The outcome of the 2008 Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Curling Championships turned out to hinge on the luck of the draw.
When curlers and supporters gathered in the comfortable and bright Parkland Recreation Complex in Dauphin, Man., on the last day of play, everyone was looking forward to an afternoon tiebreaker.
Saskatchewan and Quebec were tied with records of five wins and one loss. Given performance over the previous three days of skip Rob Maclean, Danny Belliveau, Allan Jones, Greg Wilson and fifth John Burgess of Hudson, Que., Branch and skip Andrew Hay, Rick Middleton, Les Kun and Darren Clancy of Nutana Branch in Saskatoon, Sask., everyone was looking forward to a game of precision and finesse.
But luck did not last, though there was plenty to go round early in the week, when weather, ill health and a train derailment threatened the event. A record snowstorm in the East caused flight delays, but westbound teams all managed to secure seats on flights to Winnipeg. Nova Scotia’s team, from Bridgewater, arrived broomless, the Newfoundland and Labrador team had to leave a member in Winnipeg for medical attention. And a train derailment delayed arrival of the bonspiel patches.
After all that, the teams were ready for a good time, and it began during the four-hour bus ride with plenty of food and good humour that made the trip between Winnipeg and Dauphin, 320 km to the northwest, pass quickly. Luckily, the Newfoundland and Labrador team member and the mislaid brooms arrived in time for the first draw Monday.
Dauphin, the retail and grain transportation hub for Manitoba’s Parkland region, was surrounded by wide grain fields still sporting the last remnants of winter snow when events kicked off Sunday evening with supper and entertainment at the Dauphin Branch. The affectionately named Legion Ladies, under leadership of Lillian Peirson, cooked up the first of many feasts during the week. Since about 40 per cent of the town is of Ukrainian heritage, branch meals featured Ukrainian delicacies like perogies, kielbasa sausage and cabbage rolls. The Dauphin Legion Highland Dance Club’s performance included sword dances, the Scottish fling and a boisterous rendition of The Irish Washerwoman. The Zirka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, in their colourful costumes, also treated the appreciative crowd to an energetic and athletic display.
Curlers were much impressed by the excellent arrangements of the transportation committee, headed by Jim Todoruk, and the legion of cheerful and helpful volunteers driving the courtesy vans supplied by Dean Cooley GM dealership.
Curlers were up bright and early Monday to attend the opening ceremony in the curling rink in the beautifully renovated and expanded complex. The Dauphin Legion Pipes & Drums piped in the dignitaries, the colour party and the curlers, who stood reverently on the ice for singing of the national anthem and the pledge.
Dominion Command Sports Committee representative Dave Paterson made a toast to the piper and wished the curlers well. In opening the 52nd annual Dominion Curling Championship, he told the curlers it “wasn’t just a rumour” that this might be the last dominion curling event, pending a motion at dominion convention in June calling for termination of all dominion sporting events. It was also the first year since the seniors curling championship had been discontinued as a cost-saving measure.
Joining Paterson in wishing competitors good curling and good fun were Greg Thompson, host committee chairman; Manitoba–Northwestern Ontario Command First Vice Gordon Walker; district representative Tony Safronetz; Dauphin Branch President Walter Peirson; MLA Stan Struthers; and Dennis Forbes, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Dauphin. Ray Baker, Legion dominion championship skip from 2004, threw the first rock which was, as always, right on the button. With little delay, the first rocks were thrown in this year’s competition.
Before lunch at the branch, the teams threw draws to determine who would have the hammer in tiebreakers. The New Brunswick team, from Lancaster Branch in Saint John, distinguished itself, in part thanks to a perfect draw by skip Randy McKim, at 62.5 inches, followed by Manitoba at 66, Saskatchewan at 96, P.E.I. (aided by a perfect draw by lead Earle Proule) at 99, Newfoundland at 114.5, Nova Scotia/Nunavut at 164, B.C./Yukon at 199 and Quebec at 200.
Monday ended with Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan with two wins apiece, P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with two losses each and Newfoundland and B.C. with 1-1 records.
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan polished off two Maritime teams, beating Nova Scotia 10-3 in the morning and New Brunswick 9-3 in the afternoon to end the day with a 4-0 record. In other Tuesday morning games, P.E.I. beat Newfoundland 8-5 and Quebec beat the team from Salmon Arm, B.C., 8-3 in eight ends. In the longest game of the morning, New Brunswick had to raise an outside guard to score and force an extra end, but mate Mike Dobson’s rock was too heavy and overcurled, leaving Manitoba with a shot and a 6-4 win.
Tuesday afternoon, the last few ends for Quebec were “steal, steal, steal,” said skip Maclean. Consequently Manitoba skip Butch Mouck faced a huddle of four Quebec rocks, one of them shot, straddling the back of the eight foot, in his final throw. He threaded through the guards, sailed by his own rock sitting just inside the eight-foot circle up front to nudge apart the huddle and win 7-6.
