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Islanders are in prime position to win

Kathy O’Rourke and her Prince Edward Islanders are in a prime position to win their province’s first-ever Canadian women’s curling championship.

But taking first-place in the Scotties round robin at the Essar Centre, something the Island curlers accomplished Thursday, constitutes only the first step on the three-step route to the throne room.

Starting today (7:30 p.m. ET) at Essar, O’Rourke, who throws second stones and directs traffic for 21-year-old back-enders Erin Carmody and Geri-Lynn Ramsay, can take a second step by repeating her round-robin win over defending champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg.

Such a development would propel the Atlantic team directly to the championship final on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET. A loss, and the Isles would drop to a semi-final date on Saturday at 7 p.m.

O’Rourke and Co., sat out the final round Thursday night while Jones and Ontario’s Krista McCarville faced off in a battle of giants. Jones won it 6-5, thereby assuring herself of second place in the final standings and a place in the Page One-Two playoff Friday.

Had McCarville won the key match, her team would have placed first, dropping the Islanders to second and leaving Jones in a three-way sudden-death playoff situation.

British Columbia’s Kelly Scott and Manitoba’s Jill Thurston both won handily on the last draw, thereby joining McCarville with 7-and-4 records, one game behind the 8-and-3 marks turned in by O’Rourke and Jones.

Scott won her second of the day, 8-2 over Shelley Nichols (4-and-7) of Newfoundland/Labrador. The win left the former world champion placing third (by virtue of a pre-event draw challenge used to rank teams in case round-robin results failed to provide separation) and drawing today off while McCarville and Thurston battle at 3 p.m. to decide an opponent for Saturday’s Page Three-Four playoff at 1 p.m. ET.

Thurston whipped Quebec’s Eve Belisle 10-4 Thursday night on an adjacent ice sheet.

The Jones team’s advance to the Page One-Two will be its first such appearance in the premier playoff tilt since 2005. The match provides an extra life while all other playoff games are sudden death.

“I just wanted a shot at the four-foot and I knew I’d have that draw,” said Jones of the tension-packed final end played before a crowd of 3,507.
McCarville had taken two in the ninth to tie the count afte1r chasing Jones most of the way.

McCarville had two rocks stationed in the four-foot, guarded, but Jones executed an angle-raise takeout leaving her rock hidden. McCarville flashed, attempting a thin double off one of her own rocks.

“We played the angle raise on the first one when we had the chance,” said Jones. “I knew all the way down we weren’t hitting it too thick but it worked.

“It was a big game for us today and we knew we’d have to play well and we did.”

Jones lost to O’Rourke Wednesday night and noted the Islanders “play with no fear”.

“They’ll be tough but we’ve been there before and we’ll be tough, too,” she said.

McCarville explained her last-rock miss:

“I planned to throw peel weight, I just threw wide. It’s such a long drop, from No. 1 to tiebreakers, two tiebreakers, again. Hopefully this time it’ll go our way.”

McCarville won two tiebreakers at the Olympic trials in Edmonton, then lost in the semi-final.

“I think for some reason we’re supposed to learn the ice a little better so two extra games will have to do, ” she said. “We like tiebreakers. Wherever we go, we take the hard road. But that’s OK, it makes us a better team. And we’re conditioned for what we’re facing the next couple of days.”

McCarville said she wasn’t disappointed in her team’s play.

“We picked up our game tonight but it wasn’t enough,” she said.

The B.C. team, won its second of the day by stealing points at will against the women from The Rock.

“We had a real, real good day — team dynamics, chemistry and just solid play,” said Scott, the 2007 world champion who’s looking to get back to the Scotties throne room.

“I think we’re ramping it up at the perfect time. We have some momentum now.”

She said she’d probably rather play today.

“I’d rather play, but not in a tiebreaker,” she said. “We’ll practise instead.”

Thurston was irate after what she termed “a horrible” performance against New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly in the afternoon, but her Winnipeg team bounced back to clobber Quebec.

“We played a lot better,” she said. “We had a talk and decided we’re still in it, we can still make a tiebreaker so let’s just go out and play hard.
“The goal was to make the playoffs and whether it’s a tiebreaker or not it’s still the playoffs. I think we play well when our backs are against the wall. We knew we had to win this game to stay in it and we came out firing.”

