Jon Conrad and Ray Beierling were side by side throughout every round in Owen Sound, and when it came to the final match there was absolutely nothing in between them, until the last round when Conrad managed to gain the only separation he needed to claim the Scenic City Crokinole title.
The brisk November weather was a sure sign of things to come for the Canadian Winter, but it was a good day for 20s around the crokinole board, which cooked up some ridiculously high scores and several perfect games.
18 Doubles teams comprised of a large portion of the local crokinole contingent, and they were joined by 23 competitive Singles players from New York, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Penetanguishene.
The morning singles round consisted of 10 games with players vying for afternoon pools. Ray Beierling led the way in points with 65 and 20s with 118. 6 players reached or surpassed the century mark in 20s, as Jon Conrad, Nathan Walsh, Jason Beierling, Roy Campbell, and Dwayne Campbell used those high scores to make the A Group. The final two spots were snagged by Andrew Hutchinson and Ezra Jantzi. Jantzi's 47 points were just enough to edge out Robert Bonnett at 46 points.
The Recreational pool consisted of a Doubles round robin, as is always the case at Owen Sound as they miraculously juggle the two events simultaneously. Inside the 18 doubles teams there were 13 first-time participants, which certainly didn't curtail their enthusiasm or chances in the tournament.
Al Arnold and Bob Jones made some noise early in the event for many reasons. Not only were they racking up points, but a chair malfunction had one member of the pair on the ground in the middle of the game. That however, was not enough to slow them down as they scored 71 points to win the title. Neil and Carol Cook had finished second last year, and scored a significant number of 20s with 96 (19 more than the next team), but had to settle for 5th place with 57 points.
Winning just enough points for the top 4 was Clark Campbell and Paul Armstrong as they scored 58 points. Corey McRae and Mike Mazurek played very well in their very first tournament, earning 65 points for 3rd place. They were just beat by Bill Harris and Larry Hennessey, who also scored 65 points, but had a better 20s score at 73 20s.
In Group C of the Competitive side, Clare Kuepfer ploughed through the second round with an incredible 37 points in 6 games. He was followed by Peter Carter at 27 points, and Jo-Ann Carter and Derek McKie at 25 points, just beating Gloria Walsh for the final playoff spot by 2 points.
In a fantastically tight playoff round robin, only 2 points separated 1st from 4th. It was Derek McKie making the most of the smallest margins, winning the C group with 13 points. Clare Kuepfer had to settle for 2nd with 12 points, ahead of Peter and Jo-Ann Carter at 12 and 11 points respectively.
In the B group, Roger Vaillancourt and Robert Bonnett battled for the top seed, with Vaillancourt getting the honours with an equal 33 points, but an additional 5 20s. They were joined in the playoffs by Eric Miltenburg, racking 30 points, and Brian Simpson at 29 points and 50 20s. Christina Campbell finished in the unlucky position of 5th, as she also scored 20 points, but her mark of 43 20s wasn't enough.
In the playoffs, Brian Simpson stepped up to another notch, playing well enough for 14 points, but Roger Vaillancourt was unstoppable with 17 points of a maximum 24 in the 3 games, for the Owen Sound B title.
The A group saw the 20 scores continue to be quite high as the players battled for a top 4 qualifying spot to keep their shot at the title alive. Jon Conrad finished first with 33 points and 82 20s in 7 games (which is on pace for 117 in 10 games). Dwayne Campbell scored 33 points and 65 20s for second. Ray Beierling and Ezra Jantzi rounded out the playoff qualifiers, as Andrew Hutchinson's 8-0 squashing of Nathan Walsh in the final round was only enough for 5th place at 28 points.
While the Owen Sound tournament has many annual returnees, the tournament seems to experience an unusual amount of parity, and the A group's playoff qualifiers exemplify that. Despite all of last year's top 3 finishers returning, none of them made the top 4 again this year. In fact, in the entire 6 year history of the event, only twice has someone made the top 3 in two consecutive years. The first was Brian Cook's back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012, and the second was Nathan Walsh's agonizing playoff defeats in the semifinals in 2013 and finals in 2014.
The top 4 round robin saw some dominating performances from Ray Beierling and Jon Conrad who, once again, had very little separation between them. The first round of the tournament saw Ray Beierling at 65 points to Jon Conrad's 63. The second round had Conrad at 33 and Beierling at 32. The playoffs gave an edge to Beierling at 18 points to 17. Through the entire day only a two point separation appeared (115 to 113), as they headed to the Championship match.
Some recognition should be given to the other playoff qualifiers, as Ezra Jantzi is certainly gaining a stiff competitive edge quickly. In only his first full NCA season, and just his second singles tournament this year, he's already found the top 4. For someone that was only seen as the dark horse finisher in the Top 16 several times at the World Championships, he is definitely making himself well known, and one must wonder what else is to come.
Meanwhile, Dwayne Campbell is making a case as the breakthrough star of this year's NCA Tour. Only two singles events played this season, and already two top 4 finishes. He's emerging as another potent 20 scorer and pulled off some pretty nice angle ricochet shots on Saturday, and should be very fun to follow throughout the rest of the season.
So Ray Beierling and Jon Conrad were set to face off in the "First to 11" points final. They had met in 3 finals previously, all of which sided with Ray Beierling (2010 in Exeter, 2013 in Turtle Island, and 2015 in Brucefield at the ODCC).
Ray Beierling began with the hammer and held it for the 2-0 lead. Jon Conrad responded in kind to level the match 2-2, and so it went back and forth until Ray Beierling led 8-6. Conrad was up against it in the 8th round. Although he had the hammer, he trailed by a 20 and faced two opposing discs on the board with only two shots remaining. After making a long ricochet 20, Beierling missed long on his open 20, and Conrad elected a safer single takeout attempt as opposed to the double. While he may have hoped to follow through for a 20, he secured a single point in the round and Ray Beierling led 9-7.
Needing to win the round without the hammer, Conrad played it perfectly, not conceding a miss to level the match at 9-9, and held the hammer advantage for the final round. Conrad jumped out to lead, but Beierling was shocking in his ability to almost draw even, scoring a tough ricochet 20, and then having a second one unluckily bounce out of the 20 hole. That gave Jon Conrad the final exclamation point 20 to win the match, and win the Scenic City Crokinole title.
An incredible final match it was to close the tournament. While some of the noted cons of the "Race" format for a championship match are how one player can run away with the match, there are matches that can bring great tension and excitement with how evenly they unfold.
The NCA Tour breaks for the harshness of Winter and warmness of the holiday season, but when the new year comes in 2017 the crowd will be pleading for more crokinole, and so they will be satisfied when the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament takes place in Hamilton in late January.