MONTREAL - Rachel Homan and Team Canada have served notice they're ready to defend their title at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The defending champions grabbed the early lead and held on for a 9-6 win in nine ends over Quebec's Allison Ross on Sunday to emerge from the second day of play at the Maurice Richard Arena as the lone team yet to lose a match.
"It's where I hoped we'd be," said 24-year-old Homan (3-0). "You never know what's going to happen, but the team's playing really well. We've just got to keep rolling."
With previous victories of 8-3 over Manitoba and 9-3 over Ontario, both in eight ends, they have piled up points against some highly-regarded teams without yet having to go the full 10 ends.
But Homan and the team were most concerned about giving up three to Quebec (0-4) in the second, which drew a roar from the 2,281 in the seats.
"We gave up three in two, but that's alright — mistakes will happen," said Homan. "We're learning the ice and different draws will be different weights."
"I underthrew two halfway hits and that didn't turn out well and then Rachel threw one we thought was good but it sailed off," said Team Canada third Emma Miskew. "We got tricked a little on either the speed or the weight.
"We didn't throw any more finesse shots after that because it tricked us a little."
The evening draws saw two matches go to extra ends as both New Brunswick and P.E.I. pulled off victories.
New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford (2-1) scored a single in the 11th end to take a 4-3 win over British Columbia's 22-year-old skip Kesa Van Osch (1-3). And Kim Dolan (1-2) of P.E.I got her first victory of the tournament, 7-6 over Quebec in 11 ends.
In the other late draws, Newfoundland's Heather Strong (3-1) edged Yukon's Sarah Koltun (1-2) 6-5. Koltun scored singles in the ninth and 10th ends but fell short of the comeback. And Alberta's Val Sweeting (3-1) scored three in the sixth end en route to a 5-4 victory over Nova Scotia's Heather Smith (1-2).
The afternoon draw saw some wild finishes.
Stefanie Lawton (2-1) of Saskatchewan tied her game up with two in the ninth and then stole two in the 10th to win 8-6 over Sweeting.
"Tied up coming home, without hammer, we know what we have to do," said Lawton, whose side gave up two in the 10th to lose 5-4 to Manitoba in the morning draw. "We have to put up two guards and get one on the button.
"We got away with one when they kissed the guard and bit and I was able to put another on top of that and put the pressure on them. There's going to be lots of games that will be battles. You just have to keep plugging away."
Another cliffhanger saw Manitoba's Chelsea Carey (2-1) get the point she needed in the 10th to defeat the B.C. side 7-6.
And Ontario's Allison Flaxey (1-2) scored two in the 10th and a steal of one in an extra end to down Newfoundland by 8-7.
Homan won last year's Scotties as skip of Team Ontario, beating Jennifer Jones' Winnipeg rink in the final. Jones isn't at this year's tournament, having won an ultra-competitive qualifying tournament to represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Other top teams bowed out in their provincial championships, some citing mental fatigue from trying to make the Olympic team. But Homan's side was spared that because they qualified automatically for the Scotties as the defending champions.
"That definitely helped us," said Miskew. "There's a lot of new faces here, but it's nice to see a lot of young teams here."
"We definitely have room to improve. We had a bad end but we were able to bounce back, so that was important for us. It seems every game you get a little better and that's our goal."
Team Canada is part of the youth movement.
Homan and Miskew are both 24, while second Alison Kreviazuk is 25. They've been playing together since they were young kids. Lead Lisa Weagle, 28, joined them later.
Building a big lead in the morning draw against Ontario allowed them to give some playing time to their alternate, Stephanie LeDrew, who substituted for Weagle for the final two ends.
"It's good to have her throw some shots and see the lines," Homan said of LeDrew. "You never know during a week if you're going to have to use her or not.
"Hopefully not. Hopefully she'll just be there to cheer us on, but it's good to get her in early."
LeDrew normally plays for Hollie Nicol's Toronto rink, but she was brought in as an alternate by Homan for last year's Scotties in Kingston, Ont., as well as for the 2013 women's world championship in Riga, Latvia. She got into three matches last year.
"I know what it is to be prepared to jump in at a moment's notice," said LeDrew. "I actually went for a jog around the arena in the sixth end to be prepared to go in the seventh, so I was warmed up and ready to rock."
LeDrew said it is usually a team decision to get the alternate some playing time.
"It tends to be on the ice between ends, if they have a big lead going," she said. "They see it as a good opportunity to throw the alternate in.
"They also want to get me in because I have to play in two games, for at least one end in each game, in order to be eligible for the jewelry (prizes) at the end of the week — the diamonds. So they're being good to me."
The match also pitted sister against sister as Alison Kreviazuk faced Lynn Kreviazuk, the Ontario second.
"Actually, I haven't played against Lynn in a few years, so this was kind of a first for me," Alison Kreviazuk said of her 22-year-old sister. "We get along great, so there's nothing negative.
"They played really well, they just had a few bad breaks. I know she'll pick it up for the next one."
The morning draw saw more one-sided wins as Yukon downed P.E.I. by 10-3 in eight ends. Nova Scotia, beat New Brunswick by 12-2, also in eight ends.
Yukon scored five in the eighth end to prompt P.E.I. to concede, while Nova Scotia had ends of four and five points in their romp over New Brunswick.