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Playoff berths on the line at Juniors

Several games Thursday morning at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Curling Championships had major playoff implications for the teams involved, and when the dust had settled, there were some surprising developments.

First off, the traditional Northern Ontario-Ontario battle was front and centre at the Strathcona Paper Centre.

Northern Ontario Skip Kendra Lilly (photo: Mike Fitzpatrick)

In women’s, Northern Ontario (Kendra Lilly of Sudbury) put a dagger in the playoff aspirations of Ontario (Jamie Sinclair of Manotick), winning 10-8. For Lilly, the third place finisher at the Juniors in 2010 in Sorel-Tracy, it was her fourth win in her last five outings after opening the championship by losing her first five contests.

Sinclair, whose team entered today’s battle with a 5-4 record, now falls to 5-5.

Meanwhile, Manitoba (Shannon Birchard of Winnipeg) took over first place after edging Quebec (Roxane Perron of Ste-Foy), 11-9 in a shootout. The victory moved the Bisons to 8-2, while idle Alberta (Jocelyn Peterman of Red Deer) and British Columbia (Kesa Van Osch of Nanaimo) sit at 7-2.

Manitoba women sweepers (photo: Mike Fitzpatrick)

“It was good that we were able to come back in that game. We had that one bad sixth end (giving up four) but picked ourselves up after that one,” said the 17-year-old Birchard, who throws third rocks, while Selena Kaatz fires fourth stones. “We figured that out at the beginning of the year (throwing order). This is a new team. I came on to the team this year. Selena and Kristin (second MacCuish) have played together so we kept it that way (with Kaatz throwing fourth stones).

“We’ve got a big one against BC tonight. That’s a must win. We pretty much have to win out the rest of the round robin (to secure first place and a bye to the final).”

In other women’s games, Prince Edward Island (Sarah Fullerton of Cornwall) put a major crimp in Nova Scotia’s playoff plans, defeating the Emily Dwyer team from Halifax, 6-4. Nova Scotia dropped to 6-4, while Prince Edward Island evened its record at 5-5.

And, in a traditional ‘Super Bowl’ battle between Northwest Territories (Taryn Williams of Yellowknife) and Yukon (Sarah Koltun of Whitehorse), it was the Territories which emerged victorious, 8-3. Williams improved to 2-8, while Koltun slid to 4-5.

In men’s, Northern Ontario’s Brennan Wark of Thunder Bay dodged a bullet when his team stole two in an extra end to beat Ontario (Brett DeKoning of Omemee), 6-4. DeKoning was a little heavy with his last draw while looking at two Northern Ontario counters, rubbing off one in the back four for the crucial loss, which dropped his squad to 5-5.

Wark, though, improved to 7-3 and is still very much in the centre of the playoff hunt, tied with Nova Scotia for third but behind leader Alberta and second place Manitoba.

“(In the extra) I put mine (last rock) a little deep, so we gave him an opportunity for the draw, but I guess he was just a bit heavy,” said Wark, who could only count one in the 10th end to tie it, a last rock draw to the button with backing, while facing a host of rocks in the rings. “But it was a good game, everybody played well. It came right down to the last rock.

“(In the 10th), we were trying to get our two, keeping a lot of rocks in play, use them for backing. We weren’t playing too many takeouts, but we at least got a single (to force the extra).

“Keep fighting. We know we have to win our next two. Can’t afford another loss,” continued Wark, who will meet Newfoundland/Labrador later today, then close out against New Brunswick on Friday.

Alberta (Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton) had a morning bye, but is now alone in first place with an 8-1 record, after Manitoba (Kyle Doering of Winnipeg) dropped a 7-6 decision to Quebec (Félix Asselin of Montreal).

Manitoba thus fell to second place with an 8-2 mark, while Quebec kept its slim playoff hopes alive, improving to 6-4.

Nova Scotia (Stuart Thompson of Halifax) kept pace with an 8-6 win over Prince Edward Island (Alex Matters of Charlottetown) to improve to 7-3, and will face Ontario and British Columbia in its remaining round robin games.

Yukon (Thomas Scoffin of Whitehorse) improved to 6-3 with an extra end, 10-8 win over Northwest Territories (Daniel Murray of Yellowknife). For the 17-year-old Scoffin, making a record-tying sixth appearance as skip, it was also his best Juniors record yet. In 2010 and 2011, his team finished 5-7. However, on the horizon for Yukon are Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba.

Round robin play continues at both the Strathcona Paper Centre and Napanee & District Curling Club with draws a 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm.