Fire burns bright for Jennifer Jones heading into Olympic trials semifinal

Team Jones skip Jennifer Jones throws against Team Fleury during Draw 17 of the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon, Friday, November 26, 2021. (Liam Richards/CP)

SASKATOON — Lisa Weagle has been thinking a lot this week about a phone call she received in March 2020 that changed her life.

The longtime lead for Rachel Homan had been informed the team was cutting ties — a decision that caught Weagle off guard — but shortly after that disappointing news, the phone rang and it was none other than Jennifer Jones.

“She said she wants to win and she thought that I could bring something to the team,” Weagle said, wide-eyed as she recalled the moment. “She had me hooked right from that first conversation. There was something in her voice, and you can see it in her eyes — the fire is really there for her.”

It sure is. And now, Jennifer Judith Jones is just two wins away from a second trip to the Winter Olympic Games.

On Friday, Team Jones — the famed skipper, lead Dawn McEwen, second Jocelyn Peterman, third Kaitlyn Lawes and Weagle, the fifth — secured the No. 2 seed at Canada’s Olympic curling trials, finishing the round-robin at SaskTel Centre with a 5-3 record. They’ll play the semifinal Saturday night at 7 p.m. local time.

Jones was all smiles Friday, even after a 7-6 loss to Tracy Fleury, the sizzling skip who booked a direct ticket to Sunday’s final with a sparkling 8-0 round-robin record.

“We get hammer,” the 47-year-old Jones said of Saturday’s semi, since three teams (Kerri Einarson, Krista McCarville and Casey Scheidegger) finished at 4-4 and will duke it out for the chance to play her. “Kind of everything worked out the way we wanted. We’re pretty excited to play tomorrow.”

Jones had minutes earlier nearly tied things up in the final end against Fleury, a hair short of picking up three, which would’ve sent it to an extra end, but she had to settle for a deuce.

“We hung in there, it wasn’t our best game today, but I always say it’s good because usually we come back after not our best game and play great — so it’s not a bad way to end the round-robin actually,” Jones said, laughing. “It was nice to go out there and play our last round-robin game, and I thought we made a nice comeback. We ended really strong and hopefully, we’ll keep that momentum going tomorrow.”

“We’re feeling good,” Peterman added. “We’re right where we want to be, playing in the semifinal. The girls have so much confidence and experience at the trials and at this level, too, so we’re really using that to our advantage.”

Peterman is the second-most recent addition to Team Jones. The 28-year-old from Alberta got the call in 2018, after discussions with Lawes, the longtime third.

“I grew up watching Jenn on TV,” Peterman said. “She was an idol of mine, so to get to play with her has been a dream come true.”

Peterman will admit there were a few nerves the first time she played alongside the six-time Scotties, two-time world and one-time Olympic champion skip.

“Jenn’s an intimidating personality,” she said, laughing. “She’s just so good and she’s done everything. I was a little nervous at the start, but she’s so kind and such a great person, so I’m definitely not nervous around her anymore.”

The most important lessons Peterman said she’s learned from Jones tells you a lot about the woman who has for so long been the face of the sport in this country.

“I’ve learned so much about that championship mindset that she obviously has, and has had for her entire career,” Peterman said. “She’s someone that always plays so well at the big events, really loving the crowd and loving the environment of these huge events. That’s something I’ve learned from her is to embrace it and be super grateful for all the opportunities that curling has given us.”

Many of those opportunities, too, are thanks to Jones. To measure her impact on curling in this country isn’t really possible — “it’s immeasurable,” as Weagle, the 2018 Olympian, puts it — but we’ll try.

“We’re very grateful that the sport in general now is very on par with the men. There’s not a lot of sports like that where we get the same kind of TV coverage and media coverage. It’s incredible and I think Jenn has a lot to do with that,” Peterman said. “She’s a legend.”

“She’s pushed the game in so many ways and improved and changed the women’s game and she’s continuing to do it,” Weagle added. “The shot she made in 2005 [to win the Scotties, scoring an incredible four points on her final shot in the last end], women didn’t really play shots like that back then. She’s elevated the shot-making and in terms of what we’re doing now with the five-player team, she’s trying to make conditions better for women curlers. She’s fought for everything that we have right now.”

At Jones’ home club, Winnipeg’s St. Vital CC, where you’ll find the skip and her Olympic championship team in mural form on an outside wall, there’s further evidence of her impact.

“We have around 1,200 people a week go through our club to curl,” said the club’s president, Jason Pruden, and you’re looking at a waitlist if you want to join the ladies’ league. “We’re a lucky club to be able to do that, to have all those people.

"And part of it is the visibility. It’s really nice that any televised event, they always show that Jennifer is from St. Vital Curling Club. She grew up at the club, she played juniors, in the ladies’ leagues. It shows that starting from a young age and working hard, you can become that top curler or Olympian.

“We’re very proud of her. Fingers crossed that she can get there again.”

Back in 2014, when Jones led Canada to Olympic gold, she and Lawes, McEwen and Jill Officer became the first women’s curling team to go undefeated and win there, and the first Manitoba-based curling team to win Olympic gold. She has another chance to get there, now two wins away.

“Hopefully we’ll come out and shoot the lights out and just have a ton of fun and see what happens,” Jones said Friday.

Asked to look ahead to Sunday, she knows exactly what to expect, should her team earn a chance at a rematch with Fleury with that Olympic berth on the line.

“You’re definitely nervous. I mean, it’s the biggest game of your life,” Jones said. “It’s what you’ve dreamed of your entire life and it all comes down to three hours.”

Jones then walked out and joined her teammates to watch the last round-robin game wrap up, and waved at the crowd as she was named as the tournament's second seed.

She’s in tough, still. The field is incredible. But who in their right mind would bet against Jones?

“I look up and down our lineup, and the experience is there,” Weagle said. “We can lean on each other if we get nervous. We all know what it’s like and has been like in the past. And nobody knows better than Jenn.”

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.