Jennifer Jones zipped up her red jacket with the word Canada on the front of it and couldn’t stop smiling.
The veteran Winnipeg skip finally earned the right to represent Canada at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia next year with an 8-4 victory over Sherry Middaugh in the Canadian Curling Trials final Saturday night.
“It’s pretty cool,” Jones said with a laugh when asked what it was like to wear the jacket.
“Love it. Yup, yup, can’t wait for more.”
The 39-year-old has curled for 28 years, winning four Canadian championships and gold at the 2008 worlds and bronze in 2010, but never came close to wearing the maple leaf at the biggest sporting event.
This was her third Trials event, and the first time she even made the playoffs.
“This is one of the best, if not the best, moments of our curling careers,” Jones told the partisan crowd of 8,565 at MTS Centre during the medal presentation.
Jones is supported by third Kaitlyn Lawes, long-time second Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen and alternate Kirsten Wall.
“We worked so hard for three years and it’s one game and it comes down to a couple of shots here and there and today we made them,” Jones later told reporters.
“It’s hard to believe. But my team played outstanding.”
Officer and Jones began curling together in 1992, with Officer taking a four-year break to go to school and move to Brandon.
“It’s pushing 20 years,” a teary-eyed Officer, who curled 99 per cent, said. “Absolutely, we’re totally like sisters. ”
“It’s just so amazing to share it with her and to share it with Kaitlyn and Dawn, too. We just have such great dynamics on this team. We just love playing with each other.”
McEwen joined the rink in 2008 and Lawes in 2010.
Middaugh, 47, who curls out of Coldwater, Ont., hasn’t finished higher than third at a Scotties Tournament of Hearts national championship, but did win one of five Canada Cup events.
Her rink includes third Jo-Ann Rizzo, second Lee Merklinger, lead Leigh Armstrong and alternate Lori Eddy.
Jones had defeated Middaugh 9-7 in this week’s Roar of the Rings round-robin play.
While Jones ended the round robin 6-1 and earned a bye into the final, Middaugh opened 1-3 and then finished 4-3, beating Winnipeg’s Chelsea Carey in a tie-breaker and then reigning Canadian champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa 10-4 in the semifinal.
“The final itself isn’t a highlight, obviously, but the week itself was, considering that we weren’t considered one of the favourites,” Middaugh said.
In the final clash of veterans, Jones scored two three-enders.
For her first triple points, Jones capitalized on a Middaugh mistake in the second end.
Middaugh was heavy on a draw and went through the house. Jones then used her last rock to make a double takeout.
“We put it in a good spot and Jennifer’s probably forced to take one and then it could be a totally different game,” Middaugh said of the end.
Middaugh made a hit and roll for two in the sixth, needing a measurement for the second point to close the gap 4-3.
But in the seventh end, with Middaugh’s last rock sitting on the button, Jones used the hammer for a hit for three to go up 7-4.
Jones curled 91 per cent, while Middaugh was 78 per cent.
The long-time curlers are also connected off the ice.
Jones is a lawyer for National Bank Financial and her partner, Brent Laing, is second for Glenn Howard’s rink. She and Laing are parents to a one-year-old daughter, Isabella.
Middaugh is a bookkeeper and married to Wayne Middaugh, the third for Howard’s rink.
Jones started to choke up when she talked about her mother, Carol, looking after Isabella all week as the little one was sick.
Laing said they’ll get the logistics figured out so he can support Jones in Russia.
“It’s super exciting,” Laing said. “Nobody deserves it more than these four girls. And nobody works harder than they do and nobody has prepared better than they have.
“I’ve been a part of it for the last two years and I can honestly say that I’ve never met a curling team that worked so hard at the game on and off the ice.
“Sometimes you get what you deserve and that’s always fun to see. And these girls got today what they deserved.”
Cheryl Bernard represented Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, winning a silver after a loss to Sweden.
On the men’s side of the Trials, an Olympic dream moved a step closer to reality for John Morris, as he handed his former skip a ticket home. And Kevin Martin said he had no one to blame but himself.
Morris and Brad Jacobs will square off in the men’s final Sunday.
“Either my first or second one in six, that was the game-breaker,” said Martin. “We force them to one there, we’ve got all the momentum going into seven.”
Instead, Martin lost 7-5, letting Morris score a deuce in six and another in eight, then losing the hammer in nine when he failed to blank on an open hit.
It was a sweet win for Morris, who took over as skip this year on Jim Cotter’s B.C. rink with the Olympics in his sights. Cotter moved to third, although he still throws fourth rocks.
“It feels great, it’s been a real grind of a year . . . We seem to be playing our best curling right now and I’m just real proud of the guys,” he said.
He gave full marks to Cotter. Martin said he was surprised at the shots Cotter made.
As the strategist, Morris watched his former skip all week and put a rock in the one spot in nine where Martin had nosed one earlier in the round robin.
Martin, who was trying for his fourth trip to the Olympics, kept his composure but said this will be his last trials.
A frustrated Marc Kennedy, Martin’s second, couldn’t hide his feelings as he smashed his broom into shards in the hallway after he left the ice.
Lead Ben Hebert said Martin kept them in the hunt all week (they lost only once to Jacobs).
“Kevin was the best player here all week, standing on his head just to keep us in it, that’s the reason we were 6-1, and he didn’t play good today,” he said, adding that he isn’t giving up on a return trip to the Olympics, after winning gold with Martin in 2010.
“The game should have been over after five or six and we let them off the hook.”
Morris, who was also part of that 2010 gold-medal team, said they knew they weren’t favoured to win.
“We didn’t mind the underdog tag and we knew what we were capable of.”
As for the future of the team if they don’t beat Jacobs Sunday, Cotter said that remains up in the air.
“We’ve talked about the future and who knows,” he said. “We’re focusing on this moment here and now and what our game plan is going to be tomorrow. We’re just going to go out and try and play our best game.”
Their best game will be needed against Brier winner Jacobs, who swept the field in the round robin, handing Martin his only loss, to move directly to the final.
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said Jacobs, who practised Saturday.
“Everyone is throwing the rock great on this team . . . We just need to come out and perform like we’ve performed all week and let the chips fall where they may.”