Jen Jonesin' for the Scottie

JIM BENDER

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

LETHBRIDGE -- It says here Manitoba is destined to win the renamed Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the second time in three years.

There is a whole throng out there who have soured on Manitoba's Jennifer Jones because she dumped her lead, Dana Allerton, on the eve of the provincials.

And some believe that Jones has undermined her own chemistry by ditching her friend and replacing her with veteran Janet Arnott, who had been serving as the team's fifth the past couple of years.

And yeah, the timing sucked for Allerton, one of the nicest gals on the Manitoba circuit. Jones did seem to be sensitive to the criticism directed her way because of it.

Mind you, it would have been a hell of a lot worse had she made the move after winning the nationals and/or securing a spot in the Olympic trials qualifying tourney. But that just seemed to make the young barrister even more determined to win the Manitoba title and recapture the Canadian crown.

Besides, even with a lead that she either found lacking or at least uncomfortable, Jones still managed to lead the women's cashspiel circuit and the national CTRS points standings, won the Canada Cup qualifying spiel despite the fact she already had a Cup berth (which she earned without Allerton) and qualified for the provincials.

But what really gives Jones the edge here is that Manitoba's world-renowned Hans Wuthrich, who handles the pebble for the Manitoba women's provincials, is the icemaker for these Scotties and he has brought MCA rocks with him.

"We have Hans making the ice and we like that ice so, we'll just have to get on a bit of a roll and get stronger as the week goes on," Jones said after winning Manitoba.

The other aspect in her favour is that neither Saskatchewan's Sherry Anderson nor Alberta's Cathy King, her main rivals on both the cashspiel circuit and on the CTRS standings, made it here.

But that's not to say that this will be a slide in the park for Jones. Team Canada's Kelly Scott, who beat her in last year's national final, has been a thorn in her side for some time. And Scott returns with perhaps the most solid foursome, from lead to skip, in the field - again.

But Scott did not have the kind of year that throws the fear of God into opponents and unless your name is Colleen Jones, it's almost impossible to repeat.

Then there's the other Kelley. That would be B.C.'s Olympic bronze babe Kelley Law who has re-emerged with Georgina Wheatcroft - who played lead for Jennifer Jones just last year - at her side (third). And Law figures this field is wide open.

"There's no one team that's really dominating," Law, who has two players just out of juniors on the front end, suggested to The Canadian Press.

Alberta's Cheryl Bernard is also making her first appearance since losing the 1996 final to Ontario's Marilyn Bodogh and she beat one of the toughest fields in Canada to get here - including King in the final. Besides, like Scott, she also has some Manitoba flavour.

Saskatchewan's Jan Betker could also make some noise but it would be a lot more dramatic for her to win when Regina's hosts the Hearts on the 10th anniversary of her winning Olympic gold with the late Sandra Schmirler next winter. This field is also full of spoilers but we think Jones will emerge the winner.

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BENDER'S BETS

1. Jennifer Jones, Manitoba (3-1) ... has rekindled.

2. Kelly Scott, Team Canada (5-1) ... tough to repeat.

3. Cheryl Bernard, Alberta (7-1) ... hometown fave.

4. Kelley Law, B.C. (10-1) ... bronze babe back.

5. Jan Betker, Saskatchewan (15-1) ... maybe next year

6. Heather Strong, N.L. (20-1) ... dark mare.

7. Suzanne Gaudet, P.E.I. (30-1) ... experience helps.

8. Krista Scharf, Ontario (40-1) ... beat tough field again.

9. Chantal Osborne, Quebec (50-1) ... veteran crew.

10. Jill Mouzar, Nova Scotia (70-1) ... rookie skip.

11. Sandy Comeau, N.B. (90-1) ... just happy to come here.

12. Kerry Koe, Yukon/N.W.T. (100-1) ... could mush higher.


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