It was a hair-raising finish to the Dominion Command Darts Championship at Men of Vision Branch in Cochrane, Alta., May 1-3 as two teams with veteran players who had come to the championship several times, but never won, came face-to-face in a playoff.
The lead had see-sawed back and forth all day, and with one round to go, the Nova Scotia/Nunavut team of David Cameron, Lewis Francis, Mark MacIsaac and William MacIsaac from Calais Branch in Lower Sackville had 18 points. One point behind was the Quebec team of Jerry Hull, Sebastien Gagnon, Jason Hurley and Kevin MacArthur from LaSalle Branch. The two teams had battled in the seventh round, when Nova Scotia won 2-1.
Darts is played in round robin format so that every player played against all the opponents. The matches were in three legs played for one point each. The score is counted down from 701 for teams, 501 for doubles and 301 for singles. All three legs must be played and competitors are required to double in to start and double out with the exact score to win.
In the final round, the teams were at adjacent boards. Nova Scotia was playing the New Brunswick team of Stephen Knowlton, Robert Emile Fougere, Terry Fougere and Donald Vautour of Sunny Brae Branch in Moncton while Quebec faced P.E.I.’s Peter Holden, Jack MacEachern, Darren MacNevin and Dave Robinson of Charlottetown.
Quebec players kept nervously glancing at the adjoining Nova Scotia game. If Nova Scotia won all three games, Quebec would likely place second. If Nova Scotia lost all three and Quebec won all three, Quebec would win the tournament.
As New Brunswick quickly won the first game, the Quebec team was cheered on by one voluble fan who urged them to ignore what was going on next door and concentrate on their own game. Quebec had had a harder and harder time doubling out as the day wore on, but Hull made full use of his first opportunity, chalking up one win for Quebec.
When the Nova Scotia team won its second game, Quebec’s MacArthur quipped that he would have a beer—and a Valium. Then P.E.I. won the second game against Quebec. The third game would determine all. In the end, New Brunswick won 2-1 over Nova Scotia and Quebec won 2-1 over P.E.I., forcing a playoff.
“This is my fifth time at dominion championships and I’ve never won,” said MacArthur. “I want it bad.” William MacIsaac, in his fourth appearance, felt the same way.
The playoff round got off to a portentous start with identical first turn scores of 35; Nova Scotia won the first game, Quebec the second.
In the third game, Nova Scotia was in doubling-out range well before Quebec, but unable to put it away. With Quebec at 90 and Nova Scotia at 24, Francis failed to double out. Quebec’s MacArthur, who had bawled himself out for two earlier low scores, doubled out on 90.
After having trouble doubling out all day, Quebec beat its case of jitters to do it—twice—when it counted.
“The game changes so quickly,” said Hull. “I was watching (Nova Scotia’s) game. They missed one dart and New Brunswick closed. It took all of five seconds.”
“The game was downright amazing,” said Mark MacIsaac. “There were great shots. It was a great finish. Quebec got a 90, and they deserved it.”
“We missed so many doubles today,” said Gagnon. “I guess we got lucky. You need luck sometimes.”
After a full year of planning and hard work, the only luck needed by the Local Arrangements Committee had to do with the weather—and they won. A brilliant blue sky, the Rockies as a backdrop and the first warm weekend of the year were all appreciated as players and guests enjoyed a turn on the deck during the welcome barbeque, served by volunteers from the Cochrane Rockies midget hockey team.
For a dozen years the branch has held Friday evening barbeques cooked and served by volunteers from local charities and sports clubs that receive Legion donations. “When we had our tournament a month ago, the Legion was a big part of our sponsorship,” said Mike Brady, Rockies team captain. “So we volunteered here to make up for it.”
The barbeques run 52 weeks a year—even at 40 below Celsius—and have become popular, with crowds averaging 60. Having young people help out breaks down the barriers between the Legion and local community. “The branch isn’t a strange place to them,” said branch manager Bonnie Bagnall. Over the years some of those young volunteers come back to the branch—as members. Weekend proceedings were stopped several times while contributions from junior volunteers were recognized, including Megan Snell, 12, and Leslie Snell, 9, and Boy Scouts of Canada volunteers who bused tables at the banquet and washed dishes. Grade 7 student Zachary Ivanitz, who says he’s volunteered at the branch “many times,” enjoyed having the whole crowd sing him happy 13th birthday as he blew out the candles on his cake.
The weather remained lovely for opening ceremonies Saturday. Men of Vision Branch’s Pipe and Drums Band led the colour party to the cenotaph next for the service, then played as the colour party and players marched the short distance back to the branch. After greetings from Dominion Command Sports Committee representative Clayton Saunders, first vice of New Brunswick Command, Alberta-Northwest Territories Command Sports Chairman Reid Morris, District 5 Commander Dino Michaud and Men of Vision Branch President Lorne Clarke, the doubles competition was underway.
