It was a classic battle for the Dominion Command Curling Championship, March 18-23 in Saskatoon as two teams, both new to the national Legion bonspiel, fought it out in an absolute nail-biter on the last day of action.
On the morning play was to begin, things began with the traditional patch-sewing and captains’ meeting, followed by a short wreath-placing ceremony at Nutana Branch and then an opening ceremony at the Nutana Curling Club. Dominion President Pat Varga and Dominion Command Sports Committee Chairman Dave Flannigan placed wreaths and gave welcoming comments.
“I just wanted to welcome you all,” said Varga, “and I know you’re going to have a great week.”
The bonspiel was hosted by all three branches in Saskatoon: Saskatoon Branch, Nutana Branch and Dr. Harold Anderson Memorial TVS Branch with a Local Arrangements Committee headed by Marie Schmidt.
Things got off to a difficult start to the tournament, logistically speaking, as Air Canada’s service was being disrupted by disgruntled staff. Though many teams suffered delays, it was the crew from Newfoundland and Labrador who had it the worst. The team from Stephenville Branch—skip Dennis Byrne, third Barry Lomond, second Tom Gallant, lead Wayne Deaves—left home on Friday and didn’t make it to Saskatoon until Monday morning, well after the tournament began.
The Newfoundland team finally took to the ice shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, just over an hour and half after play began for the morning. Their British Columbia/Yukon Command opponents—from Langley, B.C., Branch, skip Darren Frycz, third Steve Claxton, second Kelly Folk, lead Bill Nickerson—had graciously agreed to wait for their appearance.
On the third day of competition things started to shake themselves out a bit. B.C./Yukon captured their fourth straight win in the morning, with a 6-4 nail-biter over the Prince Edward Island team from St. Anthony Branch in Bloomfield, consisting of skip Blaine Hutt, third David Bell, second Craig Oliver and lead John Ellsworth.
The only team keeping pace with B.C./Yukon’s unbeaten record was the Saskatchewan team from Meadow Lake Branch, consisting of skip Dan Mazuren, third Kevin Valliere, second Peter Mazuren, lead Dianne Sergeew and fifth Linda Ellenor, who had a bye in the morning and would try to make it to 4-0 against Newfoundland in the afternoon.
It wasn’t entirely a surprise that Saskatchewan and B.C./Yukon were top dogs in the hunt for the 2012 championship, as both teams had defeated previous dominion champions in their provincial finals and came into the bonspiel confident of their ability to take home the crown.
Unfortunately, the gentlemen from Newfoundland had different ideas. While it took an extra end, skip Dennis Byrne and his crew managed to squeak out the narrowest of victories over the team from Meadow Lake. While Newfoundland’s play was consistent and aggressive, in truth they were given some fateful assistance in the last two ends as Saskatchewan suffered a couple of picks which sent their rocks drifting errantly.
On Wednesday morning the battle was in full rip. As front-runner B.C. faced off against the Nova Scotia/Nunavut team from Weymouth Branch, consisting of skip Ed Comeau, third Jimmy Doucet, second Walter Coggins and lead Pete Comeau, Saskatchewan was two sheets down grinding it out against the Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario team of skip Blair Goethals, third Lorne Sambrook, second Barry Sunaert, lead Dale Goethals, fifth Doug Morningstar from Deloraine Branch in Manitoba.
Things were looking good for B.C. until the seventh end. They were sitting with six in the house and just had to clear one pesky N.S. rock with their last shot to rack up a big total. Unfortunately, that last rock ended up raising the N.S. rock and B.C. left the end having lost a point instead of marking a potentially high score. With that, N.S. went up 5-4. B.C. came back to grab two in the next end, taking it to 6-5. Fast forward through some tight play and it’s 7-7 and B.C. skip Frycz has to draw to the button in a crowded house in order to stay in it. His rock slides long and N.S., earning a single point, gets the win.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, was in a dogfight on sheet #3. Manitoba was up 7-5 until the end of the ninth, when Saskatchewan notched two to tie it. Though Manitoba had the hammer going into the last end, a nicely placed rock by Saskatchewan skip Mazuren forced an error from Manitoba and it was all over.
So Saskatchewan and B.C. were free and clear above the rest, each with a 4-1 record, and there was only one round left; it would all come down to the last match of the last day of regular play—Saskatchewan versus B.C.
From the first rock, it was a tense affair. At the end of five ends the score was 4-3 for Saskatchewan and not much had been settled. At the end of eight ends the score was 5-5 and still, not much had been settled. Starting the ninth it was 6-5 for Saskatchewan, B.C. had the hammer and it was anyone’s game.
With two rocks left, B.C. skip Frycz missed an angled raise by a hair, and this hair turned out to cost them everything. Saskatchewan was shot rock behind a wall of stones. Frycz had one more shot, but it was all but impossible. It was over. The Saskatchewan players were the 2012 champions.
After the match, Saskatchewan skip Mazuren talked a little about what he was thinking in that last end. “We had to steal. We were only up one—not ahead enough to be clear—and to junk it up is the only way to steal.”
The team played well, added Mazuren. “We had the draw weight down.”
Interesting, while Mazuren’s team is somewhat a family affair—his brother Peter and his wife Dianne are both on the team—they don’t often play together. “It’s hard enough to be together at home,” joked Mazuren, “let alone play on a team together.”
Meanwhile, there was still a second-place trophy to play for. The team from Buckingham, Que.—skip Grant MacLennan, third Robert Periad, second Dan deWaard, Jr., lead Dan deWaard, Sr.—had quietly sneaked into a tie for second place with B.C. On Thursday morning the two teams had an early play off and it all ended quite quickly, with B.C. up 10-4 after six ends, Quebec decided to shake hands.
The final banquet, held at Nutana Branch, was an excellent affair, complete with an awards ceremony and short speeches by Varga and Flannigan.
“This has been an eye-opener for me,” said Flannigan. “I really didn’t know a lot about curling when I came here, but I do now.”
With all the awards distributed and everyone full of good cheer, there was nothing left to do but return home.
“At the opening ceremony I tried to give the old political message of ‘try to put the sportsmanship and comradeship together and have a great week,’” said Flannigan, “but I don’t think it was necessary for me to even say that. You guys were an inspiration to The Royal Canadian Legion.”