Tuesday 16 June 2015

Slater Wins Second World Crokinole Championship

Justin Slater, 2015 World Crokinole Champion,
posing with the World Champion signature board.
It seemed like old times for Justin Slater, which seems hard to say for a 22-year-old. Fresh off an NCA Tour victory in early May, and facing a long-time rival in the finals, Justin Slater rekindled the ice cool precision of 2010 to win his second World Crokinole Championship title.

The 17th annual World Crokinole Championship came with great anticipation, that included more crokinole squeezed into shorter day. More importantly, anticipation for the event rose through a couple stories such as CTV’s Marek Sutherland paying a visit, and the intriguing story of a Brooklyn duo that would later become the two crowd favourites despite being newcomers to the WCC. (more on that below)

The doubles preliminary round changed slightly this year with the addition of two more games in the preliminary round, to bring the total to 8. The change was significant enough to see a 3 point difference from 6th to 7th place for the cutoff of the A group playoffs, in what is normally a log-jam. The following teams made it through to the coveted top 6 playoffs:

1. 53 pts, 74 20s - Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh (2nd straight top 6 finish)
2. 52 pts, 80 20s - Ray Beierling and Jason Beierling (3rd straight and 12th overall top 6 finish)
3. 52 pts, 78 20s - Jon Conrad and Tony Snyder (3rd top 6 finish as a team)
4. 50 pts, 64 20s - Rex Johnston and Tom Johnston (3rd top 6 finish)
5. 49 pts, 65 20s - Paul Brubacher and Roy Campbell (1st top 6 finish)
6. 46 pts, 58 20s - Fred Slater and Justin Slater (5th straight and 6th overall top 6 finish)

Photo Credit: Bill Gladding/Tavistock Gazette
As mentioned, there was a bit of a gap until the 7th place team of Matt and Dave Brown, who failed to make it their 4th top 6 appearance after earning 43 points through 8 games. Also joining them in the consolation playoffs were Dave Meijer and Kevin Brooks (42 points), Bob and Robert Mader (41), Ray Kappes and Kevin Bechtel (39), Brian Simpson and Roger Vaillancourt (39), and the PEI team of Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea (39).

Before the doubles playoffs began, the World Championship competitors were introduced to Gregory Pinel, one of the aforementioned Brooklyn duo. He told the story of how, even as a Canadian, he learned about crokinole when he moved to the US. Not only did he quickly find the same passion many of us share for crokinole, he is planning to incorporate it into his ambitious after-school programs that serve students of under-funded schools in the New York area. If you are interested it is highly recommended to read more about his story.

As mentioned by Pinel in his letter, he and partner Tommaso Mazzoni, had their sights set on championship performances. They played great in their first ever WCC tournament, but fell just short of the playoffs with 38 points.

2015 World Crokinole Doubles Champions
Tony Snyder and Jon Conrad
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding, WCC
The consolation playoffs were won by Bob and Robert Mader, followed by Dave and Matt Brown and Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea. In the A group playoffs, Justin and Fred Slater saw their two-year run as World Doubles Champions end as they finished 4th with 21 points. In the crowded finish for the top prize, Rex and Tom Johnston equalled their best ever finish at 3rd place, with 24 points. Also at 24 points, but with a win through the tiebreaker, Ray and Jason Beierling grabbed 2nd.

For the third year in a row, it took 25 points to win the doubles title, which was reclaimed by Jon Conrad and Tony Snyder. Since teaming up in 2012, Conrad/Snyder have won twice and finished 2nd once. The two had played with a few different partners previously, but this win gives Jon Conrad his 4th Doubles title (with Paul Hartman in 2003 and 2005), and Tony Snyder (with Jarmo Puiras in 2004) his 3rd.

After doubles play wrapped up, CrokinoleCentre was able to interview a couple of players for their thoughts on the doubles event. 

Photo Credit: Bill Gladding, WCC
After a short break, play began again for the singles. This time all singles events ran concurrently, with a world record of 100 boards in use simultaneously.

The competitive singles portion saw 82 players battling for a spot in the top 16 playoffs, along with a few others who had hopes of scoring the most 20s in the preliminary round. The top 3 spots were grabbed by Jon Conrad (67 points out of a possible 80), Ray Beierling (65) and Matt Brown (64). There was decent gap until the crowd appeared to fill out the rest of the top 16. That group included Gregory Pinel, who finished 4th at 58 points. He and Wilfred Smith of PEI were the only 2 non-Ontario players to make the top 16. (For the data we have from the World Crokinole Championships, that may in fact be a record, as previous years had as many as 1 single player from outside of Ontario in the top 16.)

2015 World Crokinole 20s Champion - Ray Beierling
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding, WCC
Roger Vaillancourt was the unlucky 17th place finisher. He was involved in a 3-way tie with Ezra Jantzi and Rob Mader at 52 points, but their 20s scores of 74 and 67, beat his score of 54.

Speaking of 20s, the 20s scoring was relatively low in comparison to previous years. In 2014, 6 players scored more than 90 20s in the 10-game preliminary round, meanwhile in 2015 only one player scored more than 90. Justin Slater was the runner-up in this category scoring 88 20s, ahead of Jon Conrad and Ray Kappes at 82 and 81 respectively. But while the field was scoring lower, Ray Beierling was performing just as he had hoped (as indicated in the above interview), earning 116 on his way to a record-extending 5th 20s title.

