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Eight Ends: Who will emerge victorious in Manitoba Scotties?

Eight Ends is your weekly source for news, notes, insight, and analysis from around the curling world. This edition dives knee-deep into provincial playdowns leading off with some Manitoba mayhem. 

1st End: A triple threat of top contenders (plus some underdogs) are vying for the coveted Bison patch this week in the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Tracy Fleury, Kerri Einarson and Jennifer Jones are ranked 1-2-3 on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) standings but like Highlander, there can be only one representing the province at the Canadian women’s curling championship.

All three have reached finals in Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events this season with Fleury winning the Masters and Einarson and Jones finishing runner-up in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge and BOOST National, respectively. 

The most likely scenario is one of the “Big Three” will win the provincial title while the other two will face off in the wild-card game for a second shot at getting into the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts. It’s not official yet, of course, so we’ll just have to play it out and see how it goes.

2nd End: Fleury is the front-runner heading into the Manitoba Scotties sitting in first place on the CTRS and second in the world. The East St. Paul, Man., club is also the defending champion, rallying to defeat Team Einarson in last year’s final, and could do it again having found an extra gear with a Grand Slam win. They’ve also been consistent qualifying in 10 straight tournaments to start this season. Team Fleury missed the playoffs earlier this month in the Meridian Canadian Open and they’ll be hoping it was just a blip and not the start of a troubling trend. 

3rd End: Einarson landed on double whammy last season not only losing to Fleury in the provincial final but also dropping the wild-card game to Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger. The Gimli, Man., team bounced back with authority winning the Players’ Championship and finishing runner-up at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to wrap up the season then opened 2019-20 with back-to-back tour wins in Edmonton and Calgary.

What makes them dangerous is their ability to grind out wins with their backs against the wall as seen during their runs to the Players’ Championship title and Tour Challenge runner-up result. They recently qualified A-side at 3-0 through the Meridian Canadian Open and were one of only two Canadian women’s teams to make the playoffs. (The other team is next on our list.) 

4th End: And then there’s Jones, who dips back into the provincial pool after holding the Team Canada auto-berth to nationals last season. Jones is just two years removed from winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, her record-tying sixth Canadian title, plus the world championship.

Experience is the edge for the nine-time GSOC title winner Jones, who has a playbook bigger than a phone book and is cool, calm and collected in the house. As the No. 3 team, Jones would have the most to lose in an upset scenario if the rankings hold up since Fleury and Einarson would still have the wild-card game and Jones would be left out altogether. 

5th End: We’re still not ruling anything out: Could there be an upset in Manitoba and by whom? Beth Peterson’s team has potential ranked fourth in the province and breaking into the top 10 on the CTRS. They were semifinalists in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 2 this season falling to eventual champions Team Min-Ji Kim, who then made it to the final of the Meridian Canadian Open. Theresa Cannon (No. 13 on CTRS) and Darcy Robertson (No. 19) are also threats. Let’s not forget Robertson stunned Jones in the 2017 provincial semifinal. 

6th End: It’s hard for Laura Walker to imagine one year ago she would be skipping Alberta in the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts because at that time she wasn’t even planning on playing. After her former squad parted ways last year, Walker was aiming at taking a step back and possibly only playing mixed doubles while focusing on starting a family. Second Taylor McDonald, who played with Walker during the previous Olympic cycle, was the one who changed her mind.

Team Walker went on a tear in provincial playdowns completing an undefeated 9-0 run including a 7-4 victory over Kelsey Rocque’s club in Sunday’s final.

“I’m not actually sure she even knows that this is what convinced me in the end but she made a comment and I believe she said, ‘Of course that’s OK. I hate that women feel like they have to choose,’” Walker said when the team was formed. “That was the way that I was feeling, to be quite honest. I was really feeling like I had to make a choice, especially because I was starting with a new team. … That comment from her really went to my heart and made me feel I would be supported. I loved that she said that because that’s exactly how I was feeling. That’s what put me over the edge.”

7th End: Here’s the full list of provincial playdown dates and winners leading into the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Feb. 15-23, in Moose Jaw, Sask., followed by the Tim Hortons Brier, Feb. 29 – March 8, in Kingston, Ont. 

TeamScotties Tournament of HeartsTim Hortons Brier
CanadaChelsea CareyKevin Koe
AlbertaLaura WalkerFeb. 5-9
British ColumbiaJan. 28-Feb. 2Jan. 28-Feb. 2
ManitobaJan. 29-Feb. 2Feb. 4-9
New BrunswickAndrea CrawfordJan. 28-Feb. 2
Newfoundland and LabradorErica CurtisJan. 28-Feb. 2
Northern OntarioJan. 28-Feb. 2Jan. 28-Feb. 2
Nova ScotiaMary-Anne ArsenaultJamie Murphy
OntarioJan. 27-Feb. 1Jan. 28-Feb. 2
Prince Edward IslandSuzanne BirtBryan Cochrane
QuebecNoemie VerreaultAlek Bedard
SaskatchewanRobyn SilvernagleJan. 28-Feb. 2
Northwest TerritoriesKerry GalushaJan. 29-Feb. 3
NunavutLori EddyJake Higgs
YukonHailey BirnieThomas Scoffin
Wild-CardFeb. 14Feb. 28

Note: The wild-card games will feature the top two teams on the CTRS who did not win their provincial playdowns.

8th End: Watch coverage of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts live Sunday on Sportsnet with the semifinal at 10 a.m. ET / 9 a.m. CT followed by the final at 5 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. CT. Sportsnet will also have coverage of the Alberta and Manitoba men’s semifinals and finals on Feb. 9.