Colleen Jones is still hungry. The Team Canada skip's taste for victory has not dissipated, even after three straight national curling titles and 17 appearances at this country's top women's event.
"I'm not ready to get off the pony," said Jones. "Not one of us has lost the hunger."
Jones, along with third Kim Kelly, second Mary-Anne Waye and lead Nancy Delahunt, have captured four of the last five national crowns. The Halifax-based team begins its quest for a fourth-straight championship when the 2004 Scott Tournament of Hearts opens Saturday at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer, Alta.
The victors also receive a coveted spot in next year's Olympic trials and two-year carded status from Sport Canada, which can land a team more than $100,000 to cover expenses.
"There's so much at the end," said Ontario skip Sherry Middaugh. "You almost think 'Wow, the winning team gets so much and the other teams get nothing."
"But that's why we strive for that. If there wasn't that big purse at the end, then why would we work so hard at it?"
Middaugh belongs to one of a handful of teams expected to give Team Canada a serious run for the title. CBC curling analyst Joan McCusker believes Team Canada will have its work cut out for them and are by no means a lock to make the playoffs.
"I think they're going to have to scramble. I think there's too many good teams. The field is deep."
McCusker talked with CBC Sports Online about each of this year's competitors:
Team Alberta â Calgary Winter Club Skip: Shannon Kleibrink Third: Amy Nixon Second: Glenys Bakker Lead: Stephanie Marchand
Kleibrink edged out four-time and reigning provincial champion Deb Santos to advance to this year's Scott after an 11-year absence. Kleibrink is riding a wave of momentum after becoming the first woman to skip a team to victory at the Canadian mixed championship in January. They'll clearly be the crowd favourites in Red Deer.
McCusker's view: "This is a team that has tremendous potential. [Shannon] loves throwing last and loves the big shot. She's never intimidated by anything that her team leaves her. She believes that she can make any shot at any time. That is scary, as an opposition ... when you think you've got [her] on the ropes, she can make anything."
Team British Columbia â Royal City Curling Club Skip: Georgina Wheatcroft Third: Diane McLean Second: Shellan Read Lead: Diane Dezura
Wheatcroft needed an extra end to defeat Kelly Scott 7-5 in the B.C. final. This is a big tournament for Wheatcroft as the former second has been moved up to skip after Kelley Law (skip) and Julie Skinner (third) decided to take the year off.
McCusker's view: "I think it was a tremendous accomplishment for Georgina to come out of B.C., to rally the troops after the team broke up ... It's a very strong field, a very experienced field and Georgina hasn't been skipping for a long time ... I think they can [be a] spoiler, they can knock of some big teams, but I wouldn't look for them to make the playoffs ... They need more experience under the belt. The lack of team experience of knowing each other's strategy and pressure situations may cause them some grief as the week goes along."
Team Canada â Mayflower Curling Club, Halifax Skip: Colleen Jones Third: Kim Kelly Second: Mary-Anne Waye Lead: Nancy Delahunt
Jones has captured a record five national women's titles (1982, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003) but the 44-year-old from Halifax is as hungry as ever. She fell just short at the 2003 world curling championships in Winnipeg, having to settle for the silver medal. Jones wants to add to her previous world title (2001 in Lausanne, Switzerland) at this year's worlds in GÃ¤vle, Sweden in April. To even have the chance to do that, she'll first have to lead her rink to its fourth straight Scott Tournament championship.
McCusker's view: "This is an amazing team. They've very good. They're solid from head to toe in terms of talent and skill level. They have shown us over and over again that pressure is not a factor. I've never seen a more patient and a more mentally tough team in those four ... No matter what happens early in the week, Colleen Jones is never out until the round robin is over. She can rally late like no other team I've ever seen."
The thing to watch is that this is four-rock rule. They won the Canada Cup and it also was four-rock rule. So they have shown they can come through a round-robin format and be successful in this rule change. Traditionally, though, they've struggled whenever it was four-rock rule."
Team Manitoba â Wheat City Curling Club Skip: Lois Fowler Third: Gerri Cooke Second: Maureen Bonar Lead: Lana Hunter
Lois Fowler earned her place at the 2004 Scott Tournament after defeating Joelle Duguid 6-4 in the provincial finals. Fowler last represented Manitoba at a national championship in 1998 when her rink went 4-7. Manitoba third Gerri Cooke missed out an entire curling campaign after undergoing surgery to repair her left knee last year.
McCusker's view: "I would rate them as a spoiler. I know they can beat anyone but I would not say they have the same type of consistency over a round-robin in this type of deep field."
Team New Brunswick â Thistle-St. Andrews Curling Club Skip: Heidi Hanlon Third: Stacey Lacey Second: Jennifer Gogan Lead: Judy Blanchard
Hanlon defeated Melissa McClure 6-5 in the provincial final. She has a wealth of experience having represented New Brunswick at 10 previous Scott Tournaments. She'll be looking to rebound from a mediocre 5-6 record last year in Kitchener. Hanlon hasn't made the playoffs since losing in the 1991 final to Julie Skinner of British Columbia.
McCusker's view: "Heidi does not play at a national-level competition beside the Scott Tournament of Hearts. She doesn't play in any bonspiels outside of New Brunswick or Halifax. So there's not a huge amount of exposure to the top-level teams. And that'll get her every time."
