In recent history, the discussion of the best doubles team in crokinole was centred around 2 teams. While Conrad & (insert partner) consistently had impressive performances, the solidified partnerships of Ray and Jason Beierling, and Fred and Justin Slater, have by far the best resumes. And as they did in 2014 and 2016, these two distinguished teams met in the final to determine the Ontario Doubles Champions.
The Brucefield United Church hosted the provincial event, which featured a record-tying attendance of 58 players, with 14 competitive teams and 15 recreational doubles teams.
The competitive doubles teams played a full round robin of 13 games, with the first 7 games taking place in the morning. Roy Campbell and Jeremy Tracey, fresh off a 2nd place World Championship finish, had the best start, scoring 44 points, and they were followed closely by the Beierling's at 40 points.
Sitting tied for 3rd at the halfway point were Connor Reinman/Andrew Hutchinson and Cor Vanden Hoven/Ron Reesor, both at 36 points. Sitting 4 points back of the playoff spots were the teams of Justin Slater/Fred Slater, Clare Kuepfer/Neil Cook, and Dwayne Campbell/Christina Campbell, who all had 32 points looking to gain ground in the afternoon. Also not too far out of the playoff mix were the brother teams of Reid Tracey/Nolan Tracey and Tom Johnston/Rex Johnston, who were tied for 8th at 30 points.
In the afternoon the Recreational division had been split top-half/bottom-half based on the morning performance. In the B division, the team of Eileen Bell and Wayne Bell, and Carmen Hodgkinson and Evelyn Hodgkinson scored well with 27 and 30 points respectively, but neither was enough to make it into the finals. Doreen Sulkye and Marilyn Thompson earned the top seed with 34 points, while the tournament-debut of Garret Tracey and Ernie Lightfoot led to the second seed at 31 points. In the "first to 9 points" final, Sulkye and Thompson used the hammer advantage to scrap out a narrow 10-8 victory.
In the Recreational A division, several new partnerships led to high scores with Peter Carter and Perry Carter scoring 33 points for 3rd place, while Ron Langill and John Lichty scored 36 points for 2nd. Meanwhile, the Vanden Hovens, Rich and Tony, finished 1st with 39 points to claim the other spot in the final. While not as thrilling as the 10-8 finish in the B division, the final had its moments of excitement before Rich Vanden Hoven and Tony Vanden Hoven won the match.
In the competition division, the Slaters had the strongest afternoon with 37 points in 6 games, propelling them up to 3rd place and a spot in the semifinals. The Beierlings scored 34 points to Campbell/Tracey's 30 points, leading to a tie for 1st at 74 points. The Beierlings earned the first seed by way of head-to-head tiebreaker. Connor Reinman and Andrew Hutchinson finished with 32 points in the afternoon, for a total of 68 points and the 4th seed for the semifinals. Missing the playoffs, that left Reesor/Vanden Hoven in 5th place as they totalled 64 points, and Kuepfer/Cook in 6th place as they finished with 60 points.
Strangely the 2018 semi-finals were nearly a perfect match to that of 2017:
- the top seeded team of Ray and Jason Beierling playing the 4th seed of Connor Reinman and partner
- the 2nd seed of Jeremy Tracey and Roy Campbell playing the 3rd seed of Justin and Fred Slater
The only non-constant between the two years was the partner of Reinman, which was Nathan Walsh in 2017 (who partnered with Gloria Walsh in 2018), now swapped out for Andrew Hutchinson (who needed a new partner to substitute for the vacationing Jon Conrad).
Curiously the similarities continued in the Slater/Slater v Campbell/Tracey semifinal. Just as in 2017, the 2018 match began with Campbell/Tracey holding their first hammer for a 2-0 lead, which was followed by Slater/Slater winning the next 8 points for an 8-2 lead in the "first to 9" match. The 2018 match saw the Slaters gain early leads in nearly every round, forcing their opponents to make tough shots to come back. What was somewhat unusual for the aggressive, creative and shot-making pair of Campbell/Tracey, was that they struggled to score takeout-20s in those rounds to level the score. The Slaters held their hammer and won the 6th round of the match to make the Ontario final for the 3rd straight year.
In Reinman's 2017 semifinal with the Beierlings, he and Walsh were able to sweep the match 10-0, and Reinman began the 2018 semifinal in that direction as he and Hutchinson (both choosing to sport University of Michigan sweaters on the day) made it 2-0 against the hammer. Reinman/Hutchinson had the edge in the 2nd round as well, but the turning point was when Jason Beierling protracted a disc into the 20 from the farthest edge of the board (so far that they needed a flash light measure), on the way to winning the round for 2-2.
