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Top 10 CrokinoleCentre Matches of the Decade

Nathan Walsh January 21, 2020

This blog will continue the CrokinoleCentre feature recapping crokinole in the 2010s, and this will be the first of three posts dissecting the competitive crokinole decade by way of the ruthlessly-click-baity and intentionally-controversial Top 10 lists. Today it’s the Top 10 CrokinoleCentre Matches of the Decade.

Any question of whether or not this list will be impacted by a biased author should be thrown out the window immediately. Because the answer is yes, as shown by the stipulation that all matches under consideration are CrokinoleCentre matches. That stipulation is there for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to ensure the list is comprehensive, and not having a glaring omission, if all of the matches under consideration can by found on the CrokinoleCentre Youtube page.
  2. The quality of the production is going to be judged, as will be detailed further below, and it’s a lot easier to publicly make disparaging comments of one’s own work rather than that of another.

Of course all matches in consideration must have occurred between January 1st 2010 and December 31st 2019. In all that makes for 223 full matches (including a couple from the previous NCA tournament that haven’t yet been published online).

Grading Criteria

So how will all 223 matches be graded, compared and ranked? A truly rigorous approach has been taken here with each match being ranked in 4 factors, that help quantify how intriguing, inspiring, enjoyable and exciting a crokinole match can be.

4 Factors

Hype: What was the excitement going into the match? What are the stakes of this match? This can work either in favour of and against a match.

Example: Consider the 2014 Golden Horseshoe Final between Ron Haymes and Ray Beierling. The quality of play and drama in this match makes it worthy of an honourable mention. Some terrific takeout-20 shots were made in pressure situations, and we even saw a winner-take-all round end in a tie, thus forcing the match into even more rounds of action. It was very exciting.

But some level of hype is needed just to get one interested enough to pay attention. Ron Haymes made a very rare appearance at the event (his only singles NCA tournament outside of the WCC), while a snow-storm in Ontario limited the tournament field on the day. When the finals were set, no one really knew what to expect. Ultimately the Haymes/Beierling match didn’t come with a high level of excitement or intrigue that compelled viewers to watch, so despite it being a good, nay, a great match, it doesn’t crack the Top 10 of the decade. The same can be said for many round robin games, despite the quality of the match, there’s just not enough hype to put it in the Top 10.

Quality of Play: Mistakes can add to intrigue, but too many makes matches memorable for the wrong reason. Big shots and sturdy play under pressure are what makes matches inspiring.

Example: The 2016 World Championship final had a decent amount of hype as two 23-year-olds in Justin Slater and Nathan Walsh faced off. They had previously played 3 times, with each match going the full 3 games. Needless to say there was excitement, but a myriad of errors from both sides repels this match from earning a label of inspirational.

Quality of Production: This one’s on the broadcast and the extra entertainment value added by players and spectators.

  • Is there someone yelling in the background?
  • Are half the shots blocked by a player’s shoulder as they lean over?
  • Is the camera constantly shaking because there’s no tripod?
  • Does it look like it was filmed with a knock off brand bootlegged calculator?
  • Are the players taking an unreasonably long time to make their next shot?

These are bad things.

  • Are the players expressive in a way that adds to the enjoyment or tension?
  • Does the camera appropriately frame the board and players so you can actually see all you need?
  • Does the commentator do enough to not sound like a complete doofus maloofus?

These are good things.

Example: 2011 Forest City Flickers Final - Ray Beierling vs Eric Miltenburg

I die a little from embarrassment every time I remember this video exists. Digital cameras made in the mid-2000s were just simply not designed to record video, and a crokinole-enthusiasts first crack at commentary makes watching in mute a necessity. But everything must start from somewhere and at least the quality is much better today.

This match was really good. Ray Beierling going for this 3rd-straight London title. Eric Miltenburg had made the final 4 in Tavistock the year prior and was gunning for his first NCA title. The match even went down to a 3rd-game 5th-round finish for the first time in recorded history. But the actual recording of this historic match cannot be redeemed by the valiant efforts of these two players. It was an alluring match if you were there to watch it. It’s an uninviting match to watch online.

Drama: The edge of your seat stuff usually reserved for real sports does occasionally find it’s way into crokinole. Maybe it’s a big comeback, a missed/made shot that turns everything around, or a tight match that goes down to the wire. If anything, the drama of a match is what makes it memorable, and there’s nothing that brings that out more than two players giving it everything they’ve got to win the match.

Example: 2016 Golden Horseshoe Semifinal - Andrew Hutchinson vs Ray Beierling

This was a high quality match, or at least one would assume it was being that it currently has 2.9 million views. But overall the match ended 6-4 6-2 for Hutchinson, and never reached a sustained level of tension where the final result seemed to hang in balance, well in reach for both players. Generally dramatic matches require a very tight finish, such going the full 3 games in a best-of-3, or going down to a winner-take-all round.

