When Jerry Hull of LaSalle, Que., and Bernie Miller of Orangeville, Ont., faced each other in the first round of the singles event in the 2008 Dominion Command Darts Championships in Winnipeg, it was hard to tell these would be the players to notice.
Miller won that match two games to one but soon after that it was obvious these two were the players to watch as they went on to play their eight other opponents in the round robin play.
“I was aware of him and he was watching me all through the games,” said Miller, a member of Col. Fitzgerald Branch in Orangeville.
The singles competition had started the two-day competition and set the tone for the May 2-4 championship at West Kildonan Branch in Winnipeg.
The events started smoothly Saturday morning with an indoor parade with the teams carrying their provincial flags. Greetings were brought from Dominion Command Sports Committee representative Jack MacEachern, Manitoba–Northwestern Ontario Command President Roland Fisette and West Kildonan Branch President Bob McPherson who was also the chairman of the Local Arrangements Committee.
Competition was tough throughout the weekend. The tournament was played in round robin format so that every player played against all the opponents. The matches were 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 with competitors required to double in to start and double out with the exact score to win.
Commands can send their best players in each category. However only British Columbia/Yukon, Manitoba–Northwestern Ontario, Ontario and Nova Scotia/Nunavut commands do so any more. For economic reasons, the other commands send only a four-man team and choose the singles and doubles competitors from those players.
By the middle of the singles competition, the spectators were focusing on Miller and Hull as well as a familiar face in Legion darts tournaments, Tom Drake of Channel Branch in Channel-Port-aux-Basques, Nfld.
By the end of the fifth round Hull had 11 points with Miller and Drake right behind him with 10 wins each.
In the sixth round, Miller managed to sweep Bill Durant of Courtenay, B.C., while Hull squeaked two points against Darren MacNevin of Charlottetown Branch. That tied them up with 13 points each. Drake was only able to get one point from Scott Samson of Selkirk, Man., Branch leaving him behind with 11 points.
Tension built further as Hull and Drake faced each other in the seventh round. Hull managed to win all three games boosting him to 16 and leaving Drake well behind with his 11 points. But at the same time Miller took all three points in a match against Sheldon Fudge of New Ross, N.S., Branch.
Hull and Miller were now going into the eighth round tied at 16 points. Hull was facing their closest competitor, Fred Seaward of Strathcona Branch in Edmonton with 13 points while Miller was up against Samson. Hull managed to take all three points while Miller got two.
That left Hull in the lead with 19 points and Miller on his heels with 18 points as they went into the ninth and final round. It was Hull’s turn to face Samson while Miller was up against P.E.I.’s MacNevin.
But Hull had trouble doubling in allowing Samson to get ahead of him and take the leg. The front-runners were tied and a possible tiebreaker might be necessary. Hull rallied and took the next two. But Miller missed a key shot and lost the third round to MacNevin. Each had won two games but that gave first place to Hull with 21 points while Miller settled for second place with 20 points.
For Hull, an auto mechanic by trade, it was his first time playing Legion darts at national level although he has been a member of Team Canada in international darts competitions. A particular trait was that he would always try for a double 16 to get into the game. “It’s my favourite number,” he said. “It just seems to be in the right place on the board for me.”
Miller, who paints large trucks and heavy machinery, was philosophical. “I should have made that last shot. When I didn’t I knew I had lost the game. There are some games you lose that you shouldn’t have lost and there are some games you win when you shouldn’t have won. That’s just the way it goes.”
The West Kildonan Ladies Auxiliary served lunch while the doubles teams got ready for afternoon play. Again it would be tough competition. Glen Carter of Channel Branch was back to defend the doubles title he won with Richard Leriche in 2007 in Miscouche, P.E.I.. Leriche wasn’t there this time and Carter was playing with Paul Osmond, making his first appearance at dominion darts.
As one spectator put it by the end of the sixth round, “The only teams left with a chance are those that start with N.”
So it was. The Newfoundland team was tied at 15 points with New Brunswick’s Thomas Vaughan and Jeffery Smith of Carleton Branch in Saint John. On their heels with 14 points was the Nova Scotia/Nunavut team of Kevin Boylan and Sheldon Fudge from New Ross Branch.
In the seventh round Nova Scotia was able to sweep Ontario’s Gord Mills and Mark Prutchick of Orillia Branch 3-0. New Brunswick took two points from Manitoba’s Jeff Dueck and Glen Walker of Prince Edward Branch in Winnipeg while Newfoundland could only get one point against Quebec’s Freeman Rose and Sébastien Gagnon of LaSalle Branch.
In the eighth round Nova Scotia faced B.C.’s Rob Cool and Bob Cool of White Rock Branch while Newfoundland and New Brunswick faced each other. B.C. kept Nova Scotia to one point while Newfoundland beat New Brunswick 2-1, despite a 180 scored by Smith in the first leg. That gave Newfoundland the extra point it needed to come from behind and create a three-way tie, each going into the last round with 18 points.