The following rounds fed into the bread-and-butter of Ray Beierling's game with many Open 20s scored that all favoured the Beierlings on their way to an 8-2 lead. In the 6th round, the Beierlings just needing one more point, left their final disc hidden beyond the pegs on the far side of the board. Hutchinson, needing a takeout and stick, took a good amount of time to compose himself and successfully made the shot for 8-4.
Down early in the 7th round, Hutchinson scored an amazing ricochet and peg-rub 20 (the star shot on what was one of many terrific shots for Hutchinson in the match; the full video for that one is going to be great). However, the Beierlings stayed extremely well focussed and made every Open 20 they needed to close out the match 10-4.
And so the final was set for Slater/Slater v Beierling/Beierling, with the winner to earn another point in their favour for who is the best doubles team in crokinole. Both teams have had strong recent performances at the World Championships, with the Slaters winning 3 times and finishing in the top 4 5 times since 2012. While the Beierlings have made the top 4 at the World Championships every year since 2013, and picked up the 2018 title. At the ODCC, the Slaters three prior appearances resulted in 2 2nds, and one victory, to go along with what was now their 4th overall, and 3rd straight finals appearance. For the Beierlings, now all 9 years of the ODCC resulted in top 4 finishes, with 4 victories, and 2018 being their 7th trip to the finals.
It's only fair in this "best team in recent history" discussion to mention Tony Snyder and Jon Conrad, who have 2 wins and a 2nd place finish at the WCC, along with a 2nd and 3rd place from the ODCC. And, while stretching the definition of "recent history" it would be thorough to mention the team of Fred Slater and Brian Cook, who went a perfect 3 for 3 in ODCC appearances, and even added a provincial British Columbia doubles title to their record.
Getting back to the 2018 championship match, it was the third head-to-head finals match of Beierlings v Slaters, with the Beierlings winning 2014, and the Slaters in 2016 (apparently Jason Beierling was breaking down video footage of the 2016 match the prior evening).
The first two rounds of the "first to 11 points" final went against the hammer. Lots of 20s were scored in the 3rd round, but Ray Beierling's follow through 20 that bounced off a peg was decisive as the Beierlings held their hammer for 4-2.
The 4th round saw lots of interesting positional shots and discussion, including lots of whispering from a large and engaged crowd that stuck around to watch the final. The Beierlings had an extra 20, but the Slaters had 2 discs on the board. Jason's final takeout and roll attempt lost the shooter, leaving a Slater 5 and an open board for Justin on the final shot. He'd just missed for a 15, tying the round; 5-3 for the Beierlings.
The Slaters would make it 5-5, and despite being down in the 20 count, put on significant pressure. Twice Justin left discs perfectly next to the peg forcing Ray to just tap. Justin Slater then scored a follow through 20 that would narrow the gap enough for the Slaters to tie the round and make the match 6-6.
Interesting strategy choices and execution errors were the themes of the 7th and 8th rounds. The Beierlings missed a a tap-up-assist play in the 7th round that took the pressure off the Slaters, as they led 8-6. But in the 8th round, Fred Slater's attempt to spoil a hangar 20 chance for the opponents, led to him removing all of his discs on the board. Once Jason Beierling scored the crucial open 20 on the next shot, the Beierlings were well on their way to 8-8.
After making it 10-8, the Beierlings were only one point away from the title and secured an early lead in the 10th round. They then used some great disc placement to prevent a comeback, and took the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship 12-8.
With the win, Ray and Jason Beierling tie Fred Slater's record with 4 Ontario Doubles titles. Also, 2018 marks the 3rd straight year that the Doubles World Champion(s) have went on to win the Ontario Doubles tournament immediately after (Slaters in 2016, Nathan Walsh in 2017, Beierling in 2018).
The victory and tournament results are also significant for the NCA Tour. Justin Slater now has 197 points (3 victories and a 2nd place finish), followed by Jason Beierling at 190 (2 victories, 2nd, 4th) and Ray Beierling at 184 (2 victories, 3rd, 7th). Roy Campbell and Andrew Hutchinson are currently rounding out the top 5 on the Tour, with the next stop being the 2017 Scenic City Crokinole Classic in Owen Sound on November 24th.