REGINA — Shannon Kleibrink wasn’t surprised it’s Manitoba she has to beat Sunday to win her first Canadian women’s curling championship.
Her Alberta team and the Jennifer Jones foursome from Winnipeg have waged pitched battles in bonspiels this season and are ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively in the Canadian rankings of women’s curling teams.
The teams clashed in the final of two Grand Slam cashspiel events this winter and were 1-1 in them.
"If you knew you were in the final, who would you have thought would be there? For sure, it would have been Jennifer Jones’s team," Kleibrink said Saturday. "They deserve to be there."
The winner of Sunday’s game represents Canada at the world women’s curling championship March 22-30 in Vernon, B.C.
"I know we have a lot of respect for Shannon’s team and I know they have a lot of respect for us," Jones said. "We want a shot for the win and that’s all we’re going for."
Manitoba won a seventh consecutive game Saturday and did it by stealing a point in an extra end to get by Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh 9-8 in the semifinal.
Kleibrink, who won an Olympic bronze medal two years ago, is playing for her first Canadian championship and Alberta’s first in a decade.
Jones skips a team that has consistently been one of Canada’s best in recent years. This is her team’s third appearance in a Canadian final in the last four years and they won the title in 2005.
She can secure a spot in the eight-team Olympic trials in 2009 with a win Sunday.
One way to qualify is to win three major events over three seasons from 2007 to 2009. Jones won last year’s Canada Cup and Players Championship for two of the three.
Jones, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin were 3-4 on "terrible Tuesday," as Jones calls it, when they lost 10-3 to Alberta.
The Manitobans went 7-4 in the preliminary round and had to get by Newfoundland and Labrador in a tiebreaker game to secure the final playoff berth. Then it was a win over Quebec in Friday’s playoff game to get to the semifinal.
Manitoba has its confidence and its game back, but Alberta rode no such roller-coaster during the tournament.
Kleibrink lost just one game in the round-robin and beat Middaugh in an extra end in a playoff between the top two seeds Friday to vault into the final.
"In our minds, we have momentum because we lost just one game this whole week and they lost four," Kleibrink said. "I know they’re on the roll, but I don’t really give that too much thought."
The pivotal matchup could be at third. Alberta’s Amy Nixon hasn’t missed much and executed a few jaw-droppers, which made Kleibrink’s life a lot easier in this tournament.
Nixon was a unanimous choice for the tournament’s first all-star team Saturday.
Cathy-Overton Clapham, a veteran of four championship games in her career and named to the second all-star team, is battling a sore knee on which she had arthroscopic surgery in 2005.
"That’ll be a battle," Kleibrink said. "They’re both great thirds. It might be the key matchup of the game again."
Overton-Clapham admitted she didn’t play that well against Ontario on Saturday "but Jennifer came to play," she said.
The front end battle in the final should also be intriguing. Officer was chosen for the first all-star team at second, while Alberta lead Chelsey Bell earned first-team honours at lead. Manitoba lead Dawn Askin was a second-team all-star.
.Kleibrink hasn’t been forced to execute circus shots at this tournament, thanks in part to Nixon’s efforts.
Jones has some riverboat gambler in her. Given the choice, the 33-year-old corporate lawyer will usually go for a more difficult shot to score two points, instead of taking one when the last shot of the end is in her hand.
But she didn’t do that in the 10th end of Saturday’s semifinal against Ontario. Instead of attempting a double takeout to score two for the win, she drew for one to tie the game and took her chances in an extra end.
She executed a perfect tap in the 11th to leave Middaugh with two choices: draw around a Manitoba counter on the top of the four foot and put the stone on the button, or a run-back double takeout and keep the shooter in the rings for the win.
Middaugh removed only the top stone and her shooter rolled out for the loss.
She has now skipped Ontario at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts four times and lost in the semifinal every time. Two straight playoff losses in an extra end made this third-place finish painful.
"The skipper didn’t finish it off again," Middaugh said. "We could have tried to draw the pin, but it was looking pretty yummy that double. A fairly routine shot I guess, but maybe under the circumstances not so routine.
"The darn semifinal, I tell ya. As a skip, you’re either the hero or the goat."
Notes(at) — Kleibrink was named first team all-star skip and Middaugh to the second all-star team … Team Canada second Sasha Carter was also picked for the second all-star team … CBC broadcaster Don Wittman was posthumously given the Joan Mead Builders Award on Saturday for contributions to the sport … Prince Edward Island lead Stefanie Clark earned the Marj Mitchell Award, which is voted on by the curlers for sportsmanship.