Curling Chatter: Special Featured Column

by Jeremy Rody

FIRST TIEBREAKER

Jacobs dominates the strategy game to rally from an error.

The tie breaker draw #8 in the travelers Northern Ontario Mens’ championship saw Team Jacobs take on team Johnston. There were three teams tied with a record of 5-2; Chandler, Jacobs, and Johnston. They were still tied after the head to head tiebreaker because in the round robin, Jacobs beat Chandler, Chandler beat Johnston, and Johnston beat Jacobs. Each game, the skips throw a draw to the button to determine hammer in the first end. Those distances from the pin are recorded by the head official.

The tiebreaker method in this instance in the event guide is to take the 6 best distances for each team and add them up, the team with the shortest total distance gets second place and advances to the semi final and the other plays in the tiebreaker. Team Chandler had the shortest draw distance and therefore moved into the semi final. 

This was the best case scenario for Team Chandler after a 2-2 start to the event. Team Johnston was hot all week but fell in the seventh draw to Team Horgan who finished 7-0 and advances directly to the final on Sunday at 2pm.

Scott Mosher pipes the teams into the Little Current arena at the Travelers Men’s Curling Championships. Eight teams gathered for the chance to represent Northern Ontario at the Tim Horton’s Brier in Regina in March.
photo by Michael Erskine

The tiebreaker was an extremely strategic game. Jacobs had the hammer in first and played the blank. He attempted to do the same in the 2nd end but had a miss and failed to peel the Johnston rock out of the rings to give up a steal of 1. 

Jacobs set himself up nicely in the 3rd end and after a Johnston miss on a double take out, left Jacobs with an open draw for 3. The crowd was pleased and seemed to be on Jacobs’ side the whole game.

Down 3-1 Johnston, had an open take out with his final shot but opted to blank the end in order to try for 2 points instead of 1 and give the hammer back to Jacobs.

In the 5th end, Jacobs placed 2 stones in the house to force Johnston to make a draw for 1 against the 2 Jacobs stones.

The 6th end saw some amazing shot making. Johnston made a beautiful raise double take out to sit 3. Only to be followed up by a Jacobs triple take out.

Jacobs blanked the end to keep the hammer.

Johnston regrouped in the 7th end with some nice set up shots from his lead and second. He was well in position to force Jacobs to take points before Jacobs made a widely dispersed triple take out that sent the crowd into a frenzy of cheers. Jacobs again blanked the end to keep the hammer.

In the 8th end Johnston ended up with 2 stones crowding the button but with Jacobs’ last shot he moved them enough to score 2 and go up by 3 points heading into the 9th end. 

Jacobs peeled every guard and took out any Johnston rock that was in the house in the ninth end. Johnston made a draw for 1, getting back one point but now needing to steal 2 in the 10th to force an extra end.

In the 10th, what seemed inevitable the whole game, Jacobs fought off all attempts from Johnston to set up a steal situation and ran him out of rocks and they shook hands for the win with 2 stones left.

It was a redemption win after a week of struggles for Jacobs who lost to Horgan and Johnston during the round robin and narrowly beat Team Chandler early in the week. While it had to be disappointing for Team Johnston who were the hottest 5-2 team going into the tiebreaker. Jacobs  moved onto the semi final against Chandler at 7:30 pm saturday night with the winner of that game moving onto the final Sunday against Team Horgan.

THE SEMI-FINAL

Saturday night in Little Current in a packed arena full of curling fans saw Team Chandler skipped by local Jordan Chandler take on the reigning Olympic Curling Champion Team Jacobs.  You could feel the energy in the building, everyone in attendance knew this was going to be an electric matchup.  Both of these teams finished the round robin with a 5-2 record, Team Chandler earned the paper tiebreaker to advance directly to the semi-final while Team Jacobs had to defeat Team Johnston earlier in the day to advance to the semi-final.

Pastor Paul Allard sports an appropriate hat as part of the packed house that greeted every day of the championships. The crowds approached capacity on most days, with standing room only. The crowds were appreciative and respectful throughout the weekend.

