For the third straight outing, Amber Holland’s Green curling machine from Saskatchewan was living dangerously. Which is to say, it had grabbed a half-time lead in a key match at the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts at the Civic Centre.
Did deja-vu cross the minds of the Saskatchewan troops?
“Yuh think?” skip Holland responded.
This time it was the sudden-death semi-final leading to tonight’s championship match and opportunity for redemption against defending champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg.
Jones erased a 5-2 Page One-Two playoff-game deficit on Friday night to qualify for the final at Holland’s expense. The night before, Holland had blown a sizeable advantage in the last round of the preliminaries to B.C.’s Kelly Scott.
This time, Holland constructed the 5-2 lead in five ends against Ontario’s youthful Rachel Homan. But, Saskatchewan gritted in and posted a 7-5 decision.
“We just had to focus on the shots, not to watch the scoreboard,” said Holland. “We had to make sure we were playing like we had an one-point lead, not a three-point lead.”
Hmm. It wasn’t long before the Saskatchewan lead was reduced to one point. But that’s where Holland and crew persevered.
“I think we lost a little focus probably,” Holland said of Friday’s turnaround, “and this time we were determined not to let that happen.
“I’ll still take that lead, though. I’ll still take it. The first five ends were exactly how we wanted to play them. Now some key shots have to be made at the back end. If we can play 10 like we played five on Friday, that’s the game plan we want to follow.
“Of course the last five will be more difficult,” Holland added. “That just means we have to be sharper and our placement has to be better and we have to make sure we’re not giving them any opportunities to put the pressure on us.”
Saturday night’s was more of a run-and-gun affair as opposed to the high-scoring joust of the night previous. Saskatchewan assumed control in the fourth end with the steal of two when Homan missed an angle runback kill on two Saskatchewan stones in the four-foot.
Saskatchewan withstood a barrage of up-weight shooting from Homan most of the rest of the way and accepted another break from the 21-year-old Ottawa skip in the ninth end when she hit and rolled out her last rock leaving an open draw for a Saskatchewan deuce and a 7-4 advantage.
“We weren’t quite good enough,” said Homan. “They were the better team. They deserved it.
Homan said her team was happy with its lot, an acceptable performance for a rookie team at the Scotties.
“I want to win that last game and then think about trying to get back here next year,” she said.
No question, the Homan team presented different problems for Saskatchewan.
“Rachel’s a talented skip and a talented player,” said Holland. “I think some of that patience will come. I have a lot of respect for what she did here.”
Holland admitted her team was feeling a little heat at the outset Saturday.
“But once we got into the groove and scored the first deuce in the fourth end, it was ‘welcome to the game’ and we played well from there.
“Our team played better as a team tonight. We didn’t have so many damaging misses that gave them opportunities to come out on top.”
So what’s the plan for tonight’s big one?
“We know they’ll be coming with everything, but I think if we can stay the course and focus on our performance, keep the pressure on them and make our shots the rest will take care of itself,” said Holland.
“I mean, on any given day, eh? And we just hope we can come out with our best performance.
“We had a morning nap and an afternoon nap today. We’ll have the same tomorrow. We’re going to relax and when we get here start worrying about the rocks in our hands.”
The Jones team may be considered heavy favourites but Holland is not so sure.
“I think I’ll say we’re the favourite because we have such a huge fan base here,” she argued.
“Obviously, though, I’d think most of the media and all the other people at home will think Team Canada, because they’re Team Canada and you can’t take that away from them.
“If we have to be underdogs so be it. We’re Saskatchewan. We’re the Roughriders. Someone e-mailed me today and said, ‘Yah, just like the Riders, keeping us all on the edge of our seats’.
“Hey, not only do we have a Brier drought (1980), we’re starting to have a women’s drought (1997). But this is why we’re here, shooting for that chance to wear that Maple Leaf. That’s what it’s all about.”
The defending champion Jones said she expects a game that could go down to the last rock.
“I’m sure it’ll be another great game,” she said following the semi. “It was nice to get some rest today, I hope it doesn’t hurt.
“I can’t wait for it to be 7:30 tomorrow night. Playing in the final is one of the most exciting things in curling. I love to play, and win or lose I know we’re going to have a great time and that’s all that really matters. As long as we go out there and enjoy the moment and have fun there’ll be absolutely no regrets.”