Wednesday morning the fates of four teams were of particular interest—Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, none of whom had yet lost a game; and New Brunswick, which had not yet won one.
The lead went back and forth in the game between Quebec and Saskatchewan until the sixth end, marked by bump and roll tactics.
“We just couldn’t get a rock in exactly the right place,” said Hay. “They kept bumping and rolling and the rocks just kept hanging around. Quebec was in position to score five or six.” But Maclean’s last shot overcurled, bumping out the back, leaving one Saskatchewan rock to count, ducking a big bullet.
Maclean missed a raise in the ninth end and took out a carefully placed Saskatchewan rock, leaving Quebec counting one, two and three. Hay was ahead briefly after a double takeout, but Maclean ended up counting two after taking out the Saskatchewan shot rock.
In the 10th end Maclean’s first shot hit away a guard for a tiny bite in front of the 12-foot ring. Hay drew into the eight-foot on the opposite side but his rock didn’t curl enough to hide behind the guard out front. Maclean took out Saskatchewan’s shot rock, leaving an impossible split. Since Hay needs two to tie, he doesn’t bother throwing his last rock. Final score: Quebec 6, Saskatchewan 4.
“You don’t mind losing games like that, because you did everything you could,” says Hay. “You just didn’t have the luck that game. If we’d had just one more lucky break….”
It was in the afternoon that he was to get it, in a close game with Manitoba.
Meanwhile, New Brunswick posted its first win, 9-2 over Newfoundland; and Manitoba had its first loss, 2-5 at the hands of B.C. Nova Scotia beat P.E.I. 7-6 to round out the morning’s play.
In the afternoon a hometown crowd began to gather behind the glass on the main floor and in the upstairs Curler’s Lounge windows overlooking sheet 3, where Saskatchewan was taking on the hometown favourite, Manitoba’s Gilbert Plains Branch, which lies 30 kilometres due west of Dauphin. In the 10th end, Hay’s last throw was a delicate freeze for a point. Manitoba skip Mouck threw a beauty to bump back Saskatchewan’s rock and tie the game and force an extra end, no doubt aided by the collective intake of breath of the many fans gathered in the viewing galleries.
Mouck used his first rock in the 11th end to place a centre front guard to shield his shot rock. Hay drew around, taking out the Manitoba stone, leaving Saskatchewan two rocks with the button open. And here Hay’s luck kicked in. Mouck’s final draw missed the button. Final score: Saskatchewan 7, Manitoba 6.
None of the other games ended with such close scores. Nova Scotia beat B.C., 7-5; Quebec won over Newfoundland 8-3 and P.E.I. beat New Brunswick 9-6.
Quebec and Saskatchewan, tied at five wins and one loss, were the games to watch Thursday morning, as their fates would decide the length of the bonspiel. Saskatchewan was up against B.C., which had a 3-3 record; Quebec faced off against P.E.I., which was sitting two wins, four losses. Manitoba led the rest of the pack with a 4-2 record, followed by Newfoundland and New Brunswick, tied at one win and five losses.
Saskatchewan started with the hammer and managed to stay ahead of B.C. for the whole game. In the sixth and final end, B.C. missed a vital takeout with the seventh rock, an opportunity Hay was not going to waste. Already scoring one point to one side of the button, he nudged a second rock to settle on the other side, just too distant for a double, forcing B.C. to take one point. With the score 6-2, B.C. conceded.
Quebec and P.E.I. had a much closer—and longer—game, tying at five after the ninth end. With his last rock, P.E.I. skip Mel Bernard tried to take out a Quebec rock and get a roll to hide behind his own rock sitting second, but missed the roll, leaving Quebec a draw into an open four-foot to win. But curling luck often gets in the way of sure things. Maclean’s rock left the hack with the right weight, but picked up some debris coming down the sheet and stopped far short. P.E.I. stole two to win 10-8.
Saskatchewan won the bonspiel with a 6-1 record.
The trophy went to skip Hay, Middleton, Kun and Clancy.
“Nobody wants to win this way,” said Hay. “A pick is a pick,” shrugged Maclean as he congratulated Hay.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s reception and awards banquet was boisterous and good spirited, and began with distribution of the crests, which had been retrieved from the rail mishap in northern Ontario.
Paterson summed up the feeling in the room at the closing ceremonies by saying “I hope we can all meet again next year at Maple Ridge.” A sentiment echoed by all in attendance, including Dominion Past President Mary Ann Burdett, who joined the fun Wednesday.
But the fate of the 53rd Dominion Curling Championship is in the hands of dominion convention delegates, when they consider their resolutions.