There were a lot of expectations swirling around Justin and Fred Slater in Brucefield. With Justin on an unbeaten streak that dates back to the Doubles event of the 2015 World Championship, and with the two of them only a few months removed from their third World Championship Doubles title, they were definitely looked at as one of the top teams. And although they may not have looked the part for the whole day, one cannot argue with their play late as they found an unstoppable groove to win the 2016 Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship.
A total of 50 players made it to the Brucefield United Church on a cloudy Fall day, making for 14 competitive teams and another 11 competing in the Recreational division. The attendees included several members of the host Varna Crokinole Club, along with teams from Toronto, Waterloo, St. Jacobs, London, Goderich, Penetanguishene and Lewiston, New York.
The Recreational side played a round-robin in the morning, followed by a Pool A and B split in the afternoon, while the Competitive division was set for a full 14 team round-robin, with the top 4 advancing to the playoffs.
In the Recreational B group the scores were incredibly close, with the 5 team standings only being separated by a total of 2 points. David Carnahan and Fred Smith finished with 16 points, just missing the final by one point. In that final, Doris Giddings and Phylis Lightfoot won over Karen Robinson and Mary Hohmann.
Ron Reesor and Tony van den Hoven looked great on the Recreational A side, finishing with 32 points for the top seed. Cathy Kuepfer and Carol Cook fended off Alec Ostrem and Pete Wiley for the spot in the final, but couldn't topple Reesor and van den Hoven, who won the title.
Included in the top prizes for both the Recreational A and B champions (and top 2 Competitive) was free entry for the 2017 ODCC, so expect to see these teams return to compete for their crown.
Shifting to the Competitive category, there were several teams that had a history of success and could challenge for the title.
Justin and Fred Slater had a lot of momentum coming into the tournament. Obviously a win at the most recent World Championships will make anyone a favourite, but the two had also teamed up to finish 2nd at the ODCC in 2014. Justin Slater's singles success now included 7 straight victories, while Fred Slater had dominated the tournament with Brian Cook from 2010 to 2012, winning three times in a row. They had a rough opening to the day, and sat tied for 4th midway through the round robin. But they were more solid through the second half, and finished with 61 points for the third seed.
Ezra Jantzi was taking part in his first doubles tournament, and he teamed up with the 2015 ODCC Recreational Champ, Peter Carter. The newfound pairing started strong, and was in third place at the lunch break, but lost a step in the afternoon and fell to 6th. Howard Martin and Bob Jones also looked strong through the morning, sitting tied with the Slaters at the break, but fell to a similar fate and finished 7th. Dwayne and Christina Campbell turned heads at last years event with a 4th place finish, and both have already had some strong singles performances with Christina finishing in the top 4 of the Recreational category in New York in August, and Dwayne placing 4th in the competitive. They had some strong moments throughout the day, but couldn't quite reach the level of play from last year and finished 8th.
The partnership of Ray and Jason Beierling is perhaps the longest active crokinole doubles pairing. Their competitive history dates back to before the 1999 World Championship, which they won, and is still elite today. The Beierlings had been favourites to win the ODCC since they started the tournament in 2010, but only broke through to victory in 2013. Of course their success continued and they entered this 2016 tournament as the three-time defending champions. And they looked so very strong throughout the round robin, earning 86 points to easily place first in the group.
Tom and Rex Johnston usually join the Beierlings to represent the Varna Crokinole Club at the Joseph Schneider Haus event. They are a somewhat unique pair in that they often enjoy more success in the doubles events than either does separately in the singles. Their very steady and consistent play has earned them a reputation as one of the best doubles teams, were they placed 3rd in both the 2015 World and Ontario Championships. They were snake-bitten on this day though, and missed a few key shots that were costly as they finished 5th with 54 points.
The Johnstons were narrowly edged out by Paul Brubacher and Roy Campbell, who are fun pair shotmakers. Both have had success at the World Championships together and apart, but they made their first appearance in the top 4 at the ODCC this year, with 57 points. Both of them possess and dangerous combination of skill and adventurousness, that can change a game in an instant.
Jon Conrad has always been regarded as a great doubles player, which has only been backed up by his fantastic performances with many different partners (he has made the top 6 Doubles playoffs at the WCC with four different partners). Although he transitioned to a partner who didn't originate from the Cameron Heights Teachers Club, he did find another teacher to partner with in Andrew Hutchinson. Andrew Hutchinson returned to the tournament that marked his first experience in the "fingers game" last year. He has been much complimented for his remarkable performance in crokinole's two great formats of stick and finger, and only more of it was shown on the day. They looked unbeatable at times, and finished 2nd in the round robin with 73 points.
That setup up the semifinals with Jason and Ray Beierling against Roy Campbell and Paul Brubacher, and Jon Conrad and Andrew Hutchinson against Justin and Fred Slater. The format of the matches was "first to 9" points and both started out with each team on equal footing.
The Beierlings took their first step towards victory when they stole 2 points against the hammer to lead 6-2 after four rounds. Campbell and Brubacher would gain back a little bit of ground, but the Beierlings were too solid and won the match 10-4 to move to the finals.
The Conrad/Hutchinson v Slater/Slater match was a tense battle and when tied 6-6, it started to look like the Conrad/Hutchinson hammer advantage, from finishing higher in the round robin, was really going to come into play. But the Slaters were able to raise their game in the next round, and leading 8-6, they closed out the victory with their hammer to win 10-6 and move to the final.
In the final (a "first to 11" contest) the Beierlings fell into a hole early, but seemed to be climbing their way out of it when Justin Slater went into "can't miss" mode. In one particular round, Jason Beierling made several angle ricochets to level the 20 count, and with all the pressure on, Justin Slater simply followed with an Open 20 score to take the lead back. Fred and Justin Slater would close the match by a score of 12-6 to win their first Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship as a team, and be the first team to hold the WCC and ODCC Doubles titles at the same time.
For Fred Slater, it was his record-setting 4th ODCC title, now ahead of Brian Cook, Ray Beierling and Jason Beierling at 3. While Justin Slater now raises his NCA Tour points total to a perfect 200. With 6 events remaining on the 2016-2017 Tour, it is possible another player also reaches that score, but odds certainly look good for Justin Slater to win the Tour.
And speaking of the Tour, the next stop is in Owen Sound for the Scenic City Crokinole Championship. The tournament takes place on November 26th and features a Recreational Doubles and a Competitive Singles category.