This was the matchup organizers were looking for (a principle organizer was Jordan Chandler) when they were planning this event and it did not disappoint.  The first and second ends were a display of great shot making by both teams.  Jacobs was the first to score as he had a routine hit and sit for 1 in the 1st end.  Chandler pulled even in the second end on the same shot, hit and sit to tie the game at one and keep pace with Jacobs.  While the crowd had been on Jacobs’ side earlier in the day for the tiebreaker, it was a vastly different story in the evening game, the crowd cheering on every shot that Team Chandler made.

Team Jacobs blanked the next three ends as he was looking to score 2 points rather than just take a single point and give the hammer back to Chandler. Finally in the 6th end Jacobs scored his 2 points after yet another end of fantastic shot making by both teams.  Jacobs was well set up to score his 2, having too much separation between rocks for them all to be cleared.

Moving into the 7th end, Team Jacobs up 3-1, the crowd really started pushing Team Chandler to make a move.  However, the Jacobs rink was able to avoid giving up a situation where Chandler could score two points for the tie, forcing Chandler to play for the blank, this would give Chandler the hammer in the 8th end and if everything goes right, also in the 10th end.

Team Chandler did not miss a shot in the 8th end and while Team Jacobs did all they could to keep clearing rocks out of play, Chandler was able to make a fantastic draw to the button to score 2 points and tie the game 3-3 going into the ninth end. Team Chandler was now in a good spot to force an upset over Jacobs who needed to score in the 9th end, meaning that Chandler would have the hammer in the 10th coming home.

Both rinks started to fill the house with stones, they made beautiful raises, draws and taps in the 9th end.  In what was another display of great shot making, Team Chandler was the first to crack, rubbing a guard on a draw that was intended to freeze to a Jacobs stone, this would have given them a good chance to limit Jacobs score to only 1 in the 9th end.  However, that miss proved to be enough to allow Jacobs to set up the rest of the end to score 2 points.  Chandler could not get to all of Jacobs’ stones out with his last shot so he put one in close to the button with a nice draw to force Jacobs to make a shot.  Jacobs, with this final stone, made a spectacular draw to the side of the button to score 2 points and move ahead 5-3 going into the final end of the game.

While Team Chandler would have preferred to only give up 1 in the 9th, they still had the hammer in the last end with a chance to tie the game.  Earlier in the day we saw Team Jacobs clear every guard and rock that made it to the house for almost an entire game in the tiebreaker so the crowd knew that was going to be his strategy again here.  Team Chandler was able to keep some of his own rocks in the house to give themselves a chance.  However, Skip Brad Jacobs on his final stone of the game, cleared all of Chandler stones out of the house with a strong double take out, running Chandler out of rocks in the process and forcing the handshakes to end the game.

The crowd, while disappointed for the home town team, gave a standing ovation for both teams in what could have easily been the final of this event.  It must have been hard to organize and play in the event for Skip Jordan Chandler but he put on a fantastic showing of his team’s skill level for his home crowd in addition to bringing this fantastic event to Manitoulin that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Team Jacobs moved on into the final at 2 pm on Sunday to face the Junior Men’s Horgan team from Sudbury who went undefeated in the round robin, even scoring a 5 point end against Jacobs earlier in the week.  It will be an interesting final on Sunday. Could this be a battle of present versus future in the Northern Ontario curling world? Sunday at 2 pm at the NEMI recreation complex would tell that tale.

THE GRAND FINALE

Sunday afternoon in Little Current set the stage for the finals of the 2018 Travelers Men’s Provincials Curling Championship.  The winner moves onto the Brier in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The competitors, undefeated Junior Men’s Team Horgan curling out of Curl Sudbury and Team Jacobs, from the Community First Curling Centre in Sault Ste. Marie and winner of his last seven provincial championships. Team Jacobs was also the Olympic men’s curling champions at the 2014 Sochi games.

Team Horgan cruised through the round robin, going 7-0, even putting up a 5 ender against Team Jacobs which led to an early end to that game.  Team Jacobs faced an unprecedented amount of adversity through the week and the finals would be their 4th elimination game in a row as they could have missed the tiebreaker round all together if they failed to win their last round robin game.  It would be a final featuring the “present” face of Northern Ontario curling in Team Jacobs versus the “future” as Team Horgan who have had a masterful season to this point.

The game started with Team Horgan having the hammer in the first end, where they played for the blank to keep the hammer in the second end.  EJ Harnden and Ryan Fry made some nice hit and roll shots in the second end but Team Horgan had sitting one stone on the button in between two Jacobs stones and had a draw to the side of the button to score 2 points and take the early lead, 2-0.

