GRAND PRAIRIE, Alta. – A pair of white-knuckle wins by Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville gave her Thunder Bay team a share of the early lead at the Canadian women’s curling championship Sunday.
Northern Ontario and Alberta’s Chelsea Carey were both 3-0 after the opening weekend of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.
McCarville made a pressure draw to score two and beat defending champion Jennifer Jones 8-7 in the evening. That was after a larcenous 9-7 win over Nova Scotia’s Jill Brothers in which Northern Ontario stole two in the 10th and two in an extra end.
"Definitely we don’t want to be in a scramble to get every win," McCarville said. "I think when you’re at the Scotties, you need a little bit of luck. Luck seems to be on our side right now. Hopefully it stays on our side."
Northern Ontario and host Alberta were pre-tournament picks to challenge Jones's bid for back-to-back titles. Both teams scored wins over Jones in the first two days of the tournament.
The top four teams in the field of 12 advance to the Page playoff at the conclusion of the preliminary round Friday. Ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games.
The winner of Sunday's final represents Canada at the women's world curling championship March 19-27 in Swift Current, Sask., and wears the Maple Leaf at next year's Scotties in St. Catharines, Ont.
Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt, Quebec's Marie-France Larouche and Manitoba's Kerri Einarson were tied at 2-1.
Jones dropped to 1-2 alongside Nova Scotia, Ontario's Jenn Hanna, New Brunswick's Sylvie Robichaud, B.C.'s Karla Thompson and Saskatchewan's Jolene Campbell. Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador was winless after three games.
Alberta's pair of victories Sunday were less tense than Northern Ontario's. Chelsea's Calgary team downed B.C. 8-5 and Newfoundland 6-4.
Early wins are insurance against the emotional and physical slings and arrows of an 11-game preliminary round, Carey said.
"You want to get as many wins as you can obviously," the Alberta skip said. "The sooner you get them the better. It only gets tougher as the week goes on typically."
Carey grew up in Manitoba's curling hothouse competing in junior and women's provincial championships a combined 10 times.
Carey skipped Manitoba at the 2014 Scotties in Montreal. Her team went 9-2 and finished third.
"We were 9-1 late in the week the last time I was here and we still almost ended up in a tiebreaker or a three-four (playoff) game, so it's just never over," Carey said.
She moved to Edmonton in 2014 to form a new curling team which lost the Alberta women's final in 2015 to Val Sweeting.
When former Canadian champion Heather Nedohin decided to take a step back from curling prior to this season, Carey joined third Amy Nixon, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Laine Peters.
Carey has deep roots in Manitoba curling, but the 31-year-old was feeling Albertan right down to her blue and gold fingernails at Revolution Place.
"To be Team Alberta in Alberta is pretty magical," Carey said. "Obviously I'll always be from Manitoba. It's my original home.
"It was weird a little bit more for me last year. It's less so now because last year I chased an Alberta jacket and we lost the provincial final. You get so close you can almost taste wearing it. I didn't win it. That made it pretty real for me, the transition."
Third Kendra Lilly, second Ashley Sippala and lead Sarah Potts round out McCarville's team. They blew off steam in the hour between their extra-end win in the afternoon and their big game against Jones at night.
"That hour we had off, we had fun. We're a very silly, sarcastic team," McCarville said. "That's what keeps us loose."
McCarville drew the four-foot rings with her last shot to score two against Jones.
"I think that's what every skip wants is a draw to win the game," the high school teacher said. "Especially a big game like that, we wanted to keep it close because we were hoping we had a shot in the end to win and we did."