The race for playoff berths at the Canadian women's curling championship remained wide open Wednesday as the preliminary round's finish line appeared on the horizon.
Alberta's Chelsea Carey stayed atop the standings at 7-2 despite an afternoon loss, but the host province was among nine teams still chasing four playoff berths. The round robin concludes Friday morning. Ties for fourth get solved by tiebreaker games.
Both Jennifer Jones and Val Sweeting were each at eight wins by Wednesday night in last year's tournament in Moose Jaw, Sask. Eventual champion Rachel Homan had eight wins at the same point in 2014.
Carey's team from Calgary opened the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at a torrid 6-0 pace before losing two of three. So Alberta still has work to do to secure a playoff berth in their final two games Thursday against Nova Scotia and Ontario.
"I said at the start it's the most wide-open Scotties field I've seen in a long time so it makes perfect sense it would be as tight as it is," Carey said. "Round robins are never over, so it doesn't matter how many games you win, you still aren't done.
"Every time you think you have something locked or you think there won't be tiebreakers there always is. It's incredible that way. You have to just stay in it, try and keep winning and not let a bad game or a loss upset you and just keep playing."
Two teams trail close
Defending champion Jones was right behind the leaders at 6-2. Manitoba's Kerri Einarson pulled into a tie at 5-3 with Northern Ontario's Krista McCarville with a 9-6 victory over the Thunder Bay foursome.
Einarson's East St. Paul squad pulled the leaders back into the pack Wednesday as they beat Carey 11-7 earlier in the day.
"I know we've brought up our game and I know we had to, to play these top teams," Einarson said. "We have to bring them down to where we are. These two games were huge today."
Jones and her second Jill Officer have won five Canadian championships together. If their Winnipeg teams prevails again in Grande Prairie, Alta., the women will tie the record of six held by Colleen Jones. Jones wasn't thinking that far ahead.
"You just really want to get into the playoffs. That's all you want," Jones said. "We've gotten in through a tiebreaker, we've won the round robin. You just need to get your foot in the door and see what you can do after that."
Quebec' Marie-France Larouche fell 10-3 to Jones and into a pile of four-loss teams. Quebec, Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt, Nova Scotia's Jill Brothers, Saskatchewan's Jolene Campbell and Ontario's Jenn Hanna were all still in contention.
"We're still alive," Hanna said. "You have to keep plugging away and hope that four is going to sneak you in somewhere."
Stacie Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador was 3-6. B.C.'s Karla Thompson and New Brunswick's Sylvie Robichaud were both 1-7.
Carey was relieved to have Wednesday evening off four games in 24 hours.
"That's been a grind," the skip said. "Four draws straight. Not really awesome."
The top two teams in the preliminary round meet in Friday evening's playoff between the top two seeds with the victor getting a bye to Sunday's final.
The loser drops to Saturday's semifinal to meet the winner of the playoff game between the third and fourth seeds earlier in the day.
This year's champion represents Canada at the women's world championship March 19-27 in Swift Current, Sask., and wears the Maple Leaf at next year's Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont.