PORT HARDY — One spectator watching the annual Hugh Fraser Memorial Men’s Open bonspiel Sunday called curling a game of inches.
Local skip Brad Zealand learned the margins can be even smaller.
Bidding for a two-rock pickup to force a tiebreaking extra end in the A final, Zealand sent his final takeout attempt just a fraction wide and a shade heavy, leaving his second stone just beyond the counter of rival skip Ray Michell of Courtenay.
“It was close,” said Michell, holding his thumb and forefinger about a centimetre apart. “Real close.”
Michell’s 6-5 victory prevented a third straight victory by Zealand, who has become a fixture here with four trips to the A final and three championships in the last five years at Fort Rupert Curling Club.
“It was just missed opportunities,” said Zealand, who was teamed with lead Tim Renaud, brother Shaun Zealand as second and Andrew Smith as third. “It was a good game, though. Probably our best game in three years.”
The turning point came in the fourth end. Zealand, trailing 4-3, had four counters arranged in the house before Michell found a narrow lane through the guard to take out Zealand’s shot rock.
With his hammer, Zealand had the same path available for a takeout and a four-stone pickup, but his rock rubbed an outlying guard and gave Michell a one-point steal.
“We had our chances,” said Smith, who curled with Zealand when the rink won A titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010. “That four-point to one-point swing was huge.”
Michell curled with lead Doug LaPointe, Jade Jensen and John LaPointe.
The event drew 24 teams from the North Island, Campbell River and Courtenay, and the quality of competition was evident in a finals round that saw all four matches go the full eight ends. The B, C and D finals were all won by rinks from the local Fort Rupert Club.
Doug McCorquodale snared the B final by crafting a 7-4 lead over Courtenay’s Rod May and forcing handshakes when May ran out of stones in the eighth end. McCorquodale was teamed with Karl Wilson, Hank Bood and Colin Hunko; May’s rink included Buck Briggs, Dave Odamura and Stu Larson.
Barry Evans built a big early lead, then hung on for a 7-5 win over Blair Dodd, a visitor from Manitoba who skipped the rink of Port Hardy curlers Dean Hunchuk, Mike McCulley and Dave Schmidt.
Evans, grouped with fellow firefighters Luke Wiggins, Jason Ellington and Earl Evans, made it to the C final by besting Tasos Baroutis and his Port McNeill firefighting crew in the C semifinals
“We burned them,” Evans joked of the match for fire hall bragging rights.
The Wayne Ellis rink, skipped by John Maday, won the D final 7-5 over Port McNeill’s Mike Balcke, but secured the clinching point on Maday’s final rock with a shot every bit as close as the one that decided Zealand’s A final.
The Ellis rink was rounded out by Mickey Walker and Gary Nicholson. Balcke, who faced Zealand in the 2010 A final, was joined by Kevin Polkinghorn, Marlo Leblanc and Lee Mitchell.