Field set for men’s provincial playdowns here

Mitch Calvert

It was a disappointing weekend for two local rinks looking to qualify for the men’s provincial curling playdowns being held here Feb. 10-14.
Lorne Jackson and his team of Don DeBenedet, Raymond Roy, and Todd Moxham lost twice to Chris Briand (Thunder Bay), including a 8-1 defeat on Saturday that sent them packing from the inter-regional qualifying event in Atikokan.
They had opened with a 9-3 loss to Briand on Thursday, beat Greg Kawahara (Thunder Bay) 9-2 on Friday morning, but then dropped to the ‘C’-side with an 8-2 loss to Brian Adams (Thunder Bay) that afternoon.
That set up the re-match with Briand on Saturday.
“It’s really disappointing, especially since we worked all year towards this and because [Fort Frances is] hosting the provincials here this year,” Jackson admitted.
“We really wanted to be part of it here, but we didn’t show up,” he added. “We played some good games, but in a 16-team triple-knockout, you’ve got to be right there and play your best every game.”
The other local rink of Anthony Smaha, Brian Johnstone, Craig Armstrong, and Butch Wensley opened the inter-regional qualifying event with a 9-4 loss to Adams, then lost their first match on the ‘B’-side to Mike Assad (Thunder Bay) by an 8-5 score.
They recovered by beating Allen Macsemchuk (Kakabeka Falls) 8-6 to stay alive on the ‘C’-side, but then ran into Adams again—this time losing 8-6 to be bounced from further contention.
“It went down to last rock,” Smaha recalled. “[Adams] had to pick a rock off the button to beat me and he made it.
“It was a good back-and-forth, close game,” he added. “I think the difference is just a little bit of seasoning.
“If we had gone back again this weekend, I’m sure we would’ve done even a little bit better, but that’s how it goes.”
Despite falling short of their goal to represent the local curling club at the provincials here, Smaha said he and his team enjoyed themselves and look forward to more bonspiels together in the future.
“We held our own, and gave everyone a really good game, and [the teams] showed us a lot of respect just by the way they called the game, so it was a good experience for us,” he remarked.
“I think we’re going to hit another bonspiel this year, and maybe do a little bit of touring next year to get some more experience.”
Art Lappalainen (Thunder Bay) ended up winning the ‘A’ final while Assad took the ‘B’ final and Adams the ‘C’ side.
Adams snuck in by nipping Thunder Bay skip Trevor Clifford 7-6 in an extra end to claim the last provincial berth available in Atikokan.
In related news, Dan Lemieux (Blind River) and Rob Thomas (Sault Ste. Marie) advanced out of the four-rink double round-robin event for the Zone 3-4 Inter-Regional in Nipigon.
Rob Gordon (Haileybury), Mike Jakubo (Copper Cliff), and Matt Dumontelle (Sudbury), meanwhile, advanced out of the Zone 5-6 Inter-Regional held in New Liskeard.
This weekend’s qualifiers now join the previous eight qualifying rinks of Cory Nephin (Geraldton), Mike Pozihun (Thunder Bay), Murray Affleck (Keewatin), Tim Phillips (Sudbury), Claude Lapointe (McIntyre), Al Belec (Sault Ste. Marie), Brad Jacobs (Sault Ste. Marie), and Bryan Burgess (Thunder Bay).
Despite the fact a local team won’t be represented at the provincials in two weeks, there will be some Rainy River District flavour among the 16 teams vying for the right to represent Northern Ontario at the Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary on March 7-15. Lappalainen’s second, Rob Sinclair, is a former Fort Frances resident while Adams’ second, Trevor Bonot, hails from Stratton.
“He’s known in the area, so I’m sure he’ll have a lot of fans come out to cheer him on,” Smaha said of Bonot.
There also will be a fair bit of curling pedigree coming to town, which organizing committee member Ron MacKinnon thinks will make for some high-quality action on the ice.
“Jakubo has been to two Briers, and I think his lead [Lee Toner] has been to more, and Rob Gordon, he has been to at least one Brier, Tim Phillips to two or three, and Sinclair was at the Brier in Winnipeg eight or nine years ago, and that’s just to name a few,” MacKinnon said.
“The committee, along with myself, are pretty excited with the quality of curling that is coming here. It’s going to be a really good field,” he enthused.
MacKinnon said he expects ticket sales to pick up now that the 16-team field finally is set.
“Obviously, more teams from Thunder Bay may mean more people coming down to watch,” he remarked. “There’s still a few window seats left, and weekly and day passes, of course, too.”
MacKinnon also said volunteer help is shaping up to be pretty solid, but you can never have enough of a good thing.
“Volunteers are starting to come in more and more, but we definitely wouldn’t turn anyone away, always nice to have and you know how it is with these things as it gets closer,” he stressed.
The Fort Frances Curling Club looks to be in tip-top shape for the provincials thanks to a makeover of sorts that took place over the summer. Along with new rocks, the upstairs was painted last year while a group of volunteers worked over the summer on the downstairs clubrooms.
“There’s going to be spectator stands along the two outside sheets, and bleachers upstairs and downstairs in the viewing area, and we’ve got a new sign out front, so we’ve been trying to do the best job we can,” MacKinnon said.
“We’ve about tripled the amount of sign sponsors this year [in the rink], had an unbelievable response from [International] Falls, so the sponsorship has been great,” he added.
New ice-maker Rob Botel has been busy getting the ice ready for the premiere event, and had a helpful practice run this past weekend.
“He’s also the ice-maker in Atikokan and he had a nice little test run this weekend with the inter-regionals, and hopefully it was an educational tool for him of what to expect here in February,” MacKinnon remarked.
“He’s done a great job.”