(By Rob Neff and Sarah Mendek)…..Can anyone derail Team Alberta? With an overall record of 10-1, Bruno Yizek’s rink has been the class of the field in this week’s Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships. Three time finalists, but never champions, and with plenty of experience right through their lineup, Alberta will bring a wealth of poise and determination to this game. Saskatchewan’s Gil Bender also enters the final with a skilled team…and a hot hand. Coming off a dominating performance against Ontario in this morning’s semi-final, Saskatchewan is poised to give Alberta a real run for its money. Only one thing is certain. With defending champion Manitoba missing the playoffs, there will be a new Canadian Wheelchair Curling Champion this year.
Alberta got off to a strong start, set up by a brilliant hit and roll by Gil Dash. With two Saskatchewan rocks in the house, and six guards clogging the top of the rings, Bruno Yizek sailed through the house on his first throw. After Bender added another guard, Yizek attempted to clear Saskatchewan’s second shot rock from the edge of the rings. His stone narrowly missed, giving Saskatchewan a steal of two for a quick lead.
With Alberta laying two high along the centre line, Saskatchewan second Marie Wright’s hit cut the deficit to one and created a raise opportunity. Dash did the job, although one of the stones rolled out in the process. Jack Smart’s hit and roll slipped behind cover and sat shot for Alberta. Bender bumped it back to sit shot himself. Yizek followed with a nose hit to leave Alberta laying two. Bender wrecked on a guard. With no enemy stones in play, Yizek drew into the house to come back with a big three and take the lead after two.
Martin Purvis promoted an Alberta stone into the rings with a cluster of granite atop the house. Jack Smart bumped up another. Yizek pumped another rock into the top of the house to sit three. Bender shaved a guard to draw in and tie it up 3-3.
Saskatchewan’s Marie Wright christened the rings with a perfect hit and roll that settled in the four-foot behind a guard. Dash placed a second guard, but Smart picked the shot rock out to lie two. Bender played a nice shot to split the Alberta stones. Yizek responded with a takeout of his own to sit shot. Bender caught just a piece of the shot rock, allowing Yikek to draw for a deuce. Alberta leads 5-5.
The fifth end was a fairly open affair. With Alberta sitting two at the back, Bender drew to the edge of the eight to lie shot. Yizek’s takeout tracked straight and missed its target. Bender’s delicate draw produced a deuce and knotted the game 5-5.
The teams blanked the sixth end, so Alberta retained the hammer into the seventh.
Alberta third Jack Smart drew a beauty into a wide open house. His counterpart Gil Dash pumped it out. Smart returned the favour but rolled out, creating a wide open house for skip rocks. Bender drew to the edge of the four. Yizek did him one better, catching the full four. Alberta took a one-point lead, but surrendered the hammer.
In the eighth end, Anne Hibberd tapped her own rock gently into the 12-foot. Purvis advanced it a bit further. Smart’s nose hit took over shot spot, with a fair bit of protection. Dash hit and rolled out, once again leaving an open house for the skips. Yizek ticked a guard, but came to rest at the edge of the four-foot. Bender’s first attempt hung up on a guard. Another guard by Yizek left the Saskatchewan skip little to shoot at, forcing a tough draw attempt to the four-foot to save the game. And what a shot Bender made! His high pressure draw to the button tied the game 6-6, forcing an extra end.
In the suspenseful extra frame, Wright’s double raise take out got Saskatchewan out of early trouble. Dash neatly tapped a Saskatchewan stone to the button. Smart narrowly missed his double attempt, leaving Saskatchewan still sitting one. Bender placed a long guard. Yizek’s attempted raise through a miniscule hole just grazed the shot rock, allowing Bender to set a guard, eliminating the angle raise opportunity and making things extremely dicey for the Alberta skip’s final shot. A mischievous guard snagged Yizek’s valiant last shot effort.
Saskatchewan wins 7-6 in dramatic fashion and claims its first ever Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship.
Congratulations to the Callie Curling Club in Regina and skip Darwin Bender, third Gil Dash, second Marie Wright, lead Larry Schrader and coaches Lorraine Arguin & Bob Capp!