There was a side championship scheduled for the week's curling at the 2009 TSX Canadian Nationals - the Ontario Trophy awarded to the winner of the Ontario/Northern Ontario match-up. Northern Ontario were decisive winners, going out to an early 4-0 lead on steals in the second and third ends, and then matching their southern neighbours the rest of the way, wining 8-3. "At least they're the ones who will have to worry about getting the trophy home on the plane,' joked an Ontario coach, but I am sure that will be no bother at all to Wayne Ficek.
Northern Ontario had tough opening draws, but felt that if they could hold their record to no more than three losses in the first half, they would be in with a chance at the playoffs by winning the later games. After 7 draws they are in 4th place with games against the two bottom of the table Nova Scotia teams to play.
"We only played together for the fist time at the Provincials, and live quite far apart,",explained Ficek. But they are playing as a team, and with Ontario struggling after a promising start, look a good bet to reach the playoff in their first championship.
Ontario kept their faltering hopes alive with the tournament's first extra end win over Nova Scotia, 9-8 in the late draw. Skip Ken Gregory was short on his first draw in the eighth end, but managed to come into the rings with his final stone to force an extra. Each side played stones to the front of the house in the 9th, and when Ontario finally came in, sitting shot on the 4-foot, Nova Scotia skip Mike Fitzgerald drew through a narrow port with a final stone that stopped an inch short of victory.
Team BC were back on track with a couple of wins, though they were pushed hard by the rookie Saskatchewan side. Their skip, Del Huber, felt they could have won a famous victory had they taken their chances to turn ones into twos, but with three wins already, he can feel proud of his team's showing. That won't satisfy lead Marie Wright, however. She told me the day before the tournament that she wanted a podium place. She won't get one his year, but she hits well enough to have reasonable hopes of a medal before too long.
Bc's other game was against challengers Manitoba, who are all business on the ice. A couple of questionable shot calls may have cost them a chance at 3's and you can't afford to make any shot calling mistakes against Jim Armstrong. Manitoba work with an experienced coach most weeks, and play together twice a week and also practice together. That discipline shows on the ice, but today they did not take the few chances they had to score big ends and BC's 3 in the third was decisive in a 6-3 win.
Alberta continued to match BC for wins, and posted narrow victories over Quebec 7-6, and Newfoundland 6-4. They are doing just enough to win, and look likely to be challenging BC for hammer in the Page 1/2 game when they meet in the final draw.
Newfoundland skip Chris Daw has called on all his considerable experience to bring his all female teammates close to the playoffs, but they have not been able to play consistently enough to mount a real challenge.
The consensus among the competitors is that an opening ceremony, full practice, and five draws in two days, plus 90 minutes loading and travel each way, with days starting at 8.30 and ending after 11PM has been too much to handle. Though spirits remain high, bolstered by the warm welcome and supportive energy of wonderful volunteers, fatigue is clearly showing, even on the face of old campaigners like Jim Armstrong. No-one neutral is hoping for tie-breaks. We'll know tomorrow.