Saskatchewan’s Amber Holland drew the button for a 7-6 win over Valerie Sweeting of Edmonton in the other game Thursday night.

Holland missed the playoffs by one game at 6-and-5 while Quebec and New Brunswick were 5-and-6, Newfoundland/Labrador, Alberta and the Territories were 4-and-7 and Nova Scotia was 1-and-10.

The B.C. crew came through, knocking off first-place Prince Edward Island, 10-5, upping its record to 6-and-4, and staying alive for at least one more draw.
“I think the scoreboard was indicative of how sharp we played,” said Scott, whose Kelowna Curling Club team includes Jeanna Schraeder, Sasha Carter and Jacquie Armstrong. “It was definitely nice to have a game like that heading into the final weekend.

“We had to bring our ‘A’ game, and I think we did. We were placing those rocks where we wanted to, with both the drawing and the hitting. If we can finish tonight with a good solid performance, and get a ‘W,’ I think we’re looking in a real good position heading into the playoffs.”

Jill Thurston’s crew from Manitoba (6-4) merely needed to knock off New Brunswick (5-6) to punch its own playoff ticket, and eliminate any five-loss teams from playoff contention, but was instead trumped 9-6 by Andrea Kelly’s Fredericton outfit.

Jennifer Jones’ Team Canada, the two-time defending Scotties champions, overwhelmed last-place Nova Scotia (1-10) on Thursday afternoon by an 11-4 count.
Krista McCarville’s Ontario hosts, based in Thunder Bay, still have a shot at finishing first overall, since they defeated the Islanders in round-robin play.

Canada can finish no better than second, since Kathy O’Rourke’s P.E.I. crew topped Jones’ Winnipeg-based rink in the round robin.

As for Thurston, the Winnipeg skip was visibly upset at fumbling away a shot at securing a final-four berth.

“We win that game, we’re in outright, and we don’t have to play any tiebreakers, which I’m assuming we’re going to have to do now,” said Thurston, whose Deer Lodge Curing Club outfit includes Kristen Phillips, Leslie Wilson and Raunora Westcott.

“We have to play better than that. We were terrible. We didn’t play well enough to win, and of course we were playing a team that was out, so they’re loose and they don’t care. And she (Kelly) made everything . . . she made absolutely everything,” added Thurston. “I made pretty close to everything, but it wasn’t good enough.

“We’re going to have to go out and try to avoid (a four-way tie for fourth overall) like the plague,” said Thurston. “From the opening end on (Thursday afternoon), I was not happy. We knew (New Brunswick) was going to make everything. They were playing loose, with nothing to lose. We were just . . . flat.”

Jones, meanwhile, had an open draw for five points in the fourth on her way to that lopsided win over the Bluenosers.
Fans might have been circling Thursday night’s Ontario-Canada showdown on their event calendars since last weekend, but Jones admitted she hadn’t taken notice of the timing.

“We’ll have to be sharp playing Ontario tonight,” said Jones, whose St. Vital Curling Club team includes Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Dawn Askin. “I’m sure there’s going to be a big crowd cheering for them, so it should be a lot of fun.

“We never really looked too far in advance. Obviously Ontario is a good team, and we expected them to be in the hunt,” added Jones, “but you just take it one game at a time, and to be honest, I didn’t even know we played them last until today.

“This was a big win for us. We want to come out and play well tonight and avoid the tiebreakers. That’s the goal at the beginning of the week.”

O’Rourke’s P.E.I. crew, which includes Tricia Affleck, Geri-Lynn Ramsay and last-rock tosser Erin Carmody, missed a chance to wrap up first place overall on their own terms against B.C., but O’Rourke wasn’t too upset about it.

“I think we were emotionally a little tired out there. We just really didn’t have the gas,” said O’Rourke. “I think the last three games have been really scrappy, hard-fought ones. It’s almost like you know you’re in that (Page) One-Two game, and you’re out there trying to play for hammer, but it’s tough going when you’re a little bit tired.”

In Thursday afternoon’s other game, Alberta halted a five-game losing streak with a 9-7 win over the Territories (4-7) that saw Valerie Sweeting’s Wild Rose crew score a deuce in the 11th end.

