Ontario teams were positioned for a clean sweep of the 2012 Dominion Command Darts Championships at North Vancouver Branch May 4-6, taking part in final games for the championship in the singles, doubles and team events, but in the end they shared glory with teams from Alberta-Northwest Territories and New Brunswick.
The matches were hard-fought, with ties among second place in singles play and the leaders in doubles. “The level of competition here is fantastic,” said Kerry Howe of Everett, Ont., Branch.
“There are people here who play internationally,” said John Brann of Moose Jaw, Sask., Branch.
This is perhaps to be expected in a tournament among best players in each provincial command, many of whom have decades of competitive experience. And they need it: darts is a game of physical and mental finesse. Game score is counted down from 701 for teams, 501 for doubles and 301 for singles. Competitors must double in to start and double out with the exact score.
Competition requires mathematical flair, iron control and nerves of steel. From the first shot, players start calculating which combinations will leave them in the best position to double out ahead of opponents. With targets as small as a few square centimetres, mere millimetres can separate a good shot from disaster. Yet these players were so good, more than 20 of them bagged 180s, the highest possible score on one turn—four of them multiple times.
“It all comes down to doubles,” said Howe. “They’re good dart players. We’re good dart players. It’s tit and tat, the flip of a coin who will win on any given day.”
Players were unhappy about the new method for determining tournament first and second place. Under the old rules, each team plays all opponents in round-robin matches of three games, worth one point each. Winners are highest scorers and winners of ties are determined by who had beaten whom in the round robin. Under new rules the top two round-robin scorers play three games to determine winner of the competition. If there’s a tie for second place, another round robin determines who plays the leader for the title.
At the 2012 championships, the teams playing for the title in doubles and team were obvious after the round robin, but there was a three-way tie for second place in singles play, raising the necessity of one round robin and the spectre of two, should the first also result in a tie.
“In my opinion, when a tournament is in a round-robin format…the order is determined by who shot the best all day, so there’s no reason to have a playoff between first and second,” said John Verwey of Blyth, Ont., Branch.
The new rules could cost the day’s best player a championship, he said. In his case, he had to wait about 45 minutes while a round robin established second place. Such a delay is a disadvantage as the first-place finisher cools down, then faces a player both warm and mentally alert from just finishing a round robin.
“The change was made at the request of dart players themselves,” said Dominion Command Sports Committee member Brent Wignes. “They thought it would add a bit more to the game. As it is now, they’re all elite players and pretty much on any given day or any given week anybody could win.” When two teams are closely matched, the new rule gives the second place finisher a second chance to come out on top.
At the closing banquet, Wignes polled players whether the new rule was a good idea and received a loud ‘No!’ He told players a request for change must start with their local branches then move up through provincial commands to Dominion Command. Verwey said he will request a return to the old rules, where scores in round-robin play determines the winner.
The weekend got off to a rollicking start as teams from across the country arrived Friday to perfect weather and a beautiful setting. North Vancouver Branch occupies the main floor of the 14-storey Legion Towers veterans and seniors housing complex, but the nearest corner provides spectacular views of Grouse Mountain and the sea. The evening ended with a friendly blind draw doubles game.
Brevity marked the opening ceremonies Saturday morning. “We’re so honoured to have you here,” said President Rhonda Thomas.
“You’re here for the comradeship and to enjoy the game,” said Wignes, wishing players good luck before declaring the championship open.
The battle for the singles title began shortly afterwards, with scores in a tight range until Verwey established a two-point lead in the seventh round, which he maintained, ending with 18 points. New Brunswick’s Fred McKinnon of Carleton Branch in Saint John, Seymour Dixon of Stellerton, N.S., Branch and Saskatchewan’s Brann had all scored 16. McKinnon won the round robin, but was defeated by Verwey in the three-game final.
Victory was sweet for Verwey. “The first time I played Fred years ago I lost to him 2-1. Today is a little bit of revenge. This is my third time to win but it’s more special than the first time. I’m getting to be 55 and the young bucks are coming up….”
