There was excited chatter when Dale Henry published a list of abbreviated names registered for the 9th Turtle Island Crokinole Championship. Included in it was “Brian C” which was quickly deduced to be the 4-time World Champion Brian Cook, who last played an NCA event in 2015, but has continued his spectacular chronicles in crokinole with prestigious titles in Hungary and the UK since then.
Some players strategically altered their morning practice, eagerly occupying the seat opposite Cook when it opened up in order to get some warm-up games against him and scout his quality and style of play. While Cook is an established player, the local crokinole scene has changed enough that the majority of players in attendance had never played against him. Among them were pre-tournament favourites Connor Reinman and Andrew Hutchinson, and there was a great deal of interest among the crowd regarding how Cook’s level would compare to the recent World Championship finalists.
Dale Henry began the day welcoming the crokinole crowd of 43 strong back to the Tuscarora Nation House for the first time since 2019. He took time as well to note the passing of Chief Leo Henry, and his mother Carolyn “Care” Henry, who had both enthusiastically attended all eight previous editions of the tournament. Throughout the day funds were raised for cancer research, most notably with an engraved crokinole disc, and donated to the Center for Indigenous Cancer Research at Roswell Park.
The competitive division had 24 players, and it was a pretty strong field with only room for 8 in the afternoon A group. Ray Beierling had the top score of 63 points in 10 games, one ahead of Reinman and Hutchinson. Walsh scored the most 20s with 110, and finished with 53 points for 5th, behind Jeremy Tracey and ahead of Travis Keener.
Simon Dowrick scored 50 points for 7th; his score boosted by an 8-0 win he recorded against Brian Cook. But that didn’t stop Cook for taking the final spot in group A, with 48 points and 94 20s, just ahead of Jason Beierling’s 48 points and 81 20s. Cook and Jason Beierling met in the preliminary round and drew their game 4-4 as well, showing the margins for the cut-off of the top group were precariously slim.
To remain in contention for the tournament victory the players had to finish in the top 4 of the 8 player group A, so the common line of thinking was that an even score of 28 points would be right around the cut-off for the playoffs.
Hutchinson had a tremendous start and found himself at 28 points after only 5 of the 7 games. In those first 5 games he even had a 0-8 loss to Ray Beierling, but was buoyed by 8-0 wins over Reinman and Dowrick, and a 7-1 win over Tracey. He would finish first in the group with 38 points.
Ray Beierling lost his opening game to Travis Keener 6-2, but rebounded with that aforementioned win against Hutchinson. With 28 points going into the final game he cemented his playoff spot with an 8-0 win against Jeremy Tracey.
Brian Cook had a steady round and sat 4th or 5th in the standings throughout the entirety of the round. A final 4-4 draw against Hutchinson would give him 30 points for 3rd place.
The final playoff position came down to the last game with Reinman having the edge at 27 points, Tracey sitting right behind at 26, and Walsh further back at 22 points thanks to an 0-8 loss at the hands of Tracey. Ray Beierling eliminated Tracey with an 8-0 win in the last game, and Reinman almost met the same fate as he trailed Walsh 0-6, but Reinman got the final 2 points to finish with 29 points to Walsh’s 28 for the 4th playoff entry.
That setup semifinals that were rematches of the 2011 and 2023 World Championships, and in both cases the winners would repeat in Tuscarora. Ray Beierling trailed Brian Cook 2-6 in the race to 9 points, but started to chain open 20s together at the precise moment when Cook struggled make any open 20s, leading to a comeback 10-6 win for Beierling.
The Hutchinson vs Reinman semifinal was tense throughout. At 4-4 there was a late round 20 race, with Hutchinson missing the hammer open 20 shot to go down 4-6. Immediately after another late round 20 race saw Hutchinson miss his final shot as well, but Reinman botched a relatively routine takeout to instead tie the round to make the score 7-5, rather than a commanding 8-4. Hutchinson pushed the match to 7-7, but Reinman prevailed in the last round for a 9-7 win.
The championship game had a couple nice shots, but lacked the suspense and entertainment of the semifinals. Reinman had found his groove in 20s and was scoring comfortably. Beierling was also racking up a good number but couldn’t get his foot in the door and trailed 8-0. Beierling did prevent a shutout, but ultimately lost 10-2 as Reinman defended his 2019 Turtle Island victory and picked up his 7th NCA tournament win.