Four-time Brier champ Kevin Martin first competed in Whitehorse in the 1999 Skins game. And he lost.
Wayne Middaugh’s rink beat him in the finals on the final rock.
Sunday, on the same sheet at the Whitehorse Curling Club, the Olympic silver medalist finally won here.
He led his rink through a hard fought battle to a 7-4 win over Team Geall in the finals of the Skookum World Curling Tour Cash Spiel.
Fresh off the ice from the tight match, the finalist skips had more to say about the facilities and the treatment they received in Whitehorse than the match.
“Whitehorse looked after us big time,” said Martin. “The volunteer group just bent over backwards. There’s tons of drivers, tons of volunteers, anything you needed was looked after – it was just really well done from the player’s point of view.
“I wanted everyone to know that. It doesn’t happen at all events.”
“This is my first time up here and we’ll be coming back – this is a nice place,” said Team Geall skip, Sean Geall. “The ice was excellent. This might be the nicest curling club I’ve ever seen; this is one excellent facility.
“This facility is awesome, the volunteers were awesome and it’s just a top-notch event.”
Up 5-4 in the seventh end with the hammer, Martin made a double take out, leaving two of his rocks on the eight-foot ring. Geall then slid one behind a Martin rock to use it as a blocker before Martin tapped his own rock to score two. Team Martin then ran Geall out of rocks in the eighth end for the win.
“They’re the best team in the world – if you don’t play your best, you’re not going to beat them,” said Geall, who’s team is up from New Westminster, BC. “My team played very well, but I didn’t play as well as I could have and I think if I played well it could have been a better game and there’s a good chance we might have won.”
Team Martin was undefeated in the round-robin section of the tournament, but had a close match against local rink Team Smallwood, who’s skip, Bob Smallwood, Martin beat in the 1995 Brier.
“I hadn’t seen those guys since, and we had a pretty cool game that came down to within six inches,” said Martin. “It’s fun to have a good game against a couple guys you’ve played against years prior.”
Of the nine local rinks entered in the spiel, Team Cowan had the most success, finishing second in their pool with a loss to last year’s champs Team Schille out of Calgary and making it into the playoffs, the only local rink to do so.
“We played well overall, it was just that one game against Schille that wasn’t outstanding,” said Team Cowan skip, Chad Cowan.
Cowan’s team was without its usual lead, Wade Scoffin, who was away competing at the Mixed Nationals in Burlington, Ontario, so he invited Ross Milward from Lillooet, BC, to fill the position, who has twice gone to the Brier with Cowan.
Team Cowan lost in the first round of the playoffs 8-4 to Gaell, who closed out the match scoring three in the eighth end.
“Playing the local rinks is a blast,” said Geall. “They’re out here competing like the rest of us. Obviously they don’t have the opportunity to travel and play top teams all the time and that’s probably the big difference.”
Martin advanced to the finals with a 7-3 win over Team Bilesky from Richmond, BC. Team Geall thumped Edmonton’s Team Koe 6-1 to gain entry to the finals.
When deciding which events to attend back in January, Martin explained that with the Olympic trials beginning just over a week from now, and being aware of the top-level surfaces the club’s ice technician Doug Gee produces, the ice was the deciding factor.
“As long as it works with the schedule,” said Martin. “There were a couple other events, but not as good as this one. You want to come where the ice is good, that makes a big difference, the surface being good, so that’s what made our decision.
“When the ice is that good, we want to play well and get sharp before we go to the Olympic trials in Edmonton in 10 days,” he added.
The Cash Spiel, which gave away $50,000 in cash prizes for the second year in a row, had a total of 24 competing, with rinks from as far away as Inuvik and San Francisco.
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