Jon Conrad and Ray Beierling rolled back the clock to the distant past of 2016 as they advanced through rounds one, two and three to find themselves squaring off for the title once again. And if that wasn't enough of a case that history repeats itself, the two were neck-and-neck until Jon Conrad edge ahead at the finish line to claim his second straight Scenic City Crokinole Classic title.
53 players were in attendance, with 16 teams making up the Recreational Doubles division, and another 21 individuals competing in the Singles category as they fought for crucial points on the NCA Tour in the final event of the 2017 calendar. Nathan Walsh had a commanding lead in the Tour standings coming in, and looked to nearly clinch the Tour title with a first place in Owen Sound. He began the day strong, winning the $25 prize for the first "Perfect Game" of the day, sponsored by Dale Henry and the Tuscarora Crokinole Club, when he and Jon Conrad traded 8 20s each in the second game of the morning round. But the form didn't continue and he barely made the A group cutoff with 50 points through 10 games.
Roy Campbell was very consistent in the morning round as he carried his strong play from the Ontario Doubles tournament and scored 61 points for the 2nd highest score. His doubles partner however was dealt the cruelest form crokinole luck as he missed the A group cutoff by 3 20s (total of 49 points and 88 20s). But every crokinole disc has two sides, and it was Jon Conrad and Roger Vaillancourt would be benefactors and claim the final two spots in group A with 49 points each and 109 and 91 20s respectively. Jon Conrad's 109 20s were matched by Ray Beierling as the tops of the morning round, while Beierling also racked up 62 points for top spot overall. Slotting in 3rd and 4th were Brian Simpson, and notable Walter White look-a-like, Andrew Hutchinson.
The Recreational Doubles competition was filled with local talent looking to show off the doubles skills they had mastered in one of the multiple local crokinole clubs. Clark Campbell and Paul Armstrong teamed up to finish 6th with 58 points, just ahead of Sharon Jolley and Jim Downing, and Murray Mizen and Mike Howe. The Zettler team of Francis and Len, and the Cook team of Elmer and Orville matched each other with 70 points each through 14 games. The slight edge went to the Zettlers who's 68 20s were better than the Cooks' 43, as they claimed 4th place.
The top 3 spots went to some NCA Tour regulars, with Bill Harris and Peter Carter finishing 3rd with 81 points and 78 20s. The second Cook team, this time named Neil and Carol, would be second, also with 81 points, but a superior 20 count of 89. And the Recreational title would go to Jo-Ann and Al Carter, who averaged just over 6 points per game to earn 87 points and a remarkable 114 20s.
In the second round of the competitive division, the brothers' Tracey were on fire and finished the Pool C round robin with 38 points each, with Nolan earning a slight edge with 7 additional 20s. The final 4 was rounded out by Gloria Walsh at 20 points, and NCA newcomer Alex Dobbie with 22. In the playoffs, Reid Tracey was spectacular and earned 18 of a possible 24 points, while Dobbie impressed in his debut performance with 14 points to just edge out Nolan Tracey at 12 points, for second place.
If Jeremy Tracey had set out to out-shine his son's; mission accomplished. In the Pool B round robin, he earned one extra point for a total 39 to grab the first spot in the playoffs. He was followed by Clare Kuepfer, who managed to score an impressive 25 points despite also having to help run the event. Eric Miltenburg scored 26 for 3rd, while Howard Martin got 21 points to just beat out Bev Vaillancourt (20 points) for the final spot. The playoff round was dominated by Kuepfer and Tracey, with Clare Kuepfer scoring 15 points and Jeremy Tracey scoring 19 (again one more point than his son) for the Pool B title.
With the Owen Sound title on the line, nerves were tight in Pool A and several players attested to not performing their best. Roy Campbell and Andrew Hutchinson showed moments of strength, but it was not their day as they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Ray Beierling earned the second seed with 27 points. Jon Conrad wanted no part in "just-barely" qualifying and cruised to the top seed with 31 points, while Nathan Walsh faced the edge of elimination again, but once again advanced to the playoffs by a single point with the third seed. That left Brian Simpson's 23 points and 46 20s as the final qualifier. Meanwhile Roger Vaillancourt fell to the same fate as his wife, just missing the A pool playoffs by only 4 20s.
In the final four round robin, Jon Conrad was terrific, scoring 21 out of 24 possible points to easily earn the first spot in the final. And Ray Beierling made up a 2 point deficit on Nathan Walsh in the final game to earn the second spot in the finals with 13 points.
Most players do not have a strong head-to-head record against Ray Beierling, but it is still shocking that a player of Conrad's calibre has not had much success in playoff meetings. Ray Beierling holds a 3-0 record in semifinal matchups (2013 & 2017 Hamilton, 2016 London) and a 4-1 record in finals (the wins being Exeter 2010, 2013 Turtle Island, 2015 Brucefield and 2015 ODCC). However the match freshest in memory for all spectators was the classic the two performed exactly one year earlier when Conrad marked that single blemish on the Beierling head-to-head record.
Jon Conrad had the choice of hammer in the "first-to-11" point final, but elected to not take it, perhaps looking to gain momentum with an early steal. However it was Beierling who would steal first when he went up 4-0. But Conrad came back and got the steal he was looking for and then some when he won the next 3 rounds for a 6-4 lead.
The sixth round saw a bit of controversy when a disappearing disc was not discovered until the round was thought to be over. Thankfully some available camera footage identified that each player had only taken 7 shots, and turned what could have been a potential brawl into an easy solution. There was no impact on the round and Beierling tied the match 6-6. At 8-8, Conrad fell behind twice, but levelled the round each time and jumped ahead on the 7th shot, only to leave Beierling ricochet takeout-20 for the tie on the final shot. While the 20 was made, the takeout stuck in the 5 and Jon Conrad took a 10-8 lead. The 20-make, takeout-miss was reminiscent of the 2011 London final, and after Beierling missed the takeout in Owen Sound, Eric Miltenburg could be heard saying, "That looks familiar."
Up 10-8, Jon Conrad fell behind early as he couldn't match Ray Beierling's open 20s. But when Beierling missing a hanger-20 opportunity, Conrad scored a huge follow-through 20 that jumped him into a lead he would not relinquish, as he won the match 12-8.
With the win, Jon Conrad moves into 3rd place on the NCA Tour with 182 points, trailing Ray Beierling at 187 and Nathan Walsh at 195. And while the competitive crokinole season is complete for 2017, play will resume in Hamilton on January 27th for the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament. The aforementioned top 3 in the NCA standings will certainly looked to begin the back-half of the 2017-2018 Tour on the right foot, but they will be chased by the other members of the NCA Tour Top 10, including Justin Slater, Clare Kuepfer, Jeremy Tracey, Fred Slater, Roger Vaillancourt, Roy Campbell and Andrew Hutchinson.
When CrokinoleCentre gets around to hiring a beat reporter, you know who it's going to be.