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Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones watches her shot during a bronze medal draw against Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Red Deer, Alberta, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012.


With new daughter Isabella in tow, Jennifer Jones will make her return to the ice in less than a month.

The curling star will make her season debut in Penticton, B.C., when she skips her team in the World Financial Group Continental Cup.

Jones not only had Isabella a month early in mid-November but has also recovered from knee surgery she had last spring to clean up ligament issues in her right pushing leg.

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"It caught me a little off guard but she's healthy," Jones says of the surprise birth in Barrie, Ont., while she was visiting partner and Glen Howard second Brent Laing.

"I've been back on the ice for a few weeks now. I got back on the ice right away and I feel great."

That positive attitude hasn't been hurt by the performance of her team while she was away.

"I'm so proud of them," she said. "They had a great fall and they've been playing really well and hopefully we can continue their great play into the new year."

Team Jones, with third Kaitlyn Lawes in charge, made it all the way to the final of the Canada Cup Dec. 2, dropping a close one to Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton.

Jones is on maternity leave as a corporate lawyer with the former Wellington West Group, now owned by National Bank and part of National Bank Financial.

But she's not on mat leave from curling, as she gets ready to lead her squad into a season that will prepare them for next December's Olympic qualifier in Winnipeg.

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She earned one of the first spots in the qualifier in 2011, easing a lot of the pressure other teams are now facing.

"For us, this fall was just all about trying to get some games in and the timing worked out great for me to take a little bit of a break," she said.

This was the second season in a row that Jones's team has missed one of its members for the early part of the season. A year earlier, veteran second Jill Officer also took the fall off to have a baby but returned quickly.

"Jill basically took the same amount of time off that I did," Jones said.

Jones is one of Canada's most successful curlers — nine trips to the Scotties Tournaments of Hearts (four wins plus two silvers and one bronze), one world championship in 2008 and a bronze at another in 2010.

The Continental Cup is set for Jan. 10-13 and Jones won't have a lot of downtime afterward. The Manitoba Scotties set for Jan. 23-27, and she has to defend her title if she wants to get back to the nationals.

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Just getting out of a curling province like Manitoba isn't easy with strong young skips like Chelsea Carey and veterans like Cathy Overton-Clapham in the picture.

"The level of women's play just keeps getting better year after year, so you have to be at the top of your game to win and that's what makes it exciting," says Jones.

The national Scotties Tournaments of Hearts is set for Feb. 16-24 in Kingston, Ont.

At last year's Scotties, despite finishing atop the round-robin standings, Jones lost the one-two playoff to B.C.'s Kelly Scott, who in turn lost to Alberta's Heather Nedohin in the final. Nedohin, meanwhile, left the world championship with a bronze after Switzerland took the gold.

A spot at the 2014 Winter Olympics is a prize all Canada's elite curlers have in their sights, but Jones insists her team isn't focused on that yet.

"We don't really look too far in advance," she said. "Obviously the Olympics would be fantastic but this year was all about trying to see if we can get better, then we'll focus and see what we can do at the Olympic trials."

She says she plans on taking her daughter with her when she travels to curling events, with the help of her mother who will be coming along to assist with child care.

"My mom is retired and she's going to come on the road. She'll be in Penticton and we'll see how it will go after that."

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