What began as a partnership of necessity ended as the golden combination. Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman joined forces in a last minute decision in order to ensure Reinman would have a partner for his first Ontario Doubles tournament and that choice proved extremely fruitful. Throughout the day they battled nerves, a bit of a tough morning, world class competitors, and even a sting from an angry wasp! In the end they prevailed against it all; the victory gave Walsh his third NCA title of the year, and vaulted Reinman into the elite company of NCA champions.
The morning started off with 58 competitors, a tournament record. The recreation division consisted of 15 teams, while on the other side of the hall there were 14 teams battling for Ontario Doubles supremacy. The recreation side had some familiar faces including Jo-Ann and Al Carter, Peter Carter and last years' NCA rec champ, Bill Harris, Gloria and Tom Walsh, and Wayne and Jennifer Scott. On the competitive side, this may have been the most loaded field in tournament history. Amongst the favourites were father-son duo and defending champions Fred and Justin Slater. Three time tournament winner, and most decorated doubles pair ever, Ray and Jason Beierling, were back to try to regain their crown. Jon Conrad and Andrew Hutchinson were teaming up for a 2nd year in a row, trying to improve upon their third place finish from the previous year. Roy Campbell and Jeremy Tracey, two competitors who are never afraid to try – and often make – the near impossible shot, joined forces for a 2nd time (the first time being the 2017 World Championships). Finally, the surprise pairing of Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman was the wildcard entry that made this tournament so interesting. Besides these 5 pairs, there were many more that had a legitimate shot at making the top 4 including, but not limited to, Tom and Rex Johnston, Clare Kuepfer and Neil Cook, Ray Kappes and Howard Martin, and the junior Tracey brothers, Reid and Nolan.
In the recreation division, the teams broke into 2 randomly selected groups for a round robin. The top teams in the morning would make the ‘A' group in the afternoon, while the remaining teams would make up the ‘B' group. In the first pool Murray Purdue and David Whyte came out on top with 41 points, followed by Tony and Rich Vanden Hoven (36 points), Maxine Whitmore and Lola VanDerheide (27 points), and Carmen and Evelyn Hodgkinson (23 points). In the second group Bill Harris and Peter Carter racked up an impressive 44 points, ahead of a trio of teams finishing with 36 points (Wayne/Jennifer Scott, Jo-Ann and Al Carter, Gloria and Tom Walsh). Those 8 teams would make up the recreation A group in the afternoon, while the rest of the teams would face off for the rec B crown.
Over on the other side of the hall, in the competitive division the 14 teams were randomly broken into 2 groups of 7 in the morning. The same process would happen again in the afternoon and after adding the morning and afternoon results, the top 4 would play off for the championship. In the morning the Beierling's got off to a characteristically fast start with 43 points. Campbell and Tracey also got off to a quick start with 37 points. Turning a few heads were Kuepfer and Cook with 36 points. Rounding out the initial top 4 were the perennially slow starting Slaters, with 34 points. On the outside, looking to make a run in the afternoon were Walsh and Reinman (31 points), Kappes and Martin (30 points), Conrad and Hutchinson (29 points) and the Tracey brothers (28 points). However these teams had some heavy lifting ahead if they were going to climb out of the hole that they had dug themselves into in the morning.
At this point, all the players took a break for lunch. Lunch was a delicious spread of sandwiches, veggies and baked goods. After the short break, the recreation group broke into an A and B division, for another round robin. The top two teams from each level would face off in their division's finals. In Rec A, the Purdue/Whyte tandem continued to dominate with an impressive 49 points. Battling it out for the 2nd spot in the Rec A finals were Bill Harris and Peter Carter and Jo-Ann and Al Carter, both teams finishing with 35 points. And although Harris/Carter finished with 10 more 20's, Jo-Ann and Al advanced based on winning the head-to-head. Despite being at the top of the pack all day, Purdue/Whyte couldn't finish the tournament off with the win, coming out on the losing side to Jo-Ann and Al Carter. In the Rec B round robin, Dave Carnahan and Fred Smith finished in first place with 33 points, just ahead of Alex Ostrem and Jack McLachlin with 32 points. The 2 teams met in the finals, with Carnahan/Smith coming away with the title.
On the competitive side, the groups broke into 2 groups again and tried to outdo their morning score in order to secure a spot in the top 4. The top 2 teams from the morning had no problem in the afternoon and the Beierlings (88 points) and Campbell/Tracey (80 points) slid comfortably into 1st and 2nd place for the day. Also having strong afternoons were the Slaters, Walsh/Reinman, and the Johnstons. The question would be whether any of them had strong enough scores to pass Kuepfer/Cook. The partners from Scone, however, had a disappointing afternoon with only 27 points, finishing the day with 63 total points. That let the Slaters (73 points) and Walsh/Reinman (71 points), having done enough in the afternoon, to secure a spot in the top 4. In addition to Kuepfer/Cook, the Johnstons (60 points total), Kappes/Martin (58 points total) and the disappointing Conrad/Hutchinson (55 points total) sat on the outside looking in.
