It came down to last rock.
After a three-hour epic that went to an extra end, Nanaimo, BC’s Waatainen rink came away with the $10,000 first-place prize at the Skookum World Curling Tour Cashspiel this weekend at the Whitehorse Curling Club.
It was Sexsmith, Alberta’s, Ron Chrenek who came up short with the hammer in the extra end, after controlling most of the game.
Skip Steve Waatainen said his team struggled a bit early in the final, but he orchestrated a comeback from a 3-0 deficit, to tie the game by stealing a point in the eighth end for a 5-4 win.
“I think we were throwing quite well, but we weren’t getting breaks like we were in our last game,” said Waatainen after the win.
Waatainen said that there were noticeable changes in the ice on Sunday, calling it “a little wonky,” for the semis and the final, and that “a rock that should curl four feet was only getting about six inches.”
The Nanaimo rink eliminated defending champ Randy Ferbey’s rink in the semi-finals.
“Everything seemed to go our way against Ferbey, and they had some bad breaks as well, but hey, that’s curling.”
Waatainen’s rink suffered a rocky start to the tournament, which had Ferbey, a five-time world champion, and Rick Folk, also a world champ, in the draw.
“We started off pretty slow, we lost the first two, and had to win the next three just to qualify,” said Waatainen.
“By the last game of the round-robin, we started to click, and it just got better.”
In fact, its first game was against Ferbey, and they lost.
“Whenever we lose against a team, we always seem to pay them back,” said Jeff MacPheat, Waatainen’s third.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the payback, in the semis against the defending champ.
“Well, it’s nerve-wracking,” said MacPheat, when asked about squaring off against a curling legend like Ferbey. “The more you play them, the more you understand that anybody can win out there, anything can happen. Our team, we’re grinders, we don’t give up — we knew we had a chance coming in here.”
MacPheat, who grew up in Ross River, and went to the junior nationals for the Yukon at 15 with Chad Cowan’s rink, had a bit of a hometown crowd cheering him on this weekend.
“I think it’s great, I always wanted to come back up here to curl,” he said. “Last year, when I heard they were hosting an event, I went to my team and said, “Let’s go, let’s go,” — but we’d already committed to Seattle at that time.”
Waatainen’s rink plans to return next year to defend its title, and following a four-year plan to make it to the Vancouver Olympics.
The emergence of a real competition speaks to the growing cachet that the Whitehorse event is starting to attract.
The draw of 18 teams included eight teams from outside the territory.
“Initially, we had to lure Ferbey up here last year — and he didn’t bring his full team,” said James Buyck, one of the Cashspiel organizers.
“This time, it didn’t take much to convince his teammates to come up as well. The word got out.”
“In the grand scheme of things, the curling community is quite small and when you have a good event, word of mouth goes a long way,” added Buyck. “That’s our whole goal, to get real competitive curling here, not just for the viewership, but to give our local curlers the competition to get better as well.”
Skookum World Curling Tour Cashspiel
1st Team Waatainen, Nanaimo, BC — $10,000
2nd Team Chrenek, Sexsmith Alberta Ú $6,000
3rd Team Ferbey, Edmonton, Alberta — $3,500
4th Team Thomas, Calgary, Alberta — $3,500
5th Team Folk, Kelowna, BC — $1,750
6th Team Solberg, Whitehorse, Yukon — $1,750
7th Team Fraser, Whitehorse, Yukon — $1,750
8th Team Cowan, Whitehorse, Yukon — $1,750