The showdown of the Tournament of Hearts lived up to its billing after all.
Manitoba's Cathy Overton-Clapham beat her former teammates on the Jennifer Jones team with an entertaining 8-6 victory Wednesday in Charlottetown.
"I just wanted to play well," said Overton-Clapham. "I guess you could say I looked at it as being my final because I'm not going to be in the final."
After winning four Canadian championships and a world title with Overton-Clapham at third, Jones abruptly fired her vice last year and replaced her with junior champion Kaitlyn Lawes.
Overton-Clapham formed her own team with herself at skip and Wednesday's game was the first between the Winnipeg teams since the split.
The 2,179 fans in attendance at the Charlottetown Civic Centre sided with Overton-Clapham — giving her side a standing ovation and chanting of "Cathy-O" in the ninth end when she executed the shot of the game.
Overton-Clapham executed a tough peel on Canada's shot stone in the ninth to score two points and grab an 8-5 lead coming home without the hammer. Jones had easily made her best shot of the game, a corner-freeze behind her own guard.
The Manitoba skip pumped her fist in the air after securing the two points and brought the spectators to their feet.
"She was giddy," said Manitoba third Karen Fallis. "It was fun. She was having a great time. She played great."
Overton-Clapham noted how other teams stayed to watch the game.
"I imagined the crowd being as great as it was, but I didn't imagine all my peers excited," she said.
Manitoba entered with six losses and no chance of reaching the playoffs, but had momentum after a 10-6 win over playoff contender Ontario earlier in the day.
Bouyed by the crowd support, Manitoba engaged the Jones team in a compelling game. Overton-Clapham seemed determined to prove a point with her play, outshooting Jones 93 per cent to 76.
It may have been hyped as the marquee matchup of the round robin, but it wasn't enough to fill the Civic Centre as there were empty seats.
"To be honest, we were expecting there to be more people in the stands. We'd heard it was sold out," said Jones. "It was a fun game to play. It was like when we played P.E.I. the other night — to have the crowd and the atmosphere, that's what we play for.
"I don't think there was anything to prove. I've always said [Cathy] is a great player and their team and Cathy played really well tonight."
Holland's streak ends
Meanwhile, Amber Holland's Saskatchewan team was pulled back towards the pack with its first loss of the tournament, falling 7-4 to Nova Scotia's Heather Smith-Dacey in the afternoon draw.
At 8-1, Saskatchewan was still atop the leaderboard heading into the last day of the preliminary round Thursday.
Jones fell into a pack of teams at 6-3, including Nova Scotia's Smith-Dacey, Ontario's Rachel Homan and Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink.
"In terms of the round robin, it wasn't the best for us," Jones said. "We control our destiny. If we win out tomorrow we get second place and what more could you want?"
The top four teams by the end of play Thursday advance to the Page playoffs and ties for fourth will be solved by tiebreaker games Friday.
The top two seeds meet Friday with the winner earning a berth in Sunday's final. The loser drops to Saturday's semifinal to meet the winner of the day's earlier playoff between the third and fourth seeds.
B.C.'s Kelly Scott remained in the hunt at 5-4. P.E.I's Suzanne Birt was 4-5. Kerry Galusha of the Territories, New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly and Quebec Marie-France Larouche were tied with Manitoba at 3-6. Stacie Devereaux of Newfoundland and Labrador was 1-8.
Overton-Clapham and Jones studiously avoided each other during the game and spent most of their breaks between ends at opposite ends of the sheet. When they were near the house together, Overton-Clapham joked with the B.C. team on the next sheet over.
The two skips did not speak or look at each other during warmup. The only contact Overton-Clapham had with her former teammates was the obligatory good-luck handshake to start the game.
Jones mustered a single point in the eighth with the hammer and trailed 6-5. A Lawes miss in the seventh put Canada in some trouble. A pair of missed double takeouts by Jones and a hit and roll by Overton-Clapham for a third counter, eventually allowed the Manitoba skip to draw for two and a 6-4 lead.
Jones drew for a piece of the button in the sixth to tie the game 4-4. She'd jammed a takeout in the fifth, which gave Overton-Clapham an open hit for two and the lead for the first time in the game.
Jones drew the button to score one in the fourth end for a 3-2 lead. She'd missed both her shots in the third end — a peel and tap back — and Overton-Clapham executed a nice hit and roll behind cover with her final stone to steal one and tie the game in the third.
Manitoba second Leslie Wilson and lead Raunora Westcott were outcurled by counterparts Jill Officer and Dawn Askin in the opening ends, which helped Jones score two in the first end and hold Overton-Clapham to one in the second. But the Manitoba front end improved their shooting percentages by the fifth-end break.
Fallis and Lawes were almost even in accuracy with the Manitoba skip at 76 per cent and Lawes at 73.