The excitement was even higher since New Brunswick would be facing Nova Scotia while Newfoundland was up against Quebec.
New Brunswick won the first leg against Nova Scotia but Boylan and Fudge came back winning the next two. However the game was decided with Newfoundland getting a sweep of three points from Quebec.
“Two years in a row!” shouted Carter, as Newfoundland was declared the winner with 21 points. Nova Scotia had second place with 20 and New Brunswick right behind with 19 points.
Team play the next day gave the spectators another three-way race. The crowd was already expecting tough competition with the Newfoundland team of Drake, Carter, Osmond and John Anderson and the Quebec team of Hull, Rose, Gagnon and Jason Hurley. The unknown players were the Ontario team from Beachville Branch with newcomers Bill Wilson, Mike Wilkins and brothers Shawn and Bob Brenneman.
By far the largest audience, though, was following the Manitoba team from host West Kildonan Branch of Cory Tkach, his father Vern Tkach, Noel DeJaun and Kevin Duffy. Vern Tkach was also the tournament co-ordinator. It was this team that would prove the spoiler in deciding the winner in a hard-fought match.
MacEachern watched the Prince Edward Island team with interest since he played regularly with the members and had been a member of the Charlottetown team in the 2006 Dominion Command Darts Championship in Medicine Hat, Alta.
By the seventh round, the tension was already strong as Quebec led with 16 points, followed by Ontario with 15 and Newfoundland with 14.
It was in the eighth round that Newfoundland and Ontario on the other hand were able to sweep their opponents Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, respectively, while Quebec beat Alberta 2-1.
The final round was set with Quebec and Ontario tied at 18 and Newfoundland with 17.
Newfoundland swept Alberta and Ontario swept Prince Edward Island. But it was here that Manitoba proved the spoiler against Quebec. Duffy doubled out first to win the first leg. Quebec went on to win the next two legs but it wasn’t enough to stop Ontario’s win with 21 points.
This left Newfoundland and Quebec playing a runoff round of three legs to decide who would be runner-up. It took all three legs to decide but Quebec took second place.
“This is great for our first time,” said Wilson, who noted he used to play darts in Northern Ontario where he worked in the mines. When the mines around Elliot Lake closed he moved to Beachville, about 40 kilometres east of London. “Another fellow and I had to teach these young guys to play. I’m the old man on the team at 65. Shawn is 30 years younger than me.”
The championship wrapped up Sunday night with a banquet where former Manitoba–Northwestern Ontario Command president Brian Wilson acted as master of ceremonies. MacEachern offered high praise for the Local Arrangements Committee and all the volunteers who wore red Support Our Troops T-shirts throughout the weekend. “This has been so well run. I hope it becomes the template for tournaments to come,” he said.
Teams: Ont. (Beachville Br.) 21; Que. (LaSalle Br.) 20 (runner-up); Nfld. (Channel Br.) 20; N.S. (Calais Br., Lower Sackville), Alta./N.W.T. (Strathcona Br., Edmonton) 13; Man./N.W.O. (West Kildonan Br., Winnipeg) 11; P.E.I. (Charlottetown Br.,) Sask. (Nipawin Br.) 10; B.C./Yukon (White Rock Br.) 9; N.B. (Carleton Br., Saint John) 8.
Doubles: Nfld. (Glen Carter, Paul Osmond, Channel Br.) 21; N.S. (Kevin Boylan, Sheldon Fudge, New Ross Br.) 20; N.B. (Thomas Vaughan, Jeffery Smith, Carleton Br.) 19; Ont. (Gord Mills, Mark Prutchick, Orillia, Br.), B.C./Yukon (Rob Cool, Bob Cool, White Rock Br.) 16; P.E.I. (Peter Holden, Darren MacNevin, Charlottetown Br.), Que. (Freeman Rose, Sébastien Gagnon, LaSalle Br.) 10; Man./N.W.O. (Jeff Dueck, Glen Walker, Prince Edward Br., Winnipeg), Alta./N.W.T. (Ray Earle, Tim Moore, Strathcona Br.), 8; Sask. (Stephen McKechnie, Earl Sterling-Brown, Nipawin, Br.) 7.
Singles: Que. (Jerry Hull, LaSalle Br.) 21; Ont. (Bernie Miller, Col. Fitzgerald Br., Orangeville) 20; Alta./N.W.T. (Fred Seaward, Strathcona Br.) 16; N.S. (Sheldon Fudge, New Ross Br.) 14; P.E.I. (Darren MacNevin, Charlottetown Br.) 13; Nfld. (Tom Drake, Channel Br.), N.B. (Fred MacKinnon Carleton Br.), B.C./Yukon (Bill Durant, Courtenay Br.) 12; Man./N.W.O. (Scott Samson, Selkirk Br.) 11; Sask. (Stephen McKechnie, Nipawin Br.) 4.