Team Newfoundland and Labrador â St. John's Curling Club Skip: Cathy Cunningham Third: Peg Goss Second: Kathy Kerr Leads: Heather Martin
Cathy Cunningham defeated Heather Strong 10-8 in the provincial final to book her trip to Reed Deer. A 10-time provincial champion, Cunningham will be looking for a little redemption after losing 9-7 in an extra end in last year's Scott Tournament final to Colleen Jones.
McCusker's view: "Cathy Cunningham has a chance because her range of experience is greater than Heidi Hanlon. She travels a little to bonspiels to get more competitive games, to improve her game. She's also had the experience of being at the Canada Cup which was a very good move for her and be able to get that kind of exposure in the four-rock rule with some very competitive women teams."
Team Nova Scotia â Mayflower Curling Club Skip: Heather Smith-Dacey Third: Meredith Doyle Second: Laine Peters Lead: Beth Iskiw
Smith-Dacey secured a 6-5 victory over Kay Zinck in the Nova Scotia final. Peters is the new member of the team, having been the alternate for Colleen Jones for the last three years.
McCusker's view: "This team has just been put together for this season, so it's sort of like the Georgina Wheatcroft [situation] ... you know they're good players, but whether the chemistry and the experience as a unit is there to capture a Canadian title, is doubtful."
Team Ontario â Coldwater and District Curling Club Skip: Sherry Middaugh Third: Kirsten Wall Second: Andrea Lawes Lead: Sheri Cordina
Middaugh beat Elaine Uhryn 4-3 in an extra end for the provincial title. Middaugh, a native of Victoria Harbour, Ont., has represented Ontario at three previous Scott Tournaments, twice as a skip. Her team went 8-3 before losing in a playoff game in 2002, and 7-4 before suffering the same fate in 2001. After serving as the team's alternate, Wall has been moved up to third.
McCusker's view: "[Sherry is] a favourite, there's no question about it. You have to say that her chances of making the playoffs are very good. [This is] a team that has stayed intact over a number of years. [Sherry is] a skip that has always been skip and been put in some pressure situations and learned from it."
Team Prince Edward Island â Charlottetown Curling Club Skip: Suzanne Gaudet Third: Janice MacCallum Second: Trisha Affleck Lead: Susan McInnis
Gaudet earned a second straight tip to the Scott Tournament after defeating Kathy O'Rourke 8-4 in the final of the provincial final. A former world junior champion, Gaudet went 10-1 at the 2003 Scott Tournament, losing to eventual champion Colleen Jones in a playoff game. Her team split up in November as third Rebecca Jean MacPhee and her sister, second stone Robyn, left to form their own team with Rebecca Jean at skip.
McCusker's view: "Everybody is watching [her] because of the roster change. This team had a well-publicized break up this fall ... Essentially [Gaudet] won the province with a brand new team. You'll be watching her to see how well she'll be playing with the new team versus what a tremendous surprise and favourite they ended up being last year with the old team ... This is a provincial tragedy that this team broke up. It was a shame that they couldn't reconcile."
Team Quebec â Etchemin & Victoria Club Skip: Marie-France Larouche Third: Karo Gagnon Second: Annie Lemay Lead: Veronique Gregoire
Larouche and her rink defeated Chantal Osborne 8-4 in the Quebec final. Larouche, a bronze medallist at the world junior championships in 1999, has played in two previous Scott Tournaments, most recently in 2001 when she advanced to the quarter-finals. Larouche is also a former Canadian junior champion.
McCusker's view: "I think Marie is the sleeper. She has a very good team ... She's been the darling of the tournament before. She's young, she's personable, there's no show about her ... she just goes about quietly doing her business which is making a lot of shots. She's got a great feel for the game. She makes great draws and her young team is easy to cheer for ... They can very well get on a roll, because they'll get a lot of support from the fans and they have proven in the past to be quite fearless. They've got that world by the tail kind of attitude."
Team Saskatchewan â Delisle Curling Skip: Sherry Anderson Third: Kim Hodson Second: Sandra Mulroney Lead: Donna Gignac
Sherry Anderson defeated Jan Betker in the provincial final. Her rink had an amazing 2001-02 season, reaching the finals of both the Olympic trials and the Canadian women's championship. Anderson finished runner-up at last month's Canada Cup.
McCusker's view: "This is the number one favourite. This team keeps knocking at the door over and over and over again, proving itself to be the best team in this province and over again in the country ... Everything that they go into they are at the top of the pack but not able to just finish it off and win the last game. They may have the best record but have not been able to win the last one."
"They're due. They are very due. They would be the team that would be feared at this event."
Team Yukon/North West Territories â Yellowknife Curling Club, Meadow Lake, NWT Skip: Stacey Stabel Third: Lisa Freeman Second: Alana Fisher Leads: Debbie Moss
Stabel will make her debut at skip at the national championship. She played second for Kerry Koe, who went 2-9 in 2001. She has also played in a Canadian junior and mixed. In a round-robin playoff against the Territories' Monique Gagnier and Yukon's Sandra Mikkelson, Stabel's team earned a trip to Red Deer with a 3-1 record.
McCusker's view: "I don't know them at all. They're from the [Territories] which would tell you that they don't have a lot of competitive experience, so this would be the weakest team in the field.