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LONDON, Ont. – Luke Saunders turned to his left and waved to the Nova Scotia fans as his team was introduced Saturday at the Canadian men’s championship.
On the back row of Section 103 at Budweiser Gardens, his mother — legendary jumper Colleen Jones — was crying tears of joy as she watched her son make his Tim Hortons Brier debut.
“This has been in his blood for a long time,” Jones said. “So to see him – I mean to look at this stadium, these lights, this feeling – I’m very proud.”
Saunders grew up in curling rinks across the country and around the world. When he was old enough, he used to lead the cheering section of his mother’s groups.
Now it’s his turn. Jones was sporting a full Nova Scotia kit – complete with cowbell and provincial flag – in a row with family and friends.
“I definitely had jitters before the game today,” Jones said. “I was hesitant, it was as if I was the one who came out, which I find strange. I’m nervous and I’m excited for them.”
The young Nova Scotia team continued to push Alberta’s Kevin Koe the distance, hitting a deuce in the 10th end but still dropped a 5-4 decision.
The early jitters may have been playing out when Saunders was struggling with his pre-game concussion. But the 29-year-old third settled in quickly and finished with 88 percent.
“We are here, we are here and we are playing well,” he said.
Nova Scotia’s Nick Zachernuk and second-place Jeffrey Meagher also had strong percentages, but Matthew Manuel jumped out and finished with 74 per cent.
“This is the biggest event they’ve ever played in,” said Jones. “They used to play in stadiums, but it’s not like this when there are television cameras pointing their noses at you and your mother is wearing a Nova Scotia flag. The numbers are high.”
Saunders reached the semi-finals of the 2013 Canadian junior men’s championship but fell to Matt Dunstone. He went on to earn bronze as Nova Scotia’s second skip Stuart Thompson.
Jones, a six-time women’s national champion, said she hasn’t experienced pre-match butterflies since playing in the world championships nearly 20 years ago.
“Luke would always run around the stadiums with a Canadian flag or a Nova Scotia flag,” he recalls. “He was a really happy person … he was leading the Canadian cheers (in the world) or the Nova Scotia cheers at the Scotties.
“So you want to give some of that back because you know that sometimes it can lift a player. ‘We have you and we have you.’ So I am completely decorated.”
His Nova Scotia rank was due to return to action on Sunday when he faced Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories.
“A supportive shoe goes well on the other foot,” Jones said. “I’m happy that we can do it and be here. It still hurts me that we are here. It makes me itch.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 4, 2023.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
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