I’ve ever seen,” said three-time Hearts champion Homan.
“It’s awesome to go out there and have to play your best every game. That’s what a nationals should be.”
With identical records, McCarville earned the higher seed atop Pool B over Jones by virtue of Northern Ontario’s win over Manitoba in the tournament’s opening draw.
Finishing first in their pools gave Einarson and McCarville byes to the finals of Friday’s playoff round.
Those finals seed the final four teams for Saturday’s Page playoff.
Einarson’s Gimli Curling Club foursome from Manitoba is trying to become the first team to achieve a Scotties Tournament of Hearts four-peat since Colleen Jones from 2001 to 2004.
They also want another crack at a world championship after a bronze medal in 2022, placing sixth in 2021 and having their 2020 chance denied because of the COVID-19 cancellation.
“We have some unfinished business to take care of,” Einarson said.
“We want to get back to worlds and bring home a gold medal for Canada.”
Another perfect-record bonus for Einarson was getting hammer in the first end in playoff games and first choice of a set of rocks.
Unusually for the skip, Einarson still had her voice Thursday.
It’s standard for her to be rasping by the middle of a tournament because of a vocal cord strain.
“I did lose it for one day. It was really weird. I woke up and had zero voice and was like ‘Oh, no.’ It was really early. It was game four,” said Einarson, who attributed having a day with no games Wednesday for restoring it.
Snow and rain outside the Sandman Centre over the opening days of the tournament gave way to cold, dry temperatures by Thursday, which Homan says made for more consistent ice conditions.
“Thankfully, the cold came in and frost is gone now,” the skip said. “Lots of really great shots made all over the board and you can really trust the ice right now.”
The semifinal and final are Sunday.
The Hearts winner represents Canada at the world championship March 18-26 in Sandviken, Sweden, and returns to the 2024 national championship in Calgary as the defending champion.
The victor also earns $108,000 from a total prize purse of $300,000 and is eligible for Sport Canada “carding”’ money as part of Curling Canada’s national-team program.