The Ontario Singles Crokinole Championship has been a marquee event in the crokinole circuit for over 40 years, while the National Crokinole Association Tour attained prominence immediately after it was formed in 2009. Both competitions have been won by the greats of the game, and on May 6th in Elmira Josh Carrafiello joined the prestigious list of Ontario winners, while Connor Reinman joined the coveted list of NCA Tour Champions.
56 players arrived in Elmira (34 in the competitive, 22 in recreational) to compete for the Ontario title and to get one last tune-up before the World Championships. The event was the final stop on the 2022-2023 NCA Tour, and three players were in competition for the title. Connor Reinman had the lead coming into the event, as he had much of the year, and could only be surpassed by Ray Beierling (needing at least a trip to the finals) and Jason Beierling (needing a tournament victory).
Ray Beierling’s Tour hopes were dashed after the preliminary round. He scored 44 points in 10 games for 6th in his pool, knocking him into the B Pool in the afternoon. He was surpassed by Robert Bennett, Kris Flossbach, Jeremy Tracey, and Josh Carrafiello. Carrafiello grabbed the last qualifying spot from the group with 50 points, ahead of Jon Conrad’s 47.
Jason Beierling’s chances remained intact when he scored 58 points in 11 games for second in his group, behind Reinman’s tournament leading 69 points. Ray Kappas also advanced with 58 points, and was joined by Clare Kuepfer who got 50 points, just ahead of Peter Carter (49) and Reid Tracey (47).
The third competitive pool was led by Ron Langill, Nolan Tracey and Andrew Hutchinson. Tom Johnston advanced as well with 45 points in 10 games ahead of Nathan Walsh’s 42 and Jeff McKeen’s 40.
The Recreational division was also one to watch as the recreational side of the NCA Tour was up for grabs. Vuth Vann needed a strong showing to finish ahead of the emerging Grant Flick, and he was off to a good start, grabbing the top seed heading into the playoffs. Flick just missed the playoffs with 42 points in 10 games for 5th, as Julie Bonnett-Woodley scored 44 for 4th. In the semifinals though Bonnett-Woodley would defeat Vann, while Kevin Ranney defeated David Stokoe in the other semifinal. Ranney claimed the recreational division with a 10-6 win in the finals over Bonnett-Woodley. Vann would finish in 3rd place, but his 137 tour points weren’t enough, as Grant Flick scored 138 and won the 2022-2023 Recreational NCA Tour.
Shifting back to the competitive division, Mark Gallas impressed in the afternoon C pool, first defeating Ab Leitch 10-6, then defeating Bob Jones (who eliminated Darren Carr 10-8 in the other semifinal) by a score of 9-7. Ray Beierling was in fine form in the afternoon, getting the top seed in the B pool into the playoffs, and then proceeding to win 10-4 over Nathan Walsh and 10-6 over Reid Tracey. Walsh defeated Roy Campbell 10-6 for third.
The A Pool action saw an extremely large gap emerge between the playoff contenders and the rest of the field. A whopping 12 points separated Carrafiello in 4th from Clare Kuepfer in 5th. Connor Reinman earned the top seed at 70 points in 11 games, and scored 148 20s. The 20s score was almost an Ontario Championships record, good enough for 3rd all-time and just 4 20s back of Nathan Walsh’s record from 2013. Andrew Hutchinson was the second seed with 65 points, Jeremy Tracey (making his 7th top 4 appearance of the season) was the third seed with 58 points, followed by Carrafiello with 57.
With Jason Beierling finishing 7th and failing to make the playoffs, Connor Reinman’s maiden NCA Tour title was sealed, but undoubtedly he was looking to defend his 2019 Ontario Singles Championship.
Both semifinals were tight and tense affairs. Hutchinson and Tracey played a meticulous match. The decisive moment may have come when Tracey scored a 20 for Hutchinson in the final round when trailing 8-6. Tracey did fight back to level the round, but Hutchinson only needed a tie and clinched in by making his last open 20 for a 9-7 win.
While one semifinal ended with the crokinole version of an own goal, the other semifinal began with one when Reinman scored a 20 for Carrafiello in the first round. But that round would also end in a tie when Reinman made a follow-through 20 on his last shot. From 5-1 down Reinman reeled off 6 points for a 7-5 lead, and was in position to win the match in the 7th round, but a missed takeout opened the door for Carrafiello who took advantage to tie the match at 7-7, and then win it in the next round for a 9-7 match victory.
The 3rd place match saw the 2022-2023 NCA Tour nearly end as it had began, with Reinman facing Tracey in a rematch of the NCA Players Championship last June. Reinman won that match in Wilmot, and in Elmira he came back from down 8-0 to win 10-8 to finish 3rd.
That left the Ontario Championship match between two players who still actively play cues. It was Hutchinson’s 9th finals appearance in a singles event on the NCA Tour, and his first at the Ontario Singles Championship. For Carrafiello it was his first ever fingers final or top 4 appearance.
Carrafiello looked unfazed in his first-time finals appearance and was largely error-free in the early rounds. Hutchinson hadn’t found an open-20 rhythm and had a couple takeout errors that led to Carrafiello having an 8-2 lead in the race to 11. Another takeout error from Hutchinson early in the 6th round gave Carrafiello the chance to keep numerous discs in play behind the pegs, and he prevented Hutchinson from having a 20-chance for a 10-2 lead.
With his back against the wall Hutchinson’s play improved and he somewhat comfortably won the next two rounds to stay alive at 10-6. But Carrafiello won the 20-race to start round 7 and again had discs on his side of the board. Hutchinson missed two chances at a double peel to force play back into the middle, and Carrafiello clinched the match with a 12-6 victory.
The win is an impressive one for Josh Carrafiello who became the 13th different person to win the Ontario Singles Championship dating back to 1980, joining the list of crokinole legends like Dan Shantz, Leo Gaessler and Joe Fulop, and the modern-day titans of Justin Slater, Brian Cook, Ray Kappes and Connor Reinman. Carrafiello has chosen to play cues at the upcoming 2023 World Championships; the WCC schedule unfortunately robbing us of a chance to see one of the top players in the fingers division.
Connor Reiman was declared the 2022-2023 NCA Tour Champion after a very impressive season, winning three events (NCA Players, Owen Sound and Elmira) and being the only player to make the top 4 in every event played (7 in total). He becomes the 6th different winner of the NCA Tour after its 13th season.
Ray Beierling finished 2nd on the Tour, having also won three events (Ontario Doubles, US Open Doubles and Chatham) but only having a 3rd place against Reinman’s additional 2nd place finish. This is Beierling’s seventh 2nd place finish on the NCA Tour, to go along with two Tour victories.
Andrew Hutchinson rounded out the NCA Tour podium with one win (Belleville), two 2nd places (Owen Sound and Ontario Doubles) and a 3rd place (NCA Players). The 3rd place finish on the Tour is Hutchinson’s second-best Tour finish after his runner-up performance in 2019-2020.
So that concludes the 2022-2023 NCA Tour. A Tour which returned crokinole from the covid-19 slumber, and pivoted quickly to make up for missing tournaments to include 4 tournaments on the NCA Tour for the first time; in Wilmot at the NCA Players Championship, in Elmira for the Elmira Winter Classic, in Chatham for the Frosty Flick, and in Voorheesville for the US Open.
What’s next for the NCA remains to be seen. An Annual General Meeting has been called for June 14th which should shine more light on what the future holds; more info available here.
But competitive crokinole has not yet met it’s crescendo, as the World Crokinole Championships returns this year in Tavistock for its 22nd edition.