The big guns are back and one of the best young skips in the country will join them in the battle for the national women's curling championship.
Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, defending champion Heather Nedohin and B.C.'s Kelly Scott will be in the mix Saturday after solid performances in the round robin. They'll be joined by Ontario's Rachel Homan, who has been buoyed all week by the pro-Ontario crowd at the K-Rock Centre.
Jones (11-0) and Homan (10-1) have secured the first two seeds and will play in the Page playoff 1-2 game. The winner will advance straight to Sunday's gold-medal final.
Nedohin (7-4) and Scott (8-3) will meet in the 3-4 playoff game. Saskatchewan's Jill Shumay (6-5) had a slim chance of qualifying for a tiebreaker but that was dashed in an 8-4 loss to Jones in the final draw.
This appears to be Jones' tournament to lose. The four-time champion is the first skip since British Columbia's Linda Moore to post a perfect round-robin record since Moore went 10-0 in 1985 before winning the final in Winnipeg.
Jones recorded her 100th career Scotties victory Friday afternoon with a 7-6 win over New Brunswick.
"Having momentum is really what sport is all about, it's getting on a bit of a roll," Jones said. "And right now we're on a bit of a roll."
The top skips were not providing any bulletin-board material and have been quick to sing the praises of the others. Scott, who reached the key seven-win mark Friday morning, said Jones and Homan deserve to be in the 1-2 matchup.
"They call hack weight, they throw hack weight. They call draw weight, they nail it," she said. "It's going to be a good battle if we get the chance to play either of those teams there."
The winner of the 3-4 game will qualify for the semifinal Sunday morning. The semifinal winner advances to the gold-medal game while the loser will play for bronze against the loser of the 3-4 contest.
Nedohin started strong in the round robin but struggled heading into the weekend. She dropped a 10-8 decision to Kerry Galusha of the Northwest Territories on Friday afternoon before losing 6-5 to Homan in a tightly contested final match.
"We're a team that rebounds very well," Nedohin said. "You've got to handle some hiccups I guess you could say along the way. I'd look at our record last year (7-4). I'd say we did pretty well with the losses that we had."
Nedohin defeated Jones 6-5 in an extra end in last year's semifinal. A measurement of stones was required to declare the winner.
Nedohin then beat Scott 7-6 for the gold medal.
Elsewhere in the late draw, Scott beat Quebec 9-5, and Nova Scotia cruised past Alberta 6-2.
There are several interesting storylines heading into the final weekend.
Scott and Jones are hoping for bigger things after coming up painfully short last year. Nedohin is eager to prove the 2012 win was no fluke.
And Homan wants to take the next step after settling for fourth place in her only other appearance in 2011.
"You can step on the ice four times and get four different results," Scott said of the top rinks. "You know when you play those teams that you have to be on and sharp and look for not leaving them any big shots for multiple points."
Jones outclassed Homan in their round-robin game Thursday morning, a 9-7 Manitoba win.
Nova Scotia vice-skip Colleen Jones said the top rinks are all quite close, but she gives Manitoba a slight edge.
"They definitely have the whole package and they've got experience on their side," she said. "They've won so much, they know that they can keep on winning."
After 17 draws, New Brunswick was 6-5, Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt was 5-6 and Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault was 5-6. The standings were rounded out by Quebec's Allison Ross (3-8), Stacie Devereaux of Newfoundland and Labrador (2-9), Northwest Territories/Yukon (2-9) and Alberta's Kristie Moore (1-10).
Announced attendance was 4,129 for the late draw, short of the arena capacity of 5,700. The afternoon attendance was to 3,544.