The teams from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia performed relatively evenly for the first eight games. Coming into the ninth game tied at 18, Ontario had the psychological advantage: Tim Schryer and Tom Van Hoof of Sault Ste. Marie Branch had played the other two teams, and were meeting Newfoundland’s Cliff Muise and Fred Pye from St. George’s Branch who were five points behind the leaders. Ontario won all three games, ending with 21 points for the day.
The Nova Scotia team of Kevin Boylan and Sheldon Fudge of New Ross Branch and Quebec’s Sebastien Gagnon and Jason Hurley of LaSalle Branch had to battle it out. For the second year in a row, Fudge and Boylan, who’ve been playing together for half a dozen years, placed second in the doubles event.
“All we had to do was win a clean set,” said Van Hoof, flashing a million-watt grin. While the final game was exciting, said Boylan, his personal highlight was scoring two triples earlier in the day.
Lunch, prepared and served by the ladies auxiliary, gave players and guests a chance to achieve the second agenda of any such meet—meeting and making friends.
The Cranbrook, B.C., team of Lloyd Dundas, Gilbert Guindon, Dale O’Brien and Ron Stevely were pleased to have supporters who made the six-hour drive from their hometown, and from Invermere, three hours away. The branch thanked volunteers from Exshaw Branch, an hour’s drive away. Local Arrangement Committee Chairman Ellison Smith also thanked local townspeople, non-Legion members, “who heard what was going on and just volunteered.”
After Saturday lunch the singles match, a battle between two past dominion champions, began.
Both last year’s winner, Jerry Hull of LaSalle Branch and the 2007 champion from Blythe, Ont., John Verwey, were strong out of the gate, winning the first three games of Round 1, along with Michael Sheppard of St. George’s in Newfoundland. By Round 6 they were four points ahead of their nearest competition—Peter Holden of Charlottetown, Jason Skinner of North Battleford, Sask., and Sheppard, all tied at 10 points.
Spectators were staking their chairs early as it became clear these two would be battling for first place.
Verwey won the first game, Hull the second. In the third game both players scored triples and both missed a double before Verwey won.
Verwey has been to the dominion championships four times, the first time two decades ago. “It was a game to the finish.” It’s an accomplishment just to make it to the dominion championships, he says. “I knocked out the rep from last year to get here this year. Just to get out of Ontario you’ve got to think you’ve accomplished something.”
Saunders congratulated players on their sportsmanship. ”Good scores, starts and finishes were always recognized by pats on the back or high-fives, not only for your teammates but also your competitors.” President Clarke also praised the competitors for their skill, determination and sportsmanship.
Team: Que. (LaSalle Br.,) 19; N.S./Nunavut (Calais Br., Lower Sackville) 19; Alta./N.W.T. (Vincent Massey Br., Yellowknife) 15; B.C./Yukon (Cranbrook Br.) 15; Ont. (Callander Br.) 14; N.B. (Sunny Brae Br., Moncton) 13; Nfld./Labrador (St. George’s Br.) 13; P.E.I (Charlottetown Br.) 11; Man./N.W.O. (Flin Flon Br. ) 10; Sask. (North Battleford Br.) 6.
Doubles: Ont. (Tim Schryer, Tom Van Hoof, Sault Ste. Marie Br.) 21; N.S. (Kevin Boylan, Sheldon Fudge, New Ross Br.) 20; Que. (Sebastien Gagnon, Jason Hurley, LaSalle Br.) 19; Man. (Dave Hendy, Scott Sansom, Selkirk Br.) 14; N.B. (Robert Emile Fougere, Terry Fougere, Sunny Brae Br.) 13; Nfld. (Cliff Muise, Fred Pye, St. George’s Br.) 13; B.C./Yukon. (Roger Bernier, Albert Davis, South Vancouver Br.) 10; Sask. (Jason Skinner, Jody Germann, North Battleford Br.) 10: P.E.I. (Jack MacEachern, Darren MacNevin, Charlottetown Br.) 8; Alta./N.W.T. (Myles Longphee, Norm Sanderson, Vincent Massey Br.) 7.
Singles: Ont. (John Verwey, Blythe Br.) 20; Que. (Jerry Hull, LaSalle Br.) 19; Sask. (Jason Skinner, North Battleford Br.) 15; P.E.I. (Peter Holden, Charlottetown Br.)14; Nfld. (Michael Sheppard, St. George’s Br.) 13; Man./N.W.O. (Lorne Heinrichs, Elmwood Br., Winnipeg) 12; Alta./N.W.T Dean Willis, Vincent Massey Br.) 11; N.S./Nunavut (Chester MacKenzie, MacDonald Memorial Br., Lakeside) 11; N.B. (Stephen Knowlton, Sunny Brae Br.) 10; B.C./Yukon (Mike Brenton, Chemainus Br.) 10.