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Saskatchewan Keeps Curling Title

Despite a mid-bonspiel spin-out, the guys from Nutana Branch in Saskatoon claimed their second consecutive dominion championship with an impressive final-draw victory at the 53rd Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Curling Championship held March 15-19 in Maple Ridge, B.C.

The team of Darren Clancy, Les Kun, Rick Middleton and skip Andrew Hay managed to come out on top after a week of curling and festivities at Maple Ridge, a little community in the mountains just outside of Vancouver.

By all accounts it was a great week. Not only was the curling intense, but the post-curling events at the branch quite quickly became the stuff of legend.

And Maple Ridge Branch is truly a sight to behold. With a cavernous main room complete with a soaring vaulted ceiling, skylights and a huge hardwood dance floor, this is not your average Legion branch.

It’s not just the huge membership of over 2,500 that sets it apart, but rather the massive amounts of property the branch owns—five facilities that cover four different types of housing with a total of 282 units—including several neighbouring retirement residence complexes. Beyond this, or perhaps because of it, the branch has a deeply worked connection to the community which keeps it at the centre of local attention.

“It is not anything like you would envision for a Legion,” said President Lynda Henry, “This is a big business. We manage that business.

“The interior atmosphere is more of a neighbourhood pub style, except that because it is a Legion, there’s a different attitude that comes from the members. It’s a very comfortable place, there’s no fear of the kind of antics that happen in a regular public house. People are respectful.”

On Sunday morning, after the crests were sewn on jackets and after breakfast and the skips’ meeting, all curlers, officials and guests assembled outside the branch for a wreath-placing ceremony before heading off to the Golden Ears Winter Club for an afternoon practice session.

Later on that day the players reconvened for the official opening ceremony. Dominion Command Chairman Tom Irvine spoke briefly at both events, alongside a host of other dignitaries including Henry and Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin. Irvine came to the event on behalf of Dominion Command Sports Committee Chairman Pat Varga.

The first and second draws—on Sunday night and Monday morning, respectively—gave everybody a chance to warm up and see who had come to play. By Monday afternoon however, things were beginning to heat up.

In the third draw, Saskatchewan faced off against New Brunswick’s Barry Lewis, Dodie Dickison, Greg Sutherland and Bob Williams from Moncton Branch in what was tipped as one of the early big matches. Saskatchewan controlled the early play. In the sixth end, Saskatchewan was up 4-3 and was looking good with one rock just off the button, well protected by a guard. With only a few rocks left, Saskatchewan made a fateful choice—they were going to try to bounce a second rock in towards the button to rack up the score. But the shot came in heavy and hit too hard; both Saskatchewan rocks were out of the house.

“That’s what I’d call a disaster,” said a spectator.

New Brunswick took three on the end to go up 6-4 and charged off to win the game.

Coming into the morning of the third day British Columbia/Yukon’s Gord Duplise, Randy Jenkins, Eric Breitkreuz and John Danks of Salmon Arm Branch were sailing clear in front 3-0, while Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Quebec’s Jeff Chead, Evan Mooney, Matt McRea and Danny Comeau of Col. John Bourque Branch in Sherbrooke were all hanging in at 2-1.

Saskatchewan continued their slide with a close loss to Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario’s Curtis McCannell, Jacqueline McCannell, Rose Ballentine and Desmond Gould of Pilot Mound, Man. Saskatchewan was up 5-4 going into the last end and ended up losing in a 6-5 squeaker.

Quebec rolled over Newfoundland and Labrador’s Dennis Byrne, Rick Cook, Barry Lamond and Roy Bungay of Stephenville Branch while B.C. surprisingly dropped one to Nova Scotia/ Nunavut’s team from River Hebert Branch of Larry Scopie, Bob Hoeg, Sherman Jackson and Ron Hoeuld. New Brunswick and P.E.I.’s Charlie Wilkinson, John Mullin, David Murphy and Roger Beazley went into an extra end before New Brunswick came out on top with a 9-8 victory.

