PORT HARDY—To get an idea of the regard in which the Hugh Fraser Memorial Bonspiel is held, consider the view of Courtenay skip Craig Bernes.
“It just gets better and better,” said Bernes, a longtime participant who returned the the annual Fort Rupert Curling Club men’s open spiel after a couple years away. “This was better than the last one I came to, and that was pretty darn good.”
And these comments came after Bernes was swept away by Port McNeill’s Mike Balcke in the D Final Sunday.
The hospitality that so impressed Bernes brought no fewer than 10 rinks from down-Island to the 24-team bonspiel, the largest on the North Island.
One of those visitors, Ray Michell of the Campell River Curling Club, claimed his second straight Hugh Fraser Memorial title by outdueling Port McNeill’s Rob Conley in Sunday’s A final.
A year ago, Michell battled three-time champion Brad Zealand of Port Hardy down to the wire for his first win, and had to get past Zealand again in an epic semifinal match to earn a spot opposite Conley.
“I love coming up for this one,” said Michell.
“It’s a great spiel, and Doug (McCorquodale) puts in a lot of work.”
Conley’s fun ran out Sunday afternoon after he and regular rinkmates Marlo Leblanc, Bill Geisler and Mike Gossen rolled through the competition all weekend.
The A final was a closely contested affair, which produced two blank ends and five of the remaining six ends offering just a single point. But Michell grabbed a three-stone pickup in the fourth end, and that provided the difference as Conley ran out of rocks trailing 5-2 in the eighth and final end.
Once he had his lead Michell was content to play conservatively, clearing stones from the house to prevent a big pickup by Conley.
“That three-point end was the key,” Conley admitted. “Otherwise, it was a close match.”
The B final was even closer, with Port Hardy’s McCorquodale surviving a narrow miss-hit by Campbell River’s Tom Veary on the final skip’s stone for a 6-4 win. After overcoming a 4-1 deficit through four ends and taking a 5-4 lead by stealing a point in the seventh, McCorquodale had shot rock guarded by a Veary stone, leaving the veteran skip with a double-tap for a takeout.
But Veary’s deflection narrowly missed McCorquodale’s stone and spared him a tiebreaking extra end.
The C final pitted two visiting teams, with Rick Cowles topping fellow Courtenay skip Tom Green.