Keffer happy with runner-up finish
While the Kurtis Byrd rink came up a win short of advancing to the national junior men’s curling championship, Fort Frances native Isaac Keffer still was pleased with how things went for Port Arthur Curling Club foursome at the Northern Ontario playdowns last week in Kapuskasing.
“We thought that we could win a couple of games there but we were not expecting to make it to the finals,” admitted Keffer, who is in his first year of geoarchaeology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.
“We were kind of down since we didn’t win in the finals, but to finish second place is still okay.”
The 19-year-old Keffer joined forces with the Byrd rink prior to the start of this curling season, coming to a team that featured four players from different locales.
“Me and [second] Josh [Szajewski] actually played each other all the time in high school when he was in Kenora, and he was the one that invited me onto the team,” Keffer explained.
“Our skip, Kurtis, is originally from Ottawa and [lead] Mike [Zsakai] is from Thunder Bay,” he added.
Once the players got to know each other, they took to the ice for the 2012-13 season, which saw them compete in the Thunder Bay major league as well as a bonspiel in Brandon, Man.
“Playing in those games really helped us a lot,” Keffer noted.
“The teams that you face on a regular basis in Thunder Bay are very good, so you just have to try and curl your best against them,” he reasoned.
Although their visit to
Kapuskasing was the first time all four members had ever competed at a provincial playdowns, the Byrd rink got off to a quick start, edging defending champ Brennan Wark (Thunder Bay) on Thursday afternoon before rallying to defeat Sudbury’s Tanner Horgan that night.
“I think that win against Horgan was the one that stands out the most for me,” Keffer recalled.
“We were down quite a bit [6-2] halfway through, but we just realized that we had to play our game and try do things the best we can,” he remarked.
“We did that, and we were able to come back and win 10-7.”
Keffer and his teammates continued their fine play Friday by rattling off three-straight wins over Zack Warkentin (Thunder Bay), Connor Lawes (North Bay), and Nick Dawson (Sault Ste. Marie) to improve to 5-0.
“I think the biggest reason for our success was just being able to stay calm, relaxed, and just continuing to have fun with each other,” Keffer said.
“We never really got wound up or anything like that as we were able to stay in the game by keeping calm, and we just tried to curl the best that we could,” he added.
The team suffered a slight misstep Saturday when they dropped a pair of decisions to Jay Turner (Atikokan) and Cody Tetreault (Thessalon) to finish in a three-way tie for first with Warkentin and Dawson at 5-2.
“I think we were just getting nervous about making it into the finals,” Keffer thought.
“At that point, we didn’t actually know if we would be in the finals, so we were not as relaxed as we had been earlier in the week.
“We were pretty uptight out there and I think it showed,” he admitted.
But the Byrd rink earned a bye to the final after all, having beaten both Warkentin and Dawson in the round-robin and for the best pre-game draw to the button average out of the three teams.
Sunday’s final ended up being an all-Thunder Bay affair as Warkentin defeated Dawson in Saturday’s tie-breaker to set up a contest between the two Port Arthur Curling Club rinks.
After falling behind 4-1 after three ends, the Byrd rink roared back to life and eventually got within a single point after nine ends.
But Warkentin ran them out of stones in the final end to win 7-6.
“It was a really well-played game and every end came down to the last shot,” Keffer noted.
“We started off curling kind of bad and the other team was curling really well, but we were able to pick things up a little bit.
“We just ran out of rocks in the final end,” he sighed.
Despite the setback, Keffer is eager to take the lessons learned from this past week towards next season, when everyone except Byrd will have another chance to try to capture the junior provincial title.
“I think the most important thing that we learned as a team was that in order win games, you have to be calm and relaxed,” he explained.
“If you can do that and enjoy the sport as much as you can, you will play well,” he reasoned.
And while it will be the Warkentin rink wearing the Northern Ontario colours at the Canadian junior championships in Fort McMurray, Alta. from Jan. 31-Feb. 10, Keffer still will be keeping a close eye on the event as his older sister, Tirzah, will be skipping her team on the women’s side.
“It’s awesome to see her heading there and I’ll be her number-one fan,” he enthused.
“Hopefully, I can go to the event but it’s really hard to say right now with school and everything,” he added.