|Saskatchewan skip Amber Holland and Ontario skip Rachel Homan laugh together at the Scotties. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The wheat is starting to separate from the chaff at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and Team Saskatchewan, fittingly enough, is the one operating the harvester.
Small-town product Amber Holland keeps pushing all the right buttons, flattening previously unbeaten Rachel Homan of Ontario, Tuesday, and standing tall atop the standings as the national championship makes the turn for home.
“We kind of found a groove in the provincials,” Holland said. “It was a team groove, and we’ve brought that here.”
That groove produced a bushel of points — five in one end — in a 9-7 win over the Territories Tuesday night, quickly bringing the northerners back down to earth after a modest two-game streak.
But it was an efficient 8-5 bundling of Ontario’s sharp shooting Homan in the afternoon that established the green and white as the cream of this crop, to date.
Homan actually looked human in falling to 5-1 at that point, but her prairie counterpart remains wary of the 21-year-old.
“She doesn’t back down,” Holland said. “She’s feisty, and she’s a competitor. She’ll be there.”
Sure enough, Homan quickly regrouped, sweeping aside an overmatched New Brunswick side, 8-1, in the day’s final draw.
“We’re still second,” the University of Ottawa student said. “We’d be happy if you’d told me that coming into the week.”
Lest anybody start to believe this is a two-horse race, though, there’s a rumbling in the distance that’s beginning to sound like a charging Team Canada.
All Jennifer Jones did Tuesday was outscore two opponents by a combined, 20-6 count, suggesting her galloping shoes are back on.
“We had a good day,” Jones understated. “We figured out draw weight and put our rocks in good spots, and good things happened. We’re definitely playing better.”
You could say that. After their second whitewash of the day, all four members of the Jones team were ranked No. 1 at their positions for accuracy.
The three-time defending champ hauled off with a 10-2 laugher against B.C., and was 10-4, good buddy, against Newfoundland, neither of which went the distance.
The Winnipegger may not be back in the driver’s seat, but you can bet Holland and Homan see her in their rear views, technically in third place, perhaps, but maneuvering that stick shift ever closer to the gear only she seems to have.
The top four and ties will stay alive for the playoff drive, although Jones claimed not to be looking out the side window at the leaderboard.
“Never,” she said. “Maybe the last day, I will admit. We don’t ever have a record in mind. It just becomes too long a week. And you just put pressure on yourselves. We try to break it down into smaller groups in my head, and if you can win each group, then you should make the playoffs.”
Three teams — Alberta, Nova Scotia and host PEI, all 4-3 — have one hand on the fourth and final spot, with four games to play.
“We’re still hanging in,” Alberta third Amy Nixon said, after her team closed out the day with an uneven, 6-5 win over Manitoba. “It keeps us alive.”