Throughout the doubles round robin Ontario’s Dan Olson and Kerry Howe of Everett Branch played catch-up with Keith Way and Elvis Beaudoin from Vincent Massey Branch in Yellowknife, N.W.T. At the end of the round robin they were tied at 20; the Alberta-Northwest Territories team won the final in two games. The sweetest shot of the day for Beaudoin was “that double top against Ontario” that clinched the game. This was the team’s third trip to the nationals, and their first win.
Sunday morning the lead in team play wavered back and forth among Alberta-N.W.T., Quebec, and Ontario’s Frank Browne, Jason Marchis, Perry Parsons and Mike Power from Col. Alex Thomson Memorial Branch in Mississauga. In the fifth game the New Brunswick team caught up, tying with Ontario at 10 points. They were tied at 13 in the sixth game, and the round robin ended with Ontario at 18 points and 19 for McKinnon, Tom Vaughan, Steve Foster and Gerry Johnston of Carleton Branch. In the playoff, Ontario took three turns to double on, giving New Brunswick a leg up on winning the first game, and although scores remained close in the second game, the Maritimes team doubled out first.
“We were chasing Ontario all the way through the tournament,” said McKinnon. “All day long it was back and forth, back and forth.” Most of the members of the team have been playing together for longer than a decade. “We complement each other very well,” said Vaughan.
Darts players don’t get misty-eyed when you ask them about the challenges of their sport, out-thinking opponents, wrestling their own nerves. But they cheerfully divulge what keeps them coming back year after year. “It’s the people that you meet,” says Vaughan. “The guy you just beat high-fiving you when you make a good shot. The Legions are so much fun to play. It’s very competitive but you don’t get mad if you lose.”
It was fun for the branch members, too, said Thomas, praising the crew of volunteers headed by Local Arrangements Committee Chairman Tammy Mercier. Throughout the weekend they helped run the event, feed competitors and drive them back to the airport.
Team: N.B. (Carleton Br., Saint John) 19; Ont. (Col. Alex Thomson Memorial Br., Mississauga) 18; Que. (Terrebonne Heights Br., Mascouche Heights) 15; N.S./Nunavut (New Ross Br.) 14; Nfld. /Lab. (Channel Br., Port aux Basques) 14; Alta.-N.W.T. (Vincent Massey Br., Yellowknife) 14; B.C./Yukon (Chilliwack Br.) 13; Sask. (Moose Jaw Br.) 12; P.E.I. (Charlottetown Br.) 9; Man.-N.W.O. (Selkirk Br.) 7.
Doubles: Alta.-N.W.T. (Keith Way, Elvis Beaudoin, Vincent Massey Br.) 20; Ont. (Dan Olson, Kerry Howe, Everett Br.) 20 (second place); N.S./Nunavut (Kevin Boylan, Sheldon Fudge, New Ross Br.) 18; Sask. (Curt Gamble, John Brann, Moose Jaw Br.) 14; Nfld.-Lab. (Paul Osmond, Guy Bobbett, Channel Br.), Que. (Jean Filiatrault, Martin Tremblay, Terrebonne Heights Br.) 13; N.B. (Scott Tracy, Kevin Bailey, Black’s Harbour Br.) 10; Man.-N.W.O. (Vern Tkach, Corey Tkach, West Kildonan Br., Winnipeg), P.E.I. (Frank Cudmore, Darren MacNevin, Charlottetown Br.), B.C./Yukon (Gilbert Guindon, Dale O’Brien, Cranbrook Br.) 9.
Singles: Ont. (John Verwey, Blyth Br.) 18; N.B. (Fred McKinnon, Carleton Br.) 16; N.S. (Seymour Dixon, Stellerton Br.), Sask. (John Brann, Moose Jaw Br.) 16; Nfld.-Lab. (Richard LeRiche, Channel Br.) 15; Que. (Claude Seguin, Terrebonne Heights Br.) 13; Man.-N.W.O. (Ryan Tkach, West Kildonan Br.), Alta.-N.W.T. (Dean Willis, Vincent Massey Br.) 12; B.C./Yukon (Gilbert Guindon, Cranbrook Br.) 9; P.E.I. (Frank Cudmore, Charlottetown Br.) 8.