It was last-shot drama in both the men’s and women’s divisions at the Whitehorse International Bonspiel this weekend. Ice-maker Ray Mikkelsen topped the men’s tournament while Ellen Johnson, Yukon’s representative at this week’s Master’s bonspiel, won the women’s side.
Johnson needed an extra end to claim her title Sunday afternoon, besting the team skipped by Leslie Grant by a single point. The two teams traded points throughout the game until the seventh end when Johnson stole a single point, leaving Grant with the hammer in the final frame.
Faced with a clogged house, down by two, and with the game on the line, Grant threw a perfect hit and roll to tie things up in what was arguably the shot of the game.
“I know Leslie has the ability to make those kind of shots,” said Grant second Alex Kopan. “She’s a great curler.” Kopan – who was the youngest on the ice by a number of decades – came in as a spare for the Grant team, and helped drag Grant’s key shot past the corner guard. It squeaked past by mere millimetres and rolled perfectly off Johnson’s red stone to lie two, sending the upstairs audience into cheers audible from ice level, some even banging on the viewing window as if at a hockey game.
However, it was the final stone in the extra end that ultimately decided the game. Grant had shot stone half open in the four foot, prompting Johnson to throw the takeout for the win. “I was shaking. And I thought I over-threw it,” said Johnson. “I really thought I was going to miss it.”
“I would have rather won it in eight than going to the extra end. I was just thinking I’m terrified because I know I’m going to have to play a last shot.” But it was that last shot that proved her coolness under pressure and sealed the team’s win.
This was Johnson’s first championship title at the bonspiel. Curling with her were third Nancy Kowalyshen, second Ev Pasichnyk, and lead Elaine Sumner.
It wasn’t just the ladies who provided an exciting match to watch. The men’s game, being played at the same time, was just as close.
The rink consisting of skip Ray Mikkelsen, third Doug Hamilton, second Doug Gee, and lead Darrin Fredrickson eked out a win in the eighth over Bill Gryder’s team from Fairbanks.
“It was a tight game I guess,” laughed Mikkelsen, stating the obvious. “The Fairbanks team played great. There was good strategy all the way through.”
Going toe-to-toe throughout the match, Gryder stole a point in the sixth end, leaving his team up heading into the seventh. “That got us to where we needed to be,” said Gryder. “But then we let them come back on top in the seventh.”
Giving up two in the seventh, but securing the hammer, the Fairbanks skip faced a barely-there shot with the final throw of the game. His takeout attempt was a shade wide, leaving Mikkelsen’s rock an inch closer, handing the Whitehorse team the win. “It was an iffy shot,” said Gryder. “If we made the double we were going to tie at least. The question was if we were going to stay in the 12-foot and be second shot.”
Mikkelsen is no stranger to winning the International Bonspiel. He first won back in 2007 and most recently in 2013. How does he sum up such success? “You never want to curl the ice-maker,” he says jokingly.
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