To hear Kathy O’Rourke tell it, these young Islanders are just getting warmed up.

Prince Edward Island became the first rink to eight wins Thursday morning at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, edging further ahead of the pack with a 9-5 win over Newfoundland at the Essar Centre.

“(Third) Geri-Lynn (Ramsay) and (last-rock tosser) Erin (Carmody) were just on fire out there again this morning, and that’s great to have that at your back end,” said O’Rourke, the P.E.I. skip who throws second rocks.

“It’s amazing to watch those two. I don’t really see any nerves in them at all,” said O’Rourke of Carmody and Ramsay, both 21. “Even off the ice, we don’t talk much about what’s coming next, other than making sure we’re ready for the first end of our next game. We’re trying not to get ahead of ourselves here.”

If the Islanders (8-2) win Thursday afternoon’s assignment against British Columbia (5-4), they’d finish atop the round robin at the Scotties for the first time since 2003, when Suzanne Gaudet went 10-1 at Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. No P.E.I. team has ever won the Canadian women’s curling championship.

In Thursday morning’s other Draw 15 results, host Ontario (7-3) halted a two-game losing slide with a 7-3 decision over Nova Scotia (1-9). Amber Holland’s Saskatchewan outfit (5-5) all but eliminated itself from the playoff round with a 9-5 loss to the Territories (3-7). And in a battle of also-rans, Eve Belisle’s Quebec rink (6-5) edged Andrea Kelly’s New Brunswick crew (4-6) by a 6-5 count.

On Sheet B, the Islanders scored three in the first, chalked up another three-ender in the fourth thanks to a critical Ramsay double takeout, and rang up a deuce in the eighth against Shelley Nichols’ quartet from the Rock.

“No question, right from the get-go to start this year, it’s hard not to be energized by two young people (Carmody and Ramsay) of that age. Not only two young people, but two young people who have a true love for this game,” said O’Rourke, whose lead is Tricia Affleck. “They practise harder than anyone I know. And when you put together that combination of talent and hard practice, this is the result.”

Meanwhile, Krista McCarville’s Ontario rink from Thunder Bay got things back on track after losses Wednesday to Manitoba and the Territories.
The turning point in Ontario’s 7-3 win Thursday over the Bluenosers came in the sixth end with a steal of four, when Nova Scotia skip Nancy McConnery missed a takeout facing four Ontario counters.

“Much better, definitely. Our team was back, and I felt like I was back. Felt like I had some more confidence than I did yesterday,” said McCarville, whose Fort William Curling Club outfit includes Tara George, Ashley Miharija and Kari MacLean. “It feels really good to get our old team back, and forget about yesterday.

“We just weren’t catching on to the ice (Wednesday), and we didn’t have that confidence. Going into that second game, I think we were just rattled over our first-game loss, and didn’t fully get over it. So we had a good talk, and a good night off to really think about what we needed to day . . . we came out a lot better.”

Ontario was scheduled to engage in a much-anticipated showdown with Jennifer Jones’ two-time defending champions, Team Canada (6-3), on the Essar Centre ice Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. during the final draw of the round robin.

“We really want to win. It’s Team Canada. Who doesn’t want to beat Team Canada at the Scotties?” said McCarville, 27. “It’s definitely a big game. We want to play our best.”

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan saw its playoff hopes almost certainly dashed with that devastating loss to Sharon Cormier’s Yellowknife gang. The Territories stole two in the ninth for the final points as Holland’s final rock slid through the four-foot instead of nestling against an opposition counter.

“I missed a lot of opportunities that game. So that’s harder for me than anyone,” said Holland, whose Kronau Curling Club quartet includes Kim Schneider, Tammy Schneider and Heather Kalenchuk. “Sharon Cormier made a lot of great shots, and kudos to her — because there were a lot of times her team could have been down and out, and she just kept plugging.

“You don’t want to come to this event and play poor. And we did. So that sucks more than anything else. Good event, lot of curling. Think I’m getting too old for this,” added Holland with a laugh. “But you’ve just got to perform, regardless of what’s in front of you and what’s given to you.
“We didn’t do that at times, and hence, that’s why we’re at five losses.”