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Wire-to-wire world champ





NORTH BAY, Ont. — Throw it good, Jennifer Jones told herself. Throw it good, and good things will happen.

The Team Canada skip needed that good thing, needed it badly. She’d been battling inches against Anna Hasselborg and Team Sweden for what felt like forever, and she hadn’t always landed on the winning side.

Now, at the last shot of the ninth and with everything on the line, the teams were locked in a 4-4 tie.

The ice was cluttered. Two rocks jammed the button: one for Canada, one for Sweden. There was no way of telling which one was sitting shot. The front was littered with guards, but Jones saw a hit to get through.

In the house, vice Kaitlyn Lawes placed the brush. The skip gripped granite: throw it good, she thought.

It was more than good: it was nearly perfect. That shot, a stunning run for a deuce, wasn’t technically the winning strike of the 2018 world curling championship. But it was the one that transformed the whole final.

When it was over, Jones and her team were, once again, the reigning world champions.

The 7-6 win wasn’t perfect, going to an extra end heart-stopper. But the way it closed this chapter on Team Jones, the iconic Manitoba foursome that has come so far together, could not have been more beautiful.

A balm to soothe the lingering heartbreak, from the women’s Olympic trials. A first world title for Lawes, who wasn’t with the team when they won in 2008 — and a golden farewell for Jones’ faithful second Jill Officer.

To top it off, they did it in front of a crowd that smashed attendance records for a Canadian-hosted worlds.

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Canada lead Dawn McEwen, second Jill Officer, third Kaitlyn Lawes, skip Jennifer Jones, left to right, hold up the trophy after the gold medal final game win over Sweden at the World Women's Curling Championship Sunday, March 25, 2018 in North Bay, Ont.</p>

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada lead Dawn McEwen, second Jill Officer, third Kaitlyn Lawes, skip Jennifer Jones, left to right, hold up the trophy after the gold medal final game win over Sweden at the World Women's Curling Championship Sunday, March 25, 2018 in North Bay, Ont.

"Unbelievable," Jones said, her eyes glistening after the victory. "This crowd, and the atmosphere, and all of our families are here, and it’s Jill’s last worlds. It’s just, I couldn’t paint a better picture, really."

What that means, may take awhile to sink in. Officer searched for the words to describe it, and for a few moments came up empty-handed. It was okay, though: her joyful tears said everything there was to say.

Given this year’s emotional journey, Officer joked, she was surprised she had any tears left in her.

"It feels wonderful," she said. "I don’t even know if I have the words to describe it. I just can’t believe this, I can’t believe this ending to my career... I’ve been constant tears for months now. It’s been such a ride, this season."

But oh, what a fight to make it happen. The championship game was a true golden battle, a clash of current and former Olympic champions. It was tight, and cautious, and sometimes marred by mistakes and missed chances.

Jones blanked three ends before finding her first deuce. Hasselborg struck back, pouncing on some Team Canada misses to score three in the fifth end; Jones regained the lead with another deuce after the break.

"We kept saying, ‘let’s be patient, let’s wait for our opportunities,’" Lawes said. "We just wanted to keep it close."

A single for Hasselborg in seven tied it up. Canada blanked the eighth, and then snagged the game-changing ninth end deuce. But it wasn’t over yet: Hasselborg made a sleek 10th end double to push into an extra end.

For most of that round, Canada held strong, cleaning out Sweden’s rocks. With her last shot on world championship ice — maybe ever — Officer, who hadn’t had a strong game, blasted a key double peel.

There was one last breath of life for Sweden. Jones’ first shot of the 11th, a planned guard on what sliver was visible of her shot rock, stopped short of the hog line. That miss gave Hasselborg a chance to stay alive.

In their minds, Jones and Lawes lined up their next shot, one they thought they’d need for the win.

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Canada skip Jennifer Jones hugs her children Isabella (left) and Skyla (right) after beating Sweden in the gold medal game at the World Women's Curling Championship Sunday, March 25, 2018 in North Bay, Ont.</p>

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada skip Jennifer Jones hugs her children Isabella (left) and Skyla (right) after beating Sweden in the gold medal game at the World Women's Curling Championship Sunday, March 25, 2018 in North Bay, Ont.

Hasselborg settled into the hack. In the stands, almost 4,000 people held their breaths. The Swedish skip pushed off and let the rock fly, a laser set to collide with the razor-thin edge of Jones’ lone yellow counter.

Out of her hand, Hasselborg thought the shot was perfect. It wasn’t: it flashed by an inch or two wide.

From the other end of the ice, Officer stared in disbelief. She thought Hasselborg would make it.

The crowd at Memorial Gardens, which has been thunderously loud all week, exploded. Jones slid down the ice and stretched her arms out towards Officer, and then the Team Canada women melted into a long embrace.

"I’m just so proud of our team," Lawes said. "We’ve had literally the best year we could have ever dreamed up, other than losing the (Olympic) trials in the semifinal... we’re going to remember this one forever."

She wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Even the 28-year-old Hasselborg was still beaming.

The loss felt okay, she told waiting media. After all, this Swedish team formed less than three years ago, and already they’ve won a medal in nearly every big event they played — especially that gleaming Olympic gold.

"You’re going to make me cry when I think about it," the skip said, reflecting on their stunning rise to this final. "I’m crazy proud of my girls, and how they perform. It’s an unbelievable feeling playing in front of this crowd."

"The best is yet to come," she added. "I’m still young, you know?"

On the ice, the new world champions lingered, taking photos with parents and husbands and children. If that’s the last image to take of this Team Jones lineup, then it’s perfect: a family that belongs, forever, to the game.

Or, there is also this: as the curlers mingled on the floor of the arena, happy fans began to clear out of the stands. In her hands, one woman carried a sign that she had made, to salute the human heart of the game.

"Thank you Jill," it read. "You are second to none."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin.


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