Jones recruits Birchard to play third at national curling championship

WINNIPEG — With third Kaitlyn Lawes bound for the Winter Olympics, Jennifer Jones has recruited Shannon Birchard to join her team at the upcoming Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Lawes, who was Jones’s vice when they won an Olympic gold medal in women’s curling in 2014, qualified with teammate John Morris to play mixed doubles next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

So Birchard joins Jones, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen for the Canadian women’s curling championship Jan. 27-Feb. 4 in Penticton, B.C.

The preliminary round of mixed doubles, which makes its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, starts Feb. 8.

Jones won her eighth Manitoba women’s title Sunday with Lawes in her lineup and is attempting to capture a sixth national title. Jones lost in the Olympic trials semifinal to Rachel Homan in December.

Birchard, 23, skipped her team to a 3-4 record in the provincial championship.

Curling Canada is introducing another new format at both the women’s and men’s national championships. A 16-team tournament includes a representative from all provinces and territories.

Michelle Englot’s team inherited the Team Canada entry that goes to the defending champion because 2017 winner Homan will be representing Canada at the Winter Olympics in women’s curling.

Englot lost to Homan in the final of last year’s Scotties in St. Catharines, Ont.

The 16th team at the national championship will be a wild-card entry determined by playoff game between the top two rinks in the Canadian Team Ranking System who didn’t qualify via their provincial and territorial championships.

So Calgary’s Chelsea Carey and Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson will square off Jan. 26 in Penticton for the right to join the main draw.

This format replaces the unpopular four-team qualification tournament that sent three rinks home before the main draw began the last three years.

The national championship now consists of two pools of eight, with the top four from each advancing to a championship round determining the four playoff teams.

Pool A will consist of Jones, the wild-card team, Northern Ontario’s Tracy Fleury, Nova Scotia’s Mary-Anne Arsenault, Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, New Brunswick’s Sylvie Robichaud, Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories and Yukon’s Chelsea Duncan.

Alberta’s Casey Scheidegger, Ontario’s Holly Duncan, British Columbia’s Kesa Van Osch, Stacey Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island’s Robyn MacPhee, Quebec’s Emilia Gagne and Nunavut’s Amie Shackleton will make up Pool B.

The tournament winner represents Canada at the world championship March 17-25 in North Bay, Ont.

The Tim Hortons Brier that will determine this year’s Canadian men’s champion is March 3-11 in Regina.

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