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Ontario women remain on perfect pace at 2017 Canadian Junior Championships

VICTORIA — Hailey Armstrong was in distinctly unfamiliar territory on Sunday night at the Archie Browning Sports Centre.

Ontario sweepers Lindsay Dubue, left, and Marcia Richardson were hard at work on Sunday night. (Photo, Curling Canada/Al Cameron)

Armstrong, 20, and her Ontario team from the Rideau Curling Club in Ottawa weren’t just leading their game at the 2017 Canadian Junior Curling Championships, presented by Ambrosia Apples. They were leading it comfortably. Not an ounce of tension to be found.

The end result — a 14-3 win over Nunavut’s Sadie Pinksen (0-3; Iqaluit) — left Armstrong, vice-skip Grace Holyoke, second Lindsay Dubue, lead Marcia Richardson and coach Bill Rogers with a perfect 3-0 record in the opening weekend.

Compared to the route Team Ontario took to get to the 2017 Canadian Juniors, its experience to Victoria has been a walk in the park.

On three occasions during the playdowns, Team Armstrong (a first-year lineup) found itself on the verge of having its national championship dreams dashed.

Early in the Ontario challenge round (a last-chance qualifier to get to the provincial championship), Armstrong was down two playing the 10th end; she scored three for the victory to stay alive in a loser-out game.

B.C. skip Tyler Tardi watches as his sweepers Jordan Tardi, left, and Nick Meister look for directions. (Photo, Curling Canada/Al Cameron)

That, said Armstrong, may have been the turning point in her team’s season.

“We lost our first game and we knew we had to win three in a row to get to provincials,” she said. “But we pulled together as a team. Once we got that first win, we said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to go all the way.’ ”

That sense of destiny was heightened at the Ontario junior championships in Russell.

In the semifinal against defending champ Courtney Auld, Armstrong rallied from a 7-2 deficit through six ends to tie the game 9-9 after nine ends, then stole the winning point in the 10th.

And in the final against Emma Wallingford, Armstrong was down two with hammer in the 10th and made a delicate come-around tap to score three for the win and provincial title (CLICK HERE to see the shot).

“We never give up,” said Armstrong. “Even in a game as laid-back as that one (against Nunavut), we just said that we want to play how we play, we want to try to make every shot. We’re at a national-level event, and we want to make every shot we can.”

Armstrong is quick to point to her team’s work with coaching legend Earle Morris as a big factor in its mental toughness this season, and the results are on display this weekend in Victoria, where Armstrong and her teammates are having the time of their lives.

“It’s an amazing experience,” she marvelled. “I love the ice, the rocks are awesome, and just all the lights in the arena, the fans, the atmosphere. It’s wonderful.”

In other women’s games, Saskatchewan’s Kaitlyn Jones (3-0; Regina) also remained perfect with an 11-3 victory over Newfoundland/Labrador’s Brooke Godsland (2-1; St. John’s); Manitoba’s Laura Burtnyk (2-1; Winnipeg) downed Prince Edward Island’s Lauren Lenentine (1-3; Cornwall) 8-3; and B.C.’s Corryn Brown (2-1; Kamloops) needed an extra end for a 10-7 win over Quebec’s Camille Boisvert (2-1; Lévis).

Manitoba second Graham McFarlane throws his rock. (Photo, Curling Canada/Bob Vanderford)

In men’s games, Manitoba’s JT Ryan (Winnipeg) won a battle of the unbeatens, improving to 3-0 with a hard-fought 4-3 win over Alberta’s Colton Goller (3-1; Calgary); Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan (2-1; Copper Cliff) scored a big three in the ninth end for a 7-3 win over Saskatchewan’s Rylan Kleiter (1-3; Saskatoon); P.E.I.’s Tyler Smith (3-1; Charlottetown) shaded Newfoundland/Labrador’s Greg Blyde (1-3; St. John’s) 4-3; and B.C.’s Tyler Tardi (2-0; Langley/New Westminster) made an open draw to the eight-foot in the 11th end for a 7-6 win over Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel (1-2; Halifax).

Action at the 2017 Canadian Juniors continues on Monday with draws at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (All times PST).