Despite missing morning practices to allow for a few extra minutes of sleep, the Quebec team played hard and remained undefeated to take first place during the 55th Dominion Command Curling Championships, March 19-25 in Hudson, Que.
Victory did not come easy for the team of lead Danny Comeau, second Matt McCrea, third Evan Mooney and skip Jeff Cheal from Col. John Bourque Branch in Sherbrooke, as all eight teams played with heart throughout the week.
“We had high expectations coming in. Like any tournament, you want to do well, but also have a good time,” said Cheal. “It’s a great field, lots of good competition and every game [was] close. We [were] fortunate to pull it off.”
Over the week, the community of Hudson showed the best of small-town Canada. The town, which stretches along 15 kilometres of the Ottawa River, 56 kilometres west of Montreal, was originally settled by French Canadian farmers and voyageurs in the early 18th century. By the early part of the 19th century the region became known as an English farming community with many immigrants from northern England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.
The branch was originally named Lake of Two Mountains Branch when founded in 1945, but changed to Hudson Branch in 1978 when it moved to its current location. One special thing about the branch is that it has two sheets of curling ice inside the building.
With only seven commands sending teams to the championship, host Hudson Branch also entered a team to bring the number to an even eight. Twelve of the 13 draws were held in the branch with four teams playing each draw. The exception was Draw 9, which was played at the local Whitlock Golf and Country Club with all eight teams playing at the same time.
John Coutts, head of the transportation committee, and his volunteers picked up the teams from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in nearby Dorval. All teams expressed gratitude to their drivers who made their stay extra special. As a thank you, the Newfoundland and Labrador team of Cyril Alexander, Barry Lomond, Ray Lackey and skip Dennis Byrne awarded their driver, Norm St. Aubin, with a team jacket and labelling him “coach” for the week.
Sunday morning the official events kicked off with a morning breakfast, sewing of crests by volunteers, team practices and a skips’ meeting. The opening ceremonies took place on the ice. Teams marched behind a piper and were welcomed by President Peter Mansell and Mayor Mike Elliott. Dominion Command Sports Committee Vice-Chairman Les Nash brought greetings on behalf of Dominion Command.
“Welcome, I hope you have a good week, the ice looks real keen,” said Elliott. “Enjoy Hudson.” The ceremonial first rock was delivered by town curling legend Bob Putnam and swept by his two children Jim and Lynda Putnam. Bob is a founding member of the local branch and all three family members have curled at the Legion’s dominion level. Lynda was a member of the 1996 team which was the first all-women team from Quebec.
Bob felt honoured to throw the first rock. “We are very proud to be a part of this.” He said this event is a good example of what the Legion represents—small-town Canada and comradeship.
Lynda added, “We’ve grown up with curling. It’s a family tradition and we are very excited to have it in our town this year.” It was extra special for the Putnam family as Bob’s great-nephew, Mooney, was playing for the Quebec team.
The only glitch in the week was the Saskatchewan team of Randy Graham, Garry Wagner, Mel Mylrea and skip Al Coutts, which placed second, arrived broom-less. The branch supplied them with replacement brooms until theirs arrived minutes before their first game.
Competition started Sunday afternoon. Quebec and British Columbia/Yukon, kicked things off with a long, close match, in which the referee asked both teams to try to speed up play, resulting in a 7-5 victory for Quebec. Prince Edward Island came out strong against the Hudson host team, stealing five in the fifth end and winning 8-2 in seven ends.
It was still anyone’s trophy at the end of Draw 6. Quebec, Manitoba–Northwestern Ontario and P.E.I. were tied in the lead with three wins, no losses. One of the deciding matches was Draw 9 at the Whitlock club. Manitoba and Saskatchewan played a close game. Saskatchewan managed to get one point in the fourth, fifth and sixth ends and two in the eighth, but Manitoba came back with two in the ninth end, putting the score at 7-6 for Saskatchewan. It was the first loss in the tournament for the Manitoba team of Bob Curry, Doug Fisher, Rob Fisher and skip Jim Todoruk from Dauphin Branch.
P.E.I. and Quebec seemed to have trouble adjusting to the different ice and scratched their first two ends. Quebec came out strong in the third and fifth ends. The P.E.I. team of Earle Prount, Doug Simmons, Ted Macfadyen and skip Mel Bernard from George Pearkes VC Branch in Summerside was triumphant in the sixth and seventh ends. McCrea’s favourite memory of the tournament happened in the eighth end when Cheal made a big shot, putting Quebec ahead by two. “They had tied it up and were sitting two. Jeff came down skinny by the guard, hit hard into theirs and we scored two,” said McCrea, who has been with the team four of their seven years. P.E.I. came back hard, tying it up and sending the game into an 11th end. It came down to Cheal’s final shot, which was successful, ending the game at 7-6 Quebec.
On Wednesday afternoon, Quebec finalized their first-place win by defeating Saskatchewan 8-3 in nine ends.
At the end of the day, the battle for second place was brewing. The contenders were Saskatchewan, Manitoba and P.E.I. who all sat four wins and two losses. At the end of Draw 11, B.C. was also sitting with four wins and two losses. However, their 6-5 loss to Nova Scotia/Nunavut that evening put them out of contention. If Manitoba could defeat Quebec the next morning, they would force a tiebreaker between them and the winner of the P.E.I. and Saskatchewan match.
In the end, Manitoba and Quebec had a high-scoring game with Manitoba stealing three in the second, but Quebec came back with a steal of four in the third and three in the fifth, confirming the win. The result was 8-5 after seven ends. This left P.E.I. and Saskatchewan battling for second place. The score was tied at two after the fifth end. Saskatchewan pulled ahead in the sixth and seventh ends. P.E.I. tied it up in the eighth but couldn’t gain the top hand. Saskatchewan won 7-4.
“I think we were a little unhappy after the first bit, but we pulled through,” said Graham about the match.
Over all, the Saskatchewan team, which brought the most supporters to Hudson, was very happy with the week. “We had good drivers, the food was awesome and everything was great,” said Al Coutts. The team, which consists of two veteran players and two rookies, said over the years they’ve come up against a number of the same people and it’s always fun to see them again. Mylrea added, “We’ve made lots of good friends.”
As for the Quebec team, Hudson is becoming a good luck charm. “It’s great to be in Hudson, I have family here, Jeff has family here, and they all came out to watch a lot of our games,” said Mooney. “Also Matt’s dad drove down, which he really liked. We’ve won three provincials here. This is our second national here and we’ve won it both times. So we really like this place.”
The team couldn’t pinpoint their hardest match. “The host crew gave us a hard time,” said Cheal. “It’s hard to pick the most challenging game because they were all pretty tight. When we played Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, we were down.” McCrea added their first five games came down to the last rock.
Along with curling, the branch kept the players busy with a trip to Sucrerie de la Montagne sugar shack for some maple sugar treats, food and entertainment. For many of the curlers, this was their first visit to a maple syrup shack. The P.E.I. and Saskatchewan teams were particularly excited.
After the final rock soared into the house Thursday morning, the branch was transformed into a banquet for the night’s events. That evening each team spoke about their hometown.
Nash thanked Local Arrangements Committee Chairperson Barb Robinson and her volunteers. Banque Nationale was also thanked for its $5,000 sponsorship of the bonspiel. Summing up the week, he said, “The comradeship, friendship and hospitality at this event are second to none.” He encouraged every member to go home and build up their Legion and curling supporters. “There is no better way to meet people.”