Jacobs had the hammer going into the 3rd end and wasn’t able to set up a situation where they could score 2 points so his team took the blank and kept the hammer into the 4th end.  It looked like Jacobs was going to be able to set up a score of 2 in the 4th end but Jacob Horgan made a wonderful raise double take out, eventually forcing Jacobs to blank the end again.

The 5th end seemed like a marathon as both teams were entrenched in a heavy strategic battle.  Team Horgan took a time-out sitting two in the house but with two Jacobs guards up front.  After the time-out they decided to remove one of the guards.  Jacobs managed to set up a few of his own stones in the house and tried to move them to gain separation and avoid a double take out.  However, they did not get enough separation and left the double take out which was made by Jacob Horgan. Team Horgan, again taking the time to figure out their next shot, they tried to call another timeout but Tanner Horgan had already moved into the hack and had to take his shot.  They threw a freeze draw onto a pile of stones surrounding the button where Jacobs was sitting with the shot stone.  With the final shot of a very long end, Brad Jacobs tried to move the rocks enough that he could score his 2 points and tie the game but only managed to get 1, score now 2-1 for Team Horgan.

All of the players were making shots in this final, misses were few and far between but the 6th end saw a few key misses for Team Horgan.  They missed 2 double raise take outs and in the process removed one of their own rocks from the house in both instances.  Team Horgan missed a double take-out, attempting to get a blank with his last shot, and gave up a steal of 1 to Team Jacobs to tie the game 2-2.

The final to this point had already been a nail-biter, but the intensity rose to another level for the final 4 ends. In the 7th end, Tanner Horgan with the hammer, the button crowded by 2 Jacobs stones and 1 Horgan rock with two additional Horgan rocks sitting in the rings. Tanner made a huge shot to move the two blue Jacobs stones enough to sit 3 and take a 5-2 lead going into the 8th end.  The crowd was exploding with excitement as they might be witnessing a changing of the guard in Northern Ontario curling.

It was time for Team Jacobs to go to work and battle through the adversity that they had faced all week. In the 8th end, Jacobs capitalized on a Team Horgan double take out miss and scored 2 to make the score 5-4 going into the 9th end.  Both teams traded excellent shots in the 9th, Jacobs setting up guards and draws into the house while Horgan focused on removing those guards and draws with raise take outs. With their final shot of the end, Team Horgan had a chance to score 3 if they were able to move a Jacobs stone off of the button enough with a tap.  They were short and gave up a steal of 1 to tie the game 5-5 going into the 10th end, the crowded gasped in anticipation of a tie game with one end left to play. All the momentum had now swung to Team Jacobs after erasing a three-point deficit over the two previous ends. Team Horgan was still in good position as they had the hammer going into the final frame of the game.

The 10th end was a fantastic display of shot making. Bissonnette made a beautiful raise take out that spilled two Jacobs stones from the house. Team Jacobs kept placing guard rocks up front looking for the steal. Jacob Horgan made a nice controlled take out of a Jacobs stone in the house to sit four Horgan stones with only a few rocks left to throw. Ryan Fry from Team Jacobs made an excellent freeze to the button to take shot stone. The doors opened for Team Jacobs as two key misses from Team Horgan led to a Team Jacobs timeout, followed by a draw to button that was well guarded and shot stone. With the last shot, Tanner Horgan needed to make a long double raise takeout to secure the win. This was the break that Team Jacobs needed all week and it came at the right time. Tanner’s shot was slightly off angle and left a Jacobs rock in the house as shot stone for a steal of 1 and the win for the Jacobs’ rink from Sault Ste Marie. The crowd broke out into a loud cheer as Team Jacobs celebrated on the ice.

It was a week filled with adversity for Team Jacobs which was acknowledged by the Skip during his address to the crowd at the trophy presentation ceremony.  He said that the level of competition and resulting adversity was exactly what his team needed and could not have been a better preparation for the Brier competition.  For now, there will be no changing of the guard in the Northern Ontario curling world, but it was a valuable experience for a young Horgan team who was in it until the very end.

Skip Tanner Horgan will actually get to go to this year’s Brier. Following his rink’s loss, Brad Jacobs invited him to be part of their team as “fifth man” or alternative player at the Brier.

He’s going.