With the goal to repeat as Belleville Champion, Justin Slater sat down to face Ray Beierling for yet another clash of crokinole's (arguably) greatest rivalry. While the match had an irregular number of blunders that could easily be credited to early-season rust, Justin Slater would still find an elite level of play and pull away as the 2015 Belleville Crokinole Challenge Champion.
A brand new location for the tournament brought the crokinole action to the Quinte Sports & Wellness Centre. A spectacular facility, perfectly suited in a hockey arena, provided ample space and generated a decent amount of foot traffic as the Saturday hockey crowd took a gander at another Canadian game with roots just as old.
The crowd of 29 split into 3 groups for the preliminary round in the morning action. Justin Slater scored at the highest rate to grab the first spot, while he was joined by Ray Beierling and Matt Brown at the top of the heap. Also completing the top 10 were the Waterloo bunch (Nathan Walsh, Roy Campbell and Howard Martin), a Golden Horseshoe duo (of Fred Slater and Reuben Jong), and a Quinte/Kingston mix of Peter Tarle and Wayne Scott.
Dave Brown and Clare Kuepfer missed the top group narrowly and were joined in Group B in the afternoon with many other top players, including the newcomer of John McFeeters from Oshawa who quickly picked up a few tips and found himself in the thick of the competition.
In the afternoon, Ron Hebden earned the top spot in group C, while Peter Klaassen finished 2nd (with a group high of 39 20s). They were joined by Betty Waite, and a lone non-Quinte Crokinole Club member in Gloria Walsh. A long semifinal battle, with several extra rounds of crokinole needed, would see Hebden and Klaassen advance. Finally, Klaassen would be victorious claiming the C title.
Meanwhile, Eric Miltenburg cruised to the top spot in Group B with 43 points and 77 20s. Clare Kuepfer, Jason Hogan and Chris Gorsline would complete the semifinalists. The result would leave Dave Brown one point on the outside of advancing for the second time of the day. Jason Hogan would claim victory over Kuepfer in the first semifinal, while Miltenburg would edge out Gorsline. As Hogan had to leave early, a make-shift final would be played by Kuepfer and Miltenburg. With the pressure somewhat relieved, the quality of play was spectacular, and Kuepfer gained a small edge to take the title.
In Group A, Slater, Beierling and Brown would once again rise to the top of the pile. Nathan Walsh grabbed the 4th spot and played Justin Slater in the first semifinal. After a tense 5-3 win in the first game, Slater would claim a spot in the final to play for a chance to repeat as tournament champion. In a close 3-game matchup, Ray Beierling would just beat out the local favourite in Matt Brown for the other spot in the final.
The pressure of fighting for the Belleville title appeared to affect both players in the final, with a few uncharacteristic mistakes made from both players. In another match that was taken to 3 games, Justin Slater would come out on top and become the 2015 Belleville Crokinole Challenge Champion.
Greatest Rivalry in Crokinole?
While recency can distort logic, Justin Slater and Ray Beierling seem to have developed what could be considered the greatest rivalry in crokinole. There is a very strong case to be made that it is the most compelling rivalry at this very instant, and could be argued that it is one of the best all-time.
Working in its favour is that both are consistently meeting each other in playoff rounds deep in each tournament, and both are top competitors in all aspects of crokinole (doubles, singles and even the high 20s score). While the game of crokinole has other players who can always be counted on as tournament favourites (such as Brian Cook and Jon Conrad), it seems that J. Slater and R. Beierling are able to schedule the majority of the head-to-head encounters.
In the past 12 months, the two have finished 1st and 2nd in the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship, the St. Jacobs Crokinole Tournament, the World Crokinole Singles Championship, the NCA Tour and the Belleville Crokinole Challenge. Even when they don't meet in the final, they are still facing off in the final playoff rounds, such as their encounters at the 2014 Owen Sound Crokinole tournament and the World Crokinole Doubles Championship.
Name the tournament, and these two played a crucial match against each other.
Feel free to debate with me on the subject, but I think these two gladiators of the game of crokinole deserve some recognition for the struggle of having to face each other when both are at the peak of their game.
I have several excuses for the extreme lateness of the blog post, but writing them only delays this tournament review further. If you want to hear them, I'll tell you at the next tournament, which is the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship on October 31, 2015. If all goes well, you can expect that tournament review in a much shorter timeframe.