All four factors will be combined for an overall grade to determine the final rankings. And just in case you started to think this was a very scientific process, I’ll let you know that all 4 factors will be summarized into a final score using an algorithm that can be best described as completely arbitrary.

But don’t worry about those details. The thing is, if you can tick all 4 boxes, then you’ve got yourself a classic match to remember for the decade.

Enough with the details, let’s get to the list!

10. 2017 Turtle Island Crokinole Tournament - Final - Jon Conrad vs Nathan Walsh

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  • Hype: 6
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 8
  • Drama: 7

Overall Score: 7

There wasn’t much hype going into this match, as evidenced by the numerous empty chairs next to the table when the match began. Based on the possible championship combinations that could have developed that day, Conrad v Walsh was not as salivating as some others. Eventually Jeremy Tracey (Brisk Ice Tea in hand) occupied one of those seats next to the table and became a favourite figure for Youtube commenters.

There’s little explanation for why this match has achieved a truly shocking number of views online, but at least the two players filled the 16 minutes with a number of highlight worthy shots. The production is simple, with just one static camera, but the commentary is steady and clearly pleasing enough to maintain the attention of millions who’ve been curious enough to click the video link. The drama of the match was also pretty decent with the match being closely contested throughout each round, except for the anti-climatical finish that drags down the score slightly.

9. 2018 Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship - Final - Beierling/Beierling vs Slater/Slater

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  • Hype: 8
  • Quality of Play: 6
  • Quality of Production: 7
  • Drama: 8

Overall Score: 7.5

The limited number of doubles events makes this the only doubles match appearing in the Top 10, but it’s certainly worthy of its rank. For doubles rivalries there was nothing better in the decade than Slaters v Beierlings, although the Hype score isn’t a perfect 10 as there was some trepidation that the match may fall into the exceedingly boring painstaking-analysis and slow-play that occurred in the 2016 ODCC matchup. There is a bit of that in this 2018 match, which pushes the match time to 45 minutes, and lowers the production quality to that of 7.

The quality of play was good, but doesn’t score highly when compared to the best matches of the decade. However the number of errors did allow the match to reach higher levels of drama, highlighted by a memorable strategic from Fred Slater that was the turning point of the match.

8. 2010 World Crokinole Championship - Final - Justin Slater vs Brian Cook

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  • Hype: 10
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 4
  • Drama: 9

Overall Score: 7.6

The 2010 WCC final was the matchup we all wanted, with Brian Cook going for a record-4th-straight world title, and a young Justin Slater who was looking to conclude a break-out season where he had already won two NCA events (including one victory over Cook). There was a lot of excitement in the air.

As for how the match played out, well to steal a phrase from Daniel Létay, it was a 20s-parade. Players scored open 20s endlessly, as the pre-match analysis had expected, which included Brian Cook becoming the first to score a perfect round in a world final. The match also had many tense moments as the final scoreline of 4-6, 6-4, 5-3 would suggest. The main drawback on the match is just the production quality you might expect for a video from 2010. One single camera, in which I was constantly experimenting with framing, limits the re-watchability of the match.

7. 2011 World Crokinole Championship - Final - Brian Cook vs Ray Beierling

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  • Hype: 10
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 7
  • Drama: 7

Overall Score: 7.75

The 2011 WCC final has numerous similarities to 2010. A Beierling v Cook match was highly anticipated with Cook again going for title number 4, and Ray Beierling finally getting a crack at the championship by making his first final. The players brought their best stuff and spectators were treated to open 20s, long ricochet 20s and takeout 20s throughout. The match really hit its peak with Cook threatening to win in the second game, but the tension wasn’t quite as high throughout the match as the final score ended up 0-6, 6-4, 5-1.

What really makes this match earn one slot ahead of the 2010 final doesn’t have anything to do with editor/commentator (who produces a very similar quality video one year later). It’s simply the Ray Beierling celebration at the end of the match. Iconic, and still the most memorable match celebration CrokinoleCentre has recorded.

6. 2019 Scenic City Crokinole Classic - Final - Jon Conrad vs Andrew Hutchinson

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  • Hype: 6
  • Quality of Play: 8
  • Quality of Production: 10
  • Drama: 9

Overall Score: 8

Of course any recent match is likely to have high production values, and this is about as good as CrokinoleCentre is going to get. Triple camera coverage, commentary and a sleek scoreboard. Almost just as good as the production quality was the match itself.

Both Conrad and Hutchinson achieved a high-level of play, and the match really took off in the winner-take-all-10th round (which ended up being so exciting it ended in a draw, forcing one more round to be played). The only thing lacking from the match was the pre-game excitement, as an NCA event in October has a tougher time stacking up against a World Championship final.

