SYNDEY, N.S. — So much of it is the same for Jill Officer, and yet it's entirely different this year.
After stepping away from competitive curling one year ago after 23 seasons alongside Jennifer Jones, Officer is back at another Scotties — this time as a fifth for her longtime skip's team.
"It's just weird," Officer said. "I've been to the Scotties how many times and it's just a different position. I'm totally grateful to be here but it's still hard."
Officer's curling finish couldn't have gone any better. In 2018 she won another Scotties title and then capped it off with another world title — wearing the Maple Leaf one last time on home ice in North Bay, Ont.
WATCH | Canada wins 2018 women's world curling title:
Jones' Canadian rink edged Anna Hasselborg's team from Sweden 7-6 in extra ends to win the Women's Curling World Championship. 1:42
She hasn't been a fifth on a team since 2002 when she was the alternate for Jones's first appearance at the Scotties in Brandon, Man. The two have been inseparable since.
"We've grown up together, had babies together, won the Olympics together, lost together. We'll be friends forever," Jones said.
During all those year the two secured six Scotties titles, two world championships and an Olympic gold. But Officer just felt she couldn't do the grind anymore, forcing her to leave the game she loved.
This isn't easy for her right now, but she still feels she made the right choice to step away.
"I know that I wouldn't have been able to put the time and effort and work in this season to play in this entire event," Officer said, fighting back tears.
"I still know it was the right decision. But it's still hard. It's not a new normal for me yet."
Embracing her new role
For as difficult as this all is for Officer not being on the ice this week in Sydney competing at the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, she's embracing the role of fifth.
From scouting rocks from the stands when Team Canada isn't on the ice with camouflage-patterned binoculars to arranging team transportation, meals and doing everything she can to make the team feel comfortable, Officer has her work cut out for her.
For the most part, Officer has swapped her broom for a pair of binoculars as a fifth on Jones's team. And yes, the six-time winner is sporting her Scotties ring. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)
"All the girls are special to me. We've been through so much together. I do feel like I'm part of the team and I feel like they want me here," she said.
Her skip couldn't agree more.
"The best part is she knows exactly what do to because she's been around us for so long. She's just the best fifth ever," Jones said.
'We'll be friends forever,' Jones, left, said about Officer. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
During the games, Officer is on the team bench with those same binoculars looking across all of the sheets and tracking all the rocks. She's trying to give her team every advantage despite not being on the ice.
"I hope the girls know they can come to me if they need something. I'm here to be their support and making this easier to them," Offier said.
Stepping back on the ice
Jennifer Jones has made it very clear that Officer will be coming in to play this week at the Scotties. She just won't reveal for what game yet.
"She will be playing. I won't tell you when, I don't want to ruin the surprise," Jones said. "It was really important for us she would start a game. She'll always be a part of our team."
WATCH | Team Jones captures 2018 Scotties
Jones and Team Manitoba beat Team Wild Card in extra ends to win the 2018 Scotties Championship in Penticton, BC. 1:27
It'll be a magical moment for the former second and skip who have been on this curling journey since the beginning.
"From my perspective, I got to play with the best female skip in the world for however many years. Sometimes even if I wasn't playing well I was a long for the ride," Officer said.
Should Team Canada find a way to win it all in Sydney, it would mark history. Jones and Officer would be the only two players to have seven Scotties titles — and the admiration between the two is mutual.
"It clicked from the beginning. Jill has always believed in me from the beginning," Jones said.
"She's such a great teammate to have."
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