Defending champion Einarson shakes off early rust to defeat Duncan at Scotties

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Falling behind early was a wake-up call for Kerri Einarson.

The two-time defending champion from Gimli, Man., used a steal of three in the fourth end to take the lead, then grabbed control of the match by scoring four in the sixth for a 12-5, eight-end win over Ontario’s Hollie Duncan at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Saturday.

Einarson, who trailed 2-0 after the opening end, said her team hadn’t played since losing in a tiebreaker during the Olympic curling trails in November. After the lay off, it took her some time to read the ice.

“We were a little rusty,” said the 34-year-old mother of twin daughters. “Both sides [of the ice] were kind of different and we got caught on a couple of paths. Once I woke a little bit [we] started catching on to that.”

Facing three Ontario rocks in the second end, Einarson made a takeout for a point, then tied the game when she stole a single in the third after Duncan missed on a hit and roll.

Duncan was light on a draw in the fourth, allowing Einarson to steal three.

“That was the turning point in the game,” said Einarson. “We got the game in our control and kept that pressure on them.”

In a see-saw battle, Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges tied the game with a steal in the 10th, then used another steal in the extra end to defeat Alberta’s Laura Walker 9-8. Walker used a highlight-reel takeout in the eighth to score four points to take an 8-5 lead.

‘High-intensity game’

“It was a great game, it was a high-intensity game,” said St-Georges, of Laval, Que., who is making her second Scotties appearance. “It’s actually exciting to have a first win in the books.”

Third Hailey Armstrong said the team has a playbook setting out different situations they could face. Being down a point in the 10th end without the hammer was one of the scenarios.

“It was stuck in our brains what we needed to do,” she said.

In other Pool B matches, Manitoba’s Mackenzie Zacharias edged Mary-Anne Arsenault of B.C. 6-5 while Christina Black of Nova Scotia defeated Kerry Galusha of the N.W.T. 7-5 in nine ends.

The competition to crown the Canadian women’s curling champion is being held at the Fort Williams Gardens. Due to COVID-19 concerns the event is being staged in an empty arena without fans or media in the building.

Curling Canada has scrapped plans to offer a modified ticket plan for the final three days of the event, which ends Feb. 6.

“After careful thought and consideration, the risks of opening the venue after establishing protocols were not favourable in keeping all participants safe,” Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson said in a release.

Playing with no fans still ‘challenging’

The 2021 Scotties was also played in a bubble without fans in Calgary.

“Unfortunately, we’re starting to get used to it,” said Einarson. “I don’t like it. It’s challenging.”

A positive test forced Tracey Fleury, the skip of the Wild Card 1 rink from Manitoba, to miss Friday night’s opening draw.

Saskatchewan coach Mark Lang and TSN analyst Russ Howard have also tested positive and are in isolation.

This year’s Scotties features a modified 18-team draw and the return of the Page playoff system.

The tournament features two pools of nine, seeded based on their final standing on the Canadian Team Ranking System as of Jan. 10, 2022.

There will be an eight-game round robin with the top three teams in each pool advancing to an expanded Page playoff system.

The Scotties champion will represent Canada at the 2022 Women’s Curling Championship in Prince George, B.C., from March 19-27.

Einarson’s rink is looking to become the first team to clinch three consecutive titles since Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones won between 2008 and 2010.

Saskatchewan’s Vera Pezer won three titles between 1971 and 1973 while Colleen Jones of Nova Scotia won four straight beginning in 2001.

“We’re not thinking about that,” said third Val Sweeting. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Scotties. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time.

“We worked really hard in the last two months. We did everything we could staying safe. We’re just looking to get better every game and figure out the ice. It’s a long road.”

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