Kaitlyn Lawes said she usually gets asked at the end of the season if she’s interested in skipping again but because she’s been so focused on playing third for Jennifer Jones, it wasn’t something that crossed her mind.
Lawes, who won two Canadian junior titles plus silver and bronze medals at the world juniors as a skip, has played third since moving up to the women’s division in 2009, first with Cathy King’s team before joining Jones the following year and has won just about everything there is in the sport over the past dozen seasons.
After Team Jones decided last week they’ll be splitting up at the end of this season, the three-time Olympian from Winnipeg realized it was time to return to her roots.
Lawes will continue to play with Team Jones second Jocelyn Peterman and has linked up with third Selena Njegovan and lead Kristin MacCuish from Tracy Fleury’s team to form a new squad for next season.
“Once the conversations started to happen after our team decided to part ways, it seemed like a really natural fit,” Lawes told sportsnet.ca shortly after her team was officially announced Monday. “I’ve had some great conversations with Selena, Jocelyn and Kristin and we’re just really excited about this new lineup.”
The Winnipeg native Lawes admitted she hasn’t really processed what it means to be able to skip again and said she’s more excited about her team and figuring out what works for them.
“When I skipped in juniors, I absolutely loved the position,” Lawes said. “It was something that I was very passionate about. I’m a curling nerd, let’s be honest. … I love the game. I love figuring out how to develop an end and a game plan.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done it on a regular basis but at the same time, I’ve been involved in the strategy playing third all these years and learning from the best. I feel like I’m going to be comfortable in that role and I have such great support from my teammates. They have given me a lot of confidence even before stepping out on the ice.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a tournament Lawes hasn’t won during her tenure with Team Jones. She’s captured an Olympic gold medal in 2014, silver in 2015 and gold in 2018 at the world championship, one Scotties Tournament of Hearts title in 2015 and five Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles.
Asked to summarize her dozen years playing with one of the greatest skips of all time, Lawes quickly quipped, “How much time do you have?”
“Twelve incredible, amazing years,” Lawes said. “I’m so grateful that Jennifer and the girls took a chance on me. I was just 21 when they reached out and brought me onto the team. That was a huge risk for them and I’m so grateful they took that risk because it paid off. We have developed lifelong friendships and memories and moments we’ll never forget. I had a front-row seat to watching greatness in front of me and I’ve learned so much from Jennifer over the years and I’m forever grateful for that.”
Lawes captured a second Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles with John Morris in 2018. She represented Canada for a third time at the Winter Olympics last month in Beijing with Jones, and the team just missed the playoffs, finishing in a three-way tie for third but falling short based on average draw-to-the-button shootout scores.
Despite the result, it’s been another dream season for Lawes although also quite surreal navigating through the constant evolution of rules and restrictions that have cropped up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Going into the Olympics, it was a strange training period leading up to it, having to isolate for quite a long time,” Lawes said. “I’d say that was probably the toughest thing of the season was the isolation we had to go through but it was so worth it to be able to represent Canada and wear that Maple Leaf.
“I have so many great memories from our time in Beijing and even though the outcome might not be what we necessarily dreamed of, I’m so proud of the team for just leaving it all on the ice. I do believe we have a lot to be proud of. Just being able to get to the Olympics is a dream come true and we made the most of it and just had as much fun as we could.”
Lawes said it’s very exciting for her to be able to continue playing with Peterman, who joined Team Jones in 2018 when longtime second Jill Officer decided to step back from competitive curling.
“I’ve played with her for the last four years now, she’s been my roommate for the last four years and it’s been a pleasure getting to know her,” Lawes said. “She’s so hard-working and so motivated, she’s just so inspiring to be around. One of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So I’m really excited that we were able to figure out a way to continue together. She’s such a fantastic teammate and so much fun to be around.”
Njegovan and MacCuish have captured three major Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles winning the Boost National in 2016 with Kerri Einarson and the Masters in 2019 and 2021 with Fleury. Oddly enough, Fleury’s East St. Paul, Man., club defeated Team Jones for the title in the 2021 final. Njegovan recently skipped the squad for the first part of the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts after Fleury tested positive for COVID-19.
For Lawes, it was an “easy yes” to link up with the pair.
“Watching Selena this whole year, she’s been so incredible and so clutch for their team,” Lawes said. “She was recently the second all-star skip at the Scotties and she’s always been such a great clutch player. I’m very excited to learn from her, work with her and figure out what our back-end is going to look like.”
Playing with MacCuish, who is Officer’s niece, is going to be special for Lawes for many reasons.
“I’ve known her for years,” Lawes said. “She’s a kind person, her and Selena have basically been together since they were born as far as I know. They have such a great dynamic and friendship. It’s just an all-around, feel-good story and I’m very excited to just become friends with these people and have a lot of fun figuring out how we’re going to become a great curling team.”
Both Team Jones and Team Fleury will finish out this season with their current lineups with two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments remaining on the schedule. The Princess Auto Players’ Championship runs April 12-17 at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre followed by the KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup taking place May 3-8 at the Olds Sportsplex in Olds, Alta.
Lawes is looking forward to finishing her run with Team Jones on a high note. Jones announced this past week she was joining forces next year with reigning Manitoba champion Mackenzie Zacharias and her team while lead Dawn McEwen is planning to retire. Alternate Lisa Weagle has yet to announce her plans for the fall.
“Any opportunity we get to play at the Slams is an absolute privilege and these last two events are our favourite ones,” Lawes said. “To be able to play in Toronto at the Mattamy Centre is so cool. There’s so much history in that building. I can’t wait to celebrate our team, celebrate Dawn’s retirement and just try and go out with a bang.”