So after a pair of round robins, we had our playoffs set. Ray and Jason Beierling would face off against Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman in the one semi-final. While in the 2nd semi-final, Jeremy Tracey would take on Fred and Justin Slater. The first semi-final was notable in matching the 3 time Ontario Doubles Champions and front runner all day long versus a first time partnership that started to find their rhythm in the afternoon. What looked like a compelling, if possibly one-sided, matchup was certainly interesting, but not for the reasons anyone would have expected. Walsh and Reinman both seemed very relaxed from the beginning. On the other hand, the Beierling's, possibly due to the pressures of both running and participating in a tournament, just never seemed to settle in. From the first shot they seemed out of sorts, and never really found their groove. Walsh and Reinman won the first game to go up 2-0 in this first to 9 contest. This trend continued throughout the rest of the match, and Walsh and Reinman continued to win, going out to an 8-0 lead. They would only need to secure a tie in order to move on to the finals. In the next game, one that was filled with leaners for both teams, Walsh and Reinman finished off the favourites, capping off a shocking 10-0 victory.
The other semi-final saw the defending champion Slaters, who always seem to peak in the playoffs against the high-ceiling duo of Campbell and Tracey. Campbell and Tracey got off to a strong start, Tracey looking like he hadn't missed a beat since his 2nd place finish in Belleville and Campbell looking like he was back to his 2015-16 form. They started off the first round playing some really solid crokinole, racing to a 2-0 lead. The Slaters were looking vulnerable and the possibility that their attempt to repeat might come to an early end seemed entirely possible. However, in the next round, fortunes started to shift, even if just subtly. The Slater's experience started to shine through, while Campbell/Tracey – though still playing strong crokinole – started to make a few small but costly mistakes. The Slaters rode this turn of events to four straight victorious rounds to gain an 8-2 edge. With the hammer in the next round, the Slaters could smell victory, only needing to gain a single point to advance; what followed was some strategic and well thought out crokinole. As the number of shots left in the round dwindled, Campbell/Tracey led the 20 count by one, but the Slaters had a number of their pieces on the board. Finally the hammer shot came around to Fred, and he needed a take-out and stick in the 5 to keep 20 points on the board to negate the opponent's 20 advantage. He made the shot to secure a tie in the round and a 9-3 victory in the game to advance to the finals.
So the finals saw the 3 and 4 seeds face off with long time partners Fred and Justin Slater opposing first time duo Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman. In the first round, with the Slater's holding hammer, there were no 20s until the second last shot, when Walsh hit a ricochet 20 to guarantee his team at least one point; with the hammer shot Justin Slater missed his open 20 attempt, meaning that Walsh/Reinman would steal the round to go up 2-0. They would build on that momentum and increase their lead winning the next three games to go ahead 8-0, requiring only one more point to win the first-to-9 championship. The next game was a 20 fest, and it looked like it would go Walsh/Reinman's way when Justin Slater was the first to miss a 20. However, on the very next shot Reinman's take out attempt knocked the Slater disc into the centre and the Slaters wouldn't look back that round, outscoring their opponents in 20's 9-8 for the round and putting their first points on the board to cut the lead to 8-2. If the Slaters had any idea of an epic comeback, however, Walsh and Reinman put an end to that quickly, securing the next round in order to clinch the championship 10-2.
Some interesting notes about this tournament:
- Walsh currently holds both the World and Ontario Doubles Championship, but with different partners.
- Reinman becomes the first American to ever win an NCA title; however as he is a dual-citizen, we can still say that every NCA champion has been a Canadian!
- In the playoffs, Walsh and Reinman beat arguably the two best doubles teams by a combined score of 20-2!
- With Walsh committed to attempting to defend his world doubles championship with Clare Kuepfer in June, Reinman is left as a very desirable ‘free agent' partner
- This is the first ODCC where neither the Beierlings nor Fred Slater (whether partnering with Brian Cook or Justin) would win the title.
- Nathan Walsh continues his strong start to the NCA season with his 3rd win and a total of 195 points. Players with a single victory on the season are Ray Beierling (183 points), Clare Kuepfer (163 points), Reinman (95 points in only 2 tournaments) and Robert Bonnett (50 points from winning the only tournament he's entered).
So with the Scenic City Crokinole Tournament coming up on Saturday, November 25 Walsh is looking to further cement his lead as he seeks out his first ever NCA crown, while a handful of opponents try to scratch and claw a bit closer in the NCA race.
Andrew Hutchinson is both a competitive cues and fingers crokinole player who won the 2016 Cues World Championship and finished in the Top 16 of the 2017 Fingers World Championship. He can be followed on Twitter @FavouriteHutch