The trend continues and the home team reigns supreme. Team New Brunswick took top honours at the second Dominion Command Eight-Ball Championship.
Over an absolutely rain-drenched weekend May 25-26 in the provincial capital of Fredericton, the host team took the title, just as British Columbia/Yukon Command had when it was host to the initial eight- ball tournament in Victoria. It wasn’t a decisive win. Atlantic rival Nova Scotia/Nunavut came in only three wins behind. Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario and Ontario nipped at their heels with just four wins away from the title and tied for third.
Fredericton Branch, which overlooks the St. John River, was host to the newest of Dominion Command sports. Joining time-honoured favourites of cribbage, curling and darts, the specifics of the sporting event were still being ironed out.
“It’s working out great so far, knock on wood,” laughed Dominion Command Sports Committee representative Norman Shelton. “But so far it’s been amazing!”
The newest dominion sport uses a tweaked version of the World Pool-Billiard Association rules. “We used them as a template, but they’re not set in stone,” explained head referee Roger Miller regarding the process of smoothing out the specifics for the sport. “If we encounter an issue, we convene with a member of each group and work it out. As long as the captains agree, that’s fine. It’s gone very well. Very smooth.”
Those rules saw nine teams from across the country compete against each other over the course of the weekend. Every command was represented save for the returning champs. Last year Quebec Command couldn’t make it to the table but they had a team this year. The absence of a B.C./Yukon team meant the top spot was up for grabs for a new contender.
With the conclusion of an opening ceremony Saturday morning, the games were declared officially off and running.
Three tables were constantly occupied for the next two days. The sound of cracking balls and occasional breaks was mixed with the underlying rumble of conversations among Canadians from near and far.
Teams would bottleneck as newcomers would come onto the tables following the completion of games before them. “Good luck” and “Good game” were said as the fresh players passed those who had just finished a round.
Each command brought four players with them to Fredericton. In order to get to the dominion competition and represent their command, each team had to place in the top tier in its home jurisdiction.
The two players that fared best for their teams would earn the chance to play in the doubles tournament once teams’ totals were completed. Out of those, the best man in each team would compete in the singles tournament and a single winner would be crowned.
“Everyone here loves pool,” said Local Arrangements Committee Chairman Tom Doherty. “And everyone here is here to have a good time.” Doherty is one of the men responsible for conceptualizing the tournament and getting eight-ball recognized as a dominion-level sport.
“Three years ago I was standing over there,” Doherty motioned across the hall. “We had to get it as a national sport, had to write the resolution. Lot of work.”
But persistence had its reward. “The reason we got it is because we stuck with it and stuck it out,” said Doherty. “It’s been well worth it.” Halfway through the Saturday, everybody in the hall would agree.
With each player at the tournament needing to complete nine games in total, play continued through the lunch hour. While the loud crash of breaks and the clang of glasses continued and the smell of the local stewing fiddleheads wafted through the room, the top players were emerging.
After six rounds of play the leaders of each conference were starting to declare themselves. Four divisions spread across two conferences dictated the score sheet.
The first conference was proving crowded with Rick Hutcheon of Norwood-St. Boniface Branch in St. Boniface, Man., in Division 1 tied for top spot with Brian Bartkow of A.H. Foster MM Memorial Branch in Kingston, N.S., with 13 points apiece.
Stephen Wells of team New Brunswick from Sackville Branch led the third conference with 12 points. His lead was narrow over Steve West of Memorial Branch in Owen Sound, Ont., in Division 4 who managed 11 points.
Although the scores were tight, the tensions were not. Camaraderie abounded throughout the tournament. While a few players were returning from last year’s event, many of the faces looming over the green carpet were new. Many of them had never been to Canada’s picture province before.
“Some came a week early and rented a cabin to see the area,” said Doherty. “And some others took a wrong turn and saw more than they bargained for.”
According to Doherty, one team, eager to see Nova Scotia, took a wrong turn and managed to wind up in Prince Edward Island. How they mistook the Confederation Bridge remains to be explained. “They saw three provinces in just a few hours,” Doherty chuckled.
Through it all, it rained heavily. That left the indoor sport of pool the best way to ride out the weather.
As the totals were coming to a close, Team New Brunswick, led by Wells with Maurice Hicks, Norm Saunders and Jeff McAllister managed to keep ahead of the pack. Their early success had momentum enough to propel them to the top spot. They closed out the tournament with a total of 41 points.
The Nova Scotia/Nunavut team of Bartkow, Chris Marsh, Bob Moore and Brian Thomas notched second with 38. Ontario and Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario shared third place with 37 points each. The Alberta-Northwest Territories team from Drayton Valley Branch grabbed a respectable 33 points. Team P.E.I., with their signature red shirts, snagged a 30-point total. The Newfoundland and Labrador team from Dr. William Collingwood Memorial Branch in Placentia managed 29 points. Saskatchewan’s team from Estevan Branch followed them by a single point, cashing in with 28 points. And the Quebec team from Ste-Therese Branch closed out the weekend with 15 points on the board.
The ensuing singles and doubles tournaments saw other provinces nab top prizes. Ontario and Saskatchewan beat out Manitoba and Alberta respectively to play each other in the doubles finals. The Prairie province toppled Ontario to grab that win.
In singles play the top four players duked it out for the top player for the year. Brian Bartkow of Nova Scotia, Steve West from Ontario, Stephen Wells of New Brunswick and Rick Hutcheon from Manitoba were the top players of the weekend. Hutcheon and Bartkow went on to the semifinals. To great cheers among his new friends and teammates Brian Bartkow emerged victorious.
The weekend ended with a home-cooked meal and closing ceremonies. Before the trophies were awarded, Fredericton MLA Brian MacDonald appeared to ensure all visitors that it did not in fact rain in droves all the time in New Brunswick.
During the thank you speeches, promises were made to return next year when the third tournament is played in North Bay, Ont.