Jennifer Jones bid a reluctant goodbye to a curling stage where she's performed brilliantly in her career.

Her Manitoba team's exit in Sunday's 5-4 loss to Rachel Homan in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final marked the end of an era in women's curling.

The 49-year-old from Winnipeg declared before the Canadian women's championship in Calgary that her 18th appearance was her last.

Jones intends to retire from team curling after this season, although she will continue to curl mixed doubles competitively with her husband Brent Laing.

Tied for the most Canadian curling titles with Colleen Jones at six and the only woman to skip an unbeaten team in an Olympic Games, two-time world champion Jones dominates debate over who is the country's best female curler of all time.

Her 11 appearances in Hearts' finals, 39 career playoff games and 236 games played are all tournament records.

Jones stood in the centre of the home-end rings and acknowledged the standing ovation she received Sunday night from a sold-out crowd of 3,195 at WinSport Event Centre.

"I'm going to miss everybody," Jones said. "I love the game. I love being out here. I love what it's done for our daughters. They believe that anything is possible because of curling."

Jones is arguably leaving still at the top of her game. She showcased her catalogue of shots in Calgary with several precise draws, finesse hits and rolls and runbacks to score multiple points in an end.

But draw weight eluded her Sunday, which was lethal against Homan's team that excels in defending with big-hit weights.

Jones' walk-off deflection off an Ontario stone well outside the rings for a takeout on the button to win her first Hearts in 2005 is still in heavy rotation on curling highlight reels.

"As far as I'm concerned, she's put modern day women's curling on the map," said four-time men's world champion Glenn Howard, who coached Jones this season.

"She's been a force for 20 some years now. Her uncanny ability to make the big shot is what sticks in my mind. She just comes through clutch, clutch after clutch. She's a winner."

Competing at the level of curling she has requires travelling to almost-weekly tournaments across Canada in the winter.

Jones has said she wants to be physically in the room more with young daughters Isabella and Skyla, instead of story time and spelling homework conducted virtually via a screen.

It may have been the emotion of the moment, but Jones left the door open a crack to unretire.

"This moment, it's really hard to say goodbye to be honest," Jones said. "I'm just like loving it. I don't want my kids to look back on life and think that their mum was never front-row centre cheering them on, like my mum was for me. 

"So that's the biggest reason, but they keep asking me to change my mind, so we'll see."

Jones won her half-dozen Canadian crowns between 2005 and 2018 after making her Hearts debut in 2002 in Brandon, Man.

Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen went undefeated at 11-0 to win a 2014 Olympic gold medal in Sochi, Russia. That foursome also won a world title in 2018 in North Bay, Ont.

Jones won her first world championship in 2008 in Vernon, B.C., with front end of Officer and McEwen and third Cathy Overton-Clapham. Jones' teams won Canada's Olympic women's trials in both 2013 and 2021.

"A really fierce competitor. I've been playing against her for a long time," said Hearts bronze medallist Kate Cameron, who lost 12-7 to Jones in Sunday' semifinal.

"Growing up curling in Manitoba, I think she just shaped what a lot of athletes wanted to be."

After representing Canada at the Olympic Games a second time in Beijing and finishing fifth, her team disbanded and Jones took over a young team of women almost half her age.

Jones reached the 2023 Canadian final with them in Kamloops, B.C., where she lost to Kerri Einarson and led them to the final again in Calgary.

Karlee Burgess, Emily Zacharias and Lauren Lenentine all under the age of 25 — and Emily's sister Mackenzie who played for Jones last season — had Jones to accelerate them through the competitive gap young curlers experience upon graduation from the junior ranks.

"We are lucky to have this opportunity to play in Jenn's last Scotties," Burgess said during the tournament. "Not a lot of people get to play with Jenn Jones."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024