Honourable Mentions

With just 5 more matches to countdown in the decade, here’s some honourable mentions that didn’t make the Top 10:

5. 2017 Forest City Flickers Crokinole Tournament - Final - Ray Beierling vs Justin Slater

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  • Hype: 8
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 7
  • Drama: 10

Overall Score: 8.25

By this point the Ray Beierling/Justin Slater rivalry was by far the biggest in the game, and there was intrigue in this match as two months earlier Ray Beierling had ended a 6-match losing streak against Slater by winning the Hamilton final. The only thing limiting the Hype score on this match was that the rivalry was getting a bit over-played, with this being the 9th of 10 singles meetings between the two in the decade.

One mark against the match is the excessive background noise which surely distracts the viewer, as detailed in the comments section of the video.

But the play and drama of the match was spectacular, highlighted by a double-takeout-20 that Slater made to extend the match. In the tournament recap blog I wrote the following:

Perhaps one of the greatest crokinole matches ever, and it encapsulated everything that a thrilling sport match could have: top players facing off with a lot at stake, great shots made under pressure, and the odd mistake that makes every shot that much more exciting.

4. 2017 World Crokinole Championship - Final - Jon Conrad vs Robert Bonnett

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  • Hype: 8
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 9
  • Drama: 9

Overall Score: 8.75

This match is remembered fondly for the theatrical-worthy performances both players gave, but it’s easy to forget that there wasn’t much excitement headed into the match. The Top 16 action had eliminated many of the tournament favourites, leaving spectators with minimal expectations for the final.

And the match itself was shaping up to be a snoozer with Bonnett leading 5-1, 4-0, until Conrad mounted a tremendous comeback to send the game into a winner-take-all round in the 3rd game. It's only because of that comeback that conversations around that match still happen today.

3. 2016 Scenic City Crokinole Classic - Final - Jon Conrad vs Ray Beierling

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  • Hype: 8
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 8
  • Drama: 10

Overall Score: 8.9

There’s some personal bias in this choice as I remember thinking that this match was the best commentary I had ever done. The players also contribute greatly to the entertainment value of the match with generally very steady play, along with a few highlight shots. And of course it excels up the rankings due to the very evenly played match that went down to the final round, with the last round featuring a terrific comeback.

2. 2012 World Crokinole Championship - Final - Justin Slater vs Jon Conrad

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  • Hype: 9
  • Quality of Play: 9
  • Quality of Production: 8
  • Drama: 10

Overall Score: 9

The 2012 World Championship final wasn’t quite the match all spectators were hoping to see come out of the star-studded Final 4. With Cook, Beierling, Conrad and Slater making up that penultimate stage, there was hope to see a rematch of either the 2010 or 2011 finals which both turned out to be nail-biters.

This being a match from 2012 means that the production quality isn’t as high, but the camera framing is pretty strong and captures several expressive moments from each player. It’s that characteristic alone that probably led a famous Youtuber to make a parody video of it (viewer discretion advised).

The first two games of the final don’t include much in the way of memorable moments, but the final game is something special to behold, including spectacular play, fascinating strategy, and a repartee-like interaction in the final round that launched this match into the category of legendary.

There was only one match that was better.

1. 2018 World Crokinole Championship - Final - Jon Conrad vs Justin Slater

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  • Hype: 10
  • Quality of Play: 10
  • Quality of Production: 9
  • Drama: 10

Overall Score: 9.9

This match had everything.

There was plenty of hype coming into the event as the World Championships celebrated 20 years. A high-quality final four round robin setup this championship rematch of the 2012 classic, while there was history on the line with Slater attempting to equals Cook’s feat of 4 World titles, and Conrad trying to equal Slater’s mark of 3.

The production quality is high with a dual live-commentary and dual camera setup. The one blemish being that the overhead camera picked up a rather large glare from the arena lighting. Fortunately the reactions of both the players and audience are captivating enough to overwhelm that imperfection.

A nervy and error-filled game one reminded everyone that these players were just humans prone to mistakes. Which is what made the heroics of games two and three so stunning.

There was unprecedented drama, as all three games of the best-of-3 match had winner-take-all rounds, and each of those included fantastic moments of brilliant shot making. Lastly, and most obviously, who could forget the epic final round of the contest that capped off a phenomenal match.

All of this means it was undoubtedly the best CrokinoleCentre match of the decade.

Final Comments

Looking back at the list it does seem to provide a nice summary of the 2010s, as Cook, Slater, Beierling, Conrad were the dominant crokinole forces of the decade, and all make numerous appearances on this list.

I’ve heard numerous times, particularly at the start of the decade, that crokinole was not and would never a spectator sport. I would have this said directly to my face, and even I believed it to be true if you excluded the small pocket of hardcore enthusiasts.

However looking at this list shows there is a clear argument to the contrary to be made. Thanks to the players and tournament organizers that helped give us these 10 matches to remember for years to come.