Defending champion Kerri Einarson secures Scotties playoff berth

Kerri Einarson took a significant step toward defending her Canadian women’s curling championship by skipping her team to a playoff berth Saturday.

Einarson’s foursome out of Manitoba’s Gimli Curling Club beat Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges 7-4 to get to a record of 10-1 with a draw remaining Saturday night.

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“We’re definitely just focusing on ourselves and what we need to do,” Einarson said. “We’re in control of our own destiny.”

Ontario’s Rachel Homan (9-2), Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones (8-3) and Alberta’s Laura Walker (8-3) were in contention for the two remaining playoff spots heading into the final draw of the championship round.

The top seed emerging from the championship round earns a bye to Sunday evening’s final, while second and third square off in the afternoon semifinal.

A tie for third would be solved by a tiebreaker game in the morning.

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The 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is one of four Curling Canada events to be held in a spectator-free, controlled environment at the WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.

The COVID-19 pandemic thwarting many provincial and territorial playdowns prompted Curling Canada to add two wild-card teams to the Hearts field for a total of 18, which in turn shrunk the playoff window.

Instead of the traditional four teams in a Page playoff, only three advance.

Einarson is attempting the first back-to-back Hearts titles since Rachel Homan in 2013 and 2014.

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Sunday’s victor earns $100,000 in prize money and a return trip to the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

The winner doesn’t have a world championship, however, in which to wear the Maple Leaf.

The March 19-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland was cancelled by the World Curling Federation because of the pandemic.

The 2020 world championship in Prince George, B.C., was called off for the same reason, so Einarson wasn’t able to represent Canada there.

Jones thumps Homan

Six-time champion Jennifer Jones of Manitoba thumped Ontario’s Homan 9-1 on Saturday afternoon before facing Einarson at night.

Jones had struggled the previous evening in a loss to Alberta, but the skip and her teammates were on their game against three-time champion Homan.

“We definitely regrouped and decided we needed to step it up a little bit,” Jones said. “Last night’s loss doesn’t impact our confidence at all. I think that just comes with experience.”

It wasn’t the first time that Jones’ lead Lisa Weagle faced former skip Homan, but it was the first time at a Tournament of Hearts.

Homan, third Emma Miskew and Weagle won three Canadian titles and a world title together. They also represented Canada in the 2018 Winter Olympics with Joanne Courtney.

Homan dropped Weagle from her lineup last year and replaced her with Sarah Wilkes.

Weagle met her former teammates Nov. 12 in an Okotoks, Alta., event. Homan won the game 7-1.

There was a time when Weagle might have felt extra satisfaction in beating Homan for the first time, but the all-star lead says that time has passed.

“If you’d asked me that a few months ago, or over the summer, probably,” Weagle said.

“Today, I was really just out there playing for me and I was playing for my team. I just wanted to find a new level of excellence and play really well and I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing here.

“It wasn’t really my focus today that we were playing them. I was definitely excited for the game, but I was focused more on myself.”

Quebec, Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, and wild-card teams skipped by Beth Peterson and Chelsea Carey are out of contention with their fifth losses.

Alberta’s Walker stayed in the hunt with a 9-4 win over Saskatchewan.

The host province was to take on Carey’s Wild Card One and Homan faced Saskatchewan on Saturday evening.

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