Toronto veteran Wayne Middaugh and Amber Holland of Kronau, SK., skipped their teams to final berths in the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials with last-ditch qualifying victories on Saturday night at the Road to the Roar Pre-Trials, presented by Monsanto.
Middaugh hit for a first-end deuce, added another in the third and another in the seventh to assume a 6-2 lead against Bob Ursel of Kelowna.
Ursel, with Jim Cotter throwing last rocks, found their offence completely shut down by the Middaugh team that included third Jon Mead, a member of Jeff Stoughton’s Trials runner-up team four years ago at Halifax, second John Epping and lead Scott Bailey.
Middaugh shot 95 per cent in the match and was unbeatable.
“We looked at the draw to see who could play the most games and saw it was us,” he quipped.
“I would have been happier to go home like (A qualifier) Jeff (Stoughton) but I said to my players, ‘you know, we haven’t played a lot this year and the more we played the better we got, so let’s go’.”
The Port Carling, Ontario golf manager’s invincibility ruled the day. Ursel fired 61 per cent and labelled it “the worst game I’ve curled in memory”. As Ursel throws third rocks, it made it tougher on last-rock shooter Jim Cotter, who shot 86 per cent.
Middaugh didn’t miss a fraction of a shot until the ninth end.
“I talked to Glenn (Howard) and he said, ‘you know, it might make a big difference in the first couple of games’ (at Edmonton), having played with these rocks,” said Middaugh.
“I feel outstanding but it’s more a testament to my team. It was a long road this week, we’ve been here seven days, but we got it rolling at the right time and maybe we’ll get this team peaking in Edmonton.”
Holland whipped Marie-France Larouche of St-Romuald, QC, 7-3 in a battle of former national junior champions for the last Trials berth.
The turnaround in the game arrived in the second end when Larouche, trailing by one, was nailed with a hogline violation on her last stone. The shot was made for a deuce but when it was nullified, Holland benefited by the steal of two for a 3-0 lead.
Larouche never recovered.
“I don’t think we played very well this week but we had a chance today and we lost that chance,” said the 1999 national junior champ. “And I know we had to play better here to win this game. I don’t ever remember a hogline violation since junior days. But I’m the only person to blame. She (Holland) played well and deserves to be in this. I’m happy for her but . . . ”
The amiable Holland, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Curling Association, admitted the hogline call was huge.
“Fortunate for us and unfortunate for them but it’s part of the game,” she said. “It’s a hard turnaround, tough to mentally come back from something like that. I don’t really believe she believed she was over the hog.”
Meanwhile, Holland and her team of Kim and Tammy Schneider, and Heather Kalenchuk, a lineup intact for four years, hopes to be a force at the Trials.
“We may not be as experienced as some,” said Holland, the 1992 national junior champ. “I haven’t played in the trials since 2001. I think I’m more prepared now.”
Middaugh earlier defeated Jean-Michel Menard 8-7 in overtime to reach the final. Ursel won his semi-final over Ted Appelman of Edmonton on Friday.
“I think playing this morning helped us,” said Middaugh. “The ice was close to a foot straighter than what we saw earlier in the week and that might have given us an advantage on Bobby the first couple of ends.”
Middaugh was an alternate in the 2005 Trials at Halifax. He last skipped a trials contender in 2001.