PENTICTON, B.C. – Shannon Birchard was 10 years old sitting in her Winnipeg home when she watched Jennifer Jones make an incredible walk-off, in-off shot to score four for her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts title in 2005.
This week she’s here to help Jones secure a record-tying sixth Canadian women’s curling crown as a last-minute replacement at the 2018 Scotties. If Birchard’s play in Manitoba’s opening round-robin game is any indication the Manitoba team won’t miss a beat.
Jones’s team of Birchard at third, second Jill Officer, lead Dawn McEwen and coach Wendy Morgan from the St. Vital Curling Club in Winnipeg, where Birchard used to play, squashed Sherry Anderson’s Saskatchewan rink (Saskatoon) rink 12-5 Saturday evening. Birchard sparkled in the opening draw of the eight-team Pool A round robin, shooting 98 per cent.
“I don’t even know what she missed,” exclaimed Jones. “I thought she was 100 per cent. She shot the lights out. She’s been great. Every game she’s played in she’s played outstanding.”
Jones, 43, told the 23-year-old recruit to have fun and enjoy the moment.
“I remember my first Scotties (2002 in Brandon, Man.) just soaking it up. It seems like she’s got nerves of steel. She was smiling, laughing and played great,” said Jones.
Birchard was brought on board to fill in for Kaitlyn Lawes, who will soon be heading to Pyeongchang, South Korea, to play mixed doubles with John Morris at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Birchard skipped her own team at the Manitoba provincial championship two weeks ago, finishing the round robin at 3-4. She even beat Jones in a cashspiel final earlier this season.
“They’re a well-oiled machine,” said Birchard. “They know each other so well, they curl so well and they make a lot of shots and they make a lot of shots, and it’s really great to watch and be part of.
“I felt great out there. I had a couple of nerves early, but settled those as soon as I was able to make that first shot.”
Birchard admitted she has to pinch herself to realize she’s playing alongside the woman who made that fantastic shot 13 years ago.
Nova Scotia skip Mary-Anne Arsenault won her 2018 Scotties opener on Saturday night. (Photo, Curling Canada/Andrew Klaver)
“That’s my first memory of really just being, wow, Jennifer is someone who is here to stay and is someone we’re going to be watching for a long time,” said Birchard. “Growing up in Manitoba there’s a lot of people to look up to. There’s a lot of greats to look up to, but she’s definitely someone that I’ve looked up to throughout my curling career and try to model my game after a little bit, so it’s just super exciting to play with her.”
Jones stole two in the first end and three more in the second before putting the game away with five in the fifth end for a 10-1 lead. She is seeking her sixth women’s Canadian curling crown as a skip which would tie her with record holder Colleen Jones of Nova Scotia.
The Wild Card Team, another Manitoba squad skipped by Kerri Einarson of East St. Paul, made its debut a good one by downing Sylvie Robichaud’s New Brunswick team (Moncton) 8-6. In a northern territorial battle Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories (Yellowknife) defeated Chelsea Duncan of Whitehorse, Yukon 9-6. Nova Scotia skip Mary-Anne Arsenault, who like Jones is playing in her 13th Scotties, beat Northern Ontario, skipped by Tracy Fleury (Sudbury), 10-4.
The 2018 Scotties Tournament of Hearts continues with draws Sunday at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (all times PST).