So, going into the third afternoon, B.C. was still up at first, but now they had been joined by three other teams—Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in a four-way tie for first place. In no time at all, Quebec dropped a shocker to P.E.I., offering their hands barely halfway through the matchup in a 9-2 drubbing.

In the middle of the ice on sheets three and four Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia battled it out beside New Brunswick and B.C., all powerhouse teams looking to stay in it.

On Wednesday morning things were still unclear. B.C. was ahead at 4-1 but three teams were still hanging in at 3-2 and two more were technically still in contention at 2-3. It would all depend on what happened in the first draw. If B.C. could beat Manitoba, they would lock down first place.

Saskatchewan made quick work of early favourite Quebec and were off the ice and enjoying the lounge’s features before anyone else.

In an absolute squeaker, B.C. did indeed lose to Manitoba. With the entire tournament lined up watching in the lounge, Manitoba brought home the 6-5 victory.

And so it came to pass that Saskatchewan and B.C. were both tied at 4-2 going into the final afternoon of play. Dramatically enough, they would be playing each other. The winner of this game would win the tournament.

Meanwhile, no less than five teams were tied at 3-3—P.E.I., Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick —and all were still in contention for second place.

The riveting B.C.-versus-Sask­atchewan final match quite predictably came down to the final rock. While Saskatchewan was up 6-3 at the close of the seventh end, B.C. chipped two away in eight and nine to go into the tenth down 6-5. In the final end, Saskatchewan had the hammer and they didn’t miss a beat. On the final rock, B.C. skip Duplise had left one rock lying in the house with no guard. All Saskatchewan skip Andrew Hay had to do was knock it out and the champ­ionships would be over.

“The thought that ran through my head at that moment was to take a deep breath, relax, and do what came naturally,” said Hay.

He didn’t waver. It was a clean strike and the two teams were shaking hands even before the rocks stopped sliding.

“You do your best to control your emotions,” said Hay of his final shot. “As soon as you start thinking about it too much you just freeze up.”

With the championships decided, it instantly became clear that the bonspiel was not yet over, as four teams were now tied for second place with 4-3 records. And so on Thursday, B.C., Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I all played in the morning, with New Brunswick and B.C. facing off in the afternoon to determine who would be second. In the end, skip Duplise and his team—which on Thursday featured a spare from Maple Ridge Branch, draw master Fred Fox—managed to hold on for an 8-3 victory to secure the runner-up spot.

Later on that same evening, all of the curlers and volunteers congregated in the basement of Maple Ridge branch for the closing banquet.

Joining B.C./Yukon Command representative Gerry Vowles up on the stage, among many others, was Local Arrangements Committee Chairman Steve Zeron, no doubt the hardest working man of the 2009 championship. Zeron compared the process of arranging the bonspiel to a very steep “learning cliff, which I ran into and jumped off of many times.” Zeron, who did an outstanding job during the week, got lots of laughs as well.

“To my family,” Zeron concluded his little speech, “I miss you all and I’m coming home again soon.”

Then it was time for Irvine to say a few words. While he pledged to keep it short, the curlers were anxious and the beginning of his speech was met from the back of the room by the famous curling cry, “Hurry! Hurry hard!”

“The members of this branch should be proud of themselves,” said Irvine. “So thank you for letting this bunch of hooligans into your branch, they did what curlers do best…get into trouble!”

The crowd roared with laughter.

In the end, the team from Saskatchewan seemed to feel that fortune had been smiling on them this week, but when they stood happily at the close of the ceremony, holding their   trophy, they seemed happy to accept that a little luck—in addition to their great play—brought them the win.

“In any kind of a bonspiel, whether it’s casual or a Dominion Command championship, the team that comes out on top is the one that puts together two things: curling ability and the desire to have a good time,” said Hay. “If you’re not there to have a good time, it usually doesn’t work out so well because if you’re not ready to lose, you’re not going to win.

“For us, we lost a couple and we thought we were done,” said Hay, “but who knew?”


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