(by Rob Neff and Sarah Mendek)…..Darwin Bender’s Team Saskatchewan (4-2) from Regina’s Callie Curling Club is in serious playoff contention. With wins over Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia already under its belt, Saskatchewan is brimming with confidence.
This Prairie matchup was potentially one of the best games of the day. A standing room only crowd jammed the Fort William Curling Club for Wednesday night’s evening. With three teams (Northern Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba) deadlocked atop the standings, the atmosphere in the FWC C was truly electric.
In the feature game’s first end, a costly Manitoba takeout of its own rock left Saskatchewan laying three. A couple of Darwin Bender draws upped the count to five, but Dennis Thiessen hit his own rock and stuck at the edge of the four-foot for second shot. Manitoba averts disaster, but Saskatchewan steals a point.
Staring at Manitoba rocks at ten and six o’clock in the 12-foot in end #2, Bender picked off one, losing his shooter in the process. Thiessen’s draw just kissed the 12-foot at the top of the house, but Bender inadvertently nudged it deeper under cover. Hammer in hand, Thiessen jumped all over the Saskatchewan miscue, drawing to the four-foot to count three.
A terrific double takeout by Manitoba’s Dryden-born Mark Wherrett highlighted the third end. However, Saskatchewan’s Bender upstaged that on his last shot. His tough hit and roll cashed a pair for Saskatchewan, knotting the game 3-3.
The fourth end featured a cluster of rocks littering the front of the house. Bender slipped around the traffic jam to grab a piece of the button. With nothing to shoot at, Manitoba was concedes a single point.
A couple of guards from Larry Schrader threatened to complicate the fifth end for Manitoba, but a double takeout by George Horning made short work of them. A Manitoba rock on the button behind four long centre line covers proved untouchable. Manitoba scores a single to tie the game 4-4.
In the sixth, Bender threaded the needle to replace Manitoba’s shot rock. Thiessen was wide on his takeout try. Saskatchewan regains the lead 5-4.
As advertised, this game was providing plenty of drama. In the critical eighth end, Thiessen faced perhaps the shot of the tournament so far. Leading by a single point, Saskatchewan sat in the shot position, surrounded by four Manitoba shots all in the house. Thiessen settled for his final shot with the game on the line. His shot slid wide of the mark, and Saskatchewan picked up a key win 7-4.
“Everyone was just hoping on that last shot,” said Saskatchewan vice Gil Dash. “Everyone was full of nerves. It was a great, hard fought game.”
Perhaps the most gripping game of the evening featured Northern Ontario and winless Novas Scotia. Trailing 5-0, Northern Ontario pulled off a spectacular five-ender capped by a wonderful Carl Levesque hit and stick on his final shot. Nova Scotia recovered, however, and shocked Northern Ontario 8-7.
Alberta took over sole possession of top spot, stopping the Northern Ontario Host Team 12-3.
Ontario held off a furious British Columbia comeback to win 8-7 and dampen B.C.’s fading playoff hopes, while Quebec blanked Newfoundland & Labrador 7-0.
The tournament continues to offer unexpected twists and turns. So far, the level of play has truly testified to high calibre of Canada’s wheelchair curlers.
Round robin play continues until the final draw Friday morning, March 23. The top four teams will advance to the Page Playoff with the championship final scheduled for 2:30 pm EST on Sunday, March 25.