Ray Beierling came into a cold day in a crowded field in Hamilton, and left with his hot streak still intact.
The 7th Annual Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament on January 31, 2015, marked the 6th year in Hamilton's Cornerstone Canadian Reformed Church (after the first edition of the tournament took place in Toronto).
With the tournament usually taking place in January, mid-Winter weather has often hindered tournament attendance. That was certainly not the case in 2015 as clear roads paved the way to a tournament-high number of 44 contenders, including a number of new faces and international competition.
The preliminary round divided the players into 4 groups of 11.That round gave the competitors a chance to mingle and mix, combining the 4 World Champions with large groups from London, Owen Sound, Toronto, Waterloo, Tuscarora and the hometown Hamilton bunch. Also in the mix, and welcomed to the tournament were the newcomers from Guelph, Grimsby, Niagara and even Brazil.
The action really heated up in the second round, with players reseeded into 4 more groups with prizes and money on the line. In Pool D, John Trinka found his form earning the highest of any second round score with 63 points out of a possible 80. Arthur Giuliano challenged for the final at 46 points, but was narrowly beaten by Mark Weiler with 47 points.
In the final, John Trinka kept up his strong play, winning the final in 2-straight games, taking home the D Pool title in his first NCA tournament.
The C Pool play was very tight as Jacob Westerhof and Braden Van Andel each scored 44 points, but it was only enough to grab 4th and 5th place. Gloria Walsh also suffered the fate of close but not enough at 47 points, missing out by one point as Bill Geris and Jo Ann Carter advanced to the final with 48 and 51 points respectively.
While Jo Ann Carter fought back to send the match to a deciding 3rd-game, Bill Geris eventually prevailed for the C Pool title.
John Harvey looked fantastic through the second round in the B Pool, earning 57 points and cruising to a top place finish. Harvey's 92 20s were also the highest of the group, just ahead of James Nicholson's 91 20s. Grabbing the second spot in the final was Reuben Jong at 51 points, just barely above Ron Reesor whose 49 points had to settle for 3rd place. The final was very competitive between Harvey and Jong, but Reuben Jong was able to come away the victor of the B Pool with a 5-3, 5-3 finish.
The A Pool playoffs saw the top 11 fighting for the top 4 semifinals. The A Pool was a very strong mix of some of the best crokinole players from the NCA Tour. Congratulations should be given to Andrew Whitfield for making the top group in his very first tournament appearance.
Roy Campbell looked to top his 5th-place finish in Hamilton from the previous year, and soared to first place seed with 55 points. Jon Conrad was also in fine form to take 2nd, while Nathan Walsh took 3rd. Ray Beierling finished 4th with 49 points, no doubt helped by his tournament-high 135 20s through 10 games.
The semifinals were excruciatingly close as Ray Beierling edged out Roy Campbell 1-5, 6-4, 5-3. Meanwhile Jon Conrad and Nathan Walsh had to play overtime after being tied through 3 games. Walsh eventually prevailed in the 5th and 6th extra rounds.
That setup a Ray Beierling and Nathan Walsh final - a repeat of Owen Sound's final only a couple months earlier. Beierling won in Owen Sound and was looking for his 2nd victory in what was his 4th-straight finals appearance in Hamilton. Similar to the Owen Sound final, the match required a decisive 3rd-game to determine the winner, and Ray Beierling pulled away to take the 2015 Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament title.
It was an extra bonus for Ray Beierling - not only winning his 3rd-straight NCA tournament title (including the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship in Brucefield, and the Owen Sound tournament), but it was also his birthday. A fact which tournament organizer, Eric Miltenburg, brought up as he awarded Beierling the tournament trophy. It led to a rousing rendition of the "Happy Birthday".
With the NCA Tour moving closer to the end of the 2014-2015 season, players are starting to keep a closer eye on the Tour Rankings. Justin Slater still holds the top spot, and likely will until at least the NCA Finale in St. Jacobs in May. Ray Beierling has slid into 2nd place after the win, moving past Nathan Walsh. Meanwhile Brian Cook, only with 4 tournaments, still sits in 4th place at 190 points.
It's a little bit too early to start working out all of the possible ranking scenarios, but there is definitely a clearer picture starting to form.
Now the NCA takes a small break through the month of February, before returning in March with the British Columbia Provincial Championship and the London Crokinole Tournament.