Road To The Olympic Games


Jones, Holland to square off in Hearts final

Saskatchewan's Amber Holland beat Ontario's Rachel Homan 7-5 on Saturday to advance to the Tournament of Hearts women's curling final against defending champion Jennifer Jones.

Amber Holland was hearing it from 'Rider Nation.

She'll skip Saskatchewan in the Tournament of Hearts women's curling final Sunday against defending champion Jennifer Jones.

Her province wants its women's curling team to finish the job. The Roughriders have lost two straight Grey Cups to the Montreal Alouettes.

"Somebody e-mailed me today and said 'Just like the 'Riders, keeping us all on the edge of our seats,' " Holland said Saturday after downing Ontario's Rachel Homan 7-5 in the semifinal.

A Saskatchewan team hasn't won a Canadian women's curling title since Sandra Schmirler in 1997. Schmirler captured Canada's first Olympic gold medal in women's curling a year later. She died of cancer in 2000.

Holland's team fell 10-9 in an extra end to Jones in Friday's playoff game between the top two seeds. That vaulted Jones into Sunday's final (6:30 p.m. ET) while Saskatchewan earned a rematch via their semifinal victory over Ontario.

Sunday's winner will represent Canada at the women's world curling championship next month in Esbjerg, Denmark. The winner also earns a return trip to the 2012 Tournament of Hearts in Red Deer, Alta., as Team Canada.

Winnipeg's Jones is a win away from matching the record for consecutive titles held by Colleen Jones of Halifax, who won four between 2001 and 2004.

"You know she's coming with everything," Holland said.

Jones and second Jill Officer have a total of four Canadian championships on their resumes including one in 2005. With Dawn Askin at lead, they've won the last three straight Hearts tournaments as well as a world championship in 2008. Third Kaitlyn Lawes, 22, will play in her first Hearts final.

Holland, third Kim Schneider, second Tammy Schneider and lead Heather Kalenchuk finished out of the playoffs at 6-5 in their first Hearts tournament last year in Sault St. Marie, Ont.

So Jones has the advantage of having more experience in big games. Holland doesn't mind the underdog role, even though her team's 9-2 record in the preliminary round ranked Saskatchewan first ahead of second-place Jones at 8-3.

"Most of the media and all the other people at home look at Team Canada as a favourite because they are Team Canada," she said. "You can't take that away from them.

"Probably people can say it gives them an advantage, but again the rocks are the rocks, the ice is the ice and the shots are the shots. On any given day, anyone can be beaten. Just worry about the rock in your hand."

Jones may have the advantage in experience, but Lawes is a wildcard. Jones fired 41-year-old Cathy Overton-Clapham last year and replaced her with Lawes, who skipped Manitoba to Canadian junior titles in 2008 and 2009.

How Lawes will handle her first Hearts final Sunday is a key to the game. Her shotmaking was inconsistent Friday against Saskatchewan, yet her team was able to pull out the victory.

"Tomorrow, I think I'll have a few butterflies," Lawes said. "Once the first rock is thrown, I'll be able to relax and get a handle on the ice.

"Sweeping my little heart out will help get some of the energy out."

She'll have three seasoned teammates at her back Sunday. Jones, a 36-year-old lawyer, will not give up her crown easily.

"We know what to expect obviously," said Jones. "It's going to be a tough game and we just want the hammer coming home. That's all you want and hopefully we'll have it.

"I've never gotten nervous. You get excited and that's what you play for is that little adrenaline rush. Kaitlyn is really excited so it will be a lot of fun."

Saskatchewan played a more complete game Saturday versus Ontario than it had in its loss to Jones on Friday. Holland and teammates made fewer mistakes and outcurled Ontario in both draws and hits.

"We didn't have so many damaging misses that gave them the opportunity to come out on top," Holland said.

Saskatchewan stole two points in the fifth end and scored another two in the ninth to be three points up coming home without the hammer.

Homan's young team from Ottawa established itself as Canada's rising star in women's curling. In its first Hearts tournament, the squad posted an 8-3 record in the preliminary round. Ontario thumped Nova Scotia's Heather Smith-Dacey 13-5 in Saturday's earlier playoff game between the third and fourth seeds.

"It's a good record for our first Scotties," said Homan, 21. "We really showed everyone that we can play."

Ontario and Nova Scotia will play for the bronze medal Sunday (1:30 p.m. ET).

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