Also awarded through the preliminary round was the title of Women’s World Crokinole Champion, this year with prizes being given to the top 3 finishers.

Cathy Kuepfer was able to finish 3rd, while Kathy Geris grabbed 2nd place. Beverly Vaillancourt once again came out on top, with 42 points, to claim the title for the 3rd-straight year.

So the play shifted to the top 16 playoffs as players were split into the following pools:
Pool A
Jon Conrad (2012 and 2013 World Champion)
Matt Brown (2014 4th place finisher)
Justin Slater (2010 Champion, 2012 and 2014 runner-up)
Robert Bonnett (3rd straight top 16 finish)
Paul Brubacher (2011 3rd place finisher)
Jason Beierling (2006 Champion, 2002 runner-up)
Wilfred Smith (PEI champion, first top 16 finish)
Ezra Jantzi (2nd straight top 16 finish)

Pool B
Raymond Beierling (2011 Champion, 7 top 4 finishes)
Gregory Pinel (first ever WCC appearance)
John Harvey (5th top 16 finish in last 7 years)
Roy Campbell (2nd top 16 finish)
Raymond Kappes (2003 Champion)
Nathan Walsh (2009 runner-up, 2014 3rd)
Rex Johnston (2nd top 16 finish in last 4 years)
Robert Mader (2008 3rd place finisher)

In Pool A, Justin Slater rolled to the top spot, earning 40 points in the 7-game round robin. Robert Bonnett would take the other qualifying spot, barely nudging out Jon Conrad with 33 points to Conrad’s 31.

In Pool B, Ray Beierling also took the top spot by a decent margin with 41 points. Roy Cambell finished second with 36, similarly edging Robert Mader who had 34 points.

So the top 4 was set with a pair of one-time World Champions, and a pair of newcomers to the top 4.

In the first game of the Round of 4 playoffs, Ray Beierling and Justin Slater were dominant, winning 8-0 and 7-1 respectively.

The script changed in game 2, as Roy Campbell beat Ray Beierling 6-2, and Robert Bonnett was deadly in 20 shooting to win 5-3 over Justin Slater.
Top 4 Playoffs: Roy Campbell faces a relaxed Justin Slater

The final game of the round pitted Beierling against Slater, who played to an electrifying 5-3 win for Slater, including a perfect round of 8 20s each for Beierling and Slater. 

With Slater comfortably into the finals at 15 points, and Beierling at 13, there was a chance for Bonnett and Campbell to narrowly grab the other spot in the final. But the two played to a tight 4-4 draw, setting the 2015 World Crokinole Championship final as Justin Slater against Ray Beierling.

In the 3rd-place game, Roy Campbell used an impressive display of defensive crokinole to beat out Robert Bonnett, winning 6-4, 6-4.

The Slater/Beierling final was a very fitting finish considering the 2014-2015 National Crokinole Association Tour. The two of them not only finished 1st and 2nd in the overall Tour, but they also played in the final of the NCA Finale in St. Jacobs just over a month prior to the Tavistock meeting. Justin Slater had gotten the better of Beierling in both the Tour and the St. Jacobs final, but it was Beierling who had edged out Slater in both the Doubles and 20s competitions earlier in the day.

With that it was hard to tell who had the advantage going into the final. Looking at experience, Slater had the advantage entering his 4th championship final to Beierling’s 2nd. But Beierling’s final record had remained unblemished, while Slater had failed to take home the title both of the last two times he’d made the final. The confidence and mental state of both players had to be intriguing heading into a match with everything on the line.
Ray Beierling and Justin Slater square off for the title

The match began easily for Beierling, winning 2 points on his own hammer without any pressure. Slater responded in the best way possible, scoring a perfect round to tie the first game 2-2. Slater carried that momentum into the next round, scoring 20s in his first 5 shots to lead 4-2.

In the fourth round, Slater was exemplifying some great defensive play, but Beierling put the pressure on with a great double-takeout 20 shot. It wouldn’t be enough though as Slater made all of his remaining shots to tie the fourth round, and win the first game 5-3.

The crowd forms in gathered hush as the
day reaches the championship finals.
Beierling got off to a good start in the second game, winning 2 points against the hammer after a few Slater errors gave Beierling the chance to pile on the 20s. Slater responded strongly again though, going perfect on his 20 attempts to jump to a 4-2 lead and move within one point of the title. 

In the fourth round Slater took an early lead in the 20s, and twice Beierling’s attempts to level the round by scoring a 20 skipped over the hole. An interesting scenario developed late in the round as Beierling had 2 discs on the board, but remained down a 20, and in need of a win rather than a tie in the round. Beierling was left with a nearly impossible shot at the end, needing a long ricochet off of a peg to score a 20 to extend the match.

While he hit the peg he was looking for, the weight on the shot was too much, and Slater had claimed the 2015 World Crokinole Championship title 5-3, 6-2.

The Elite 4 of the 2015 World Crokinole Championship
Ray Beierling, Justin Slater, Roy Campbell and Robert Bonnett
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding, WCC
Slater reflected on the day as the newly crowned World Crokinole Champion, which must have been a relief after making the finals in 2012 and 2014, but just coming up short.

A small sample of all of the boards that were in action at
the 2015 World Crokinole Championship.
So the 17th annual World Crokinole Championship came to a close, in what was a major success in terms of overall registration growth and organizing efficiency, making it perhaps the best run tournament yet. The volunteers that run the event cannot be thanked enough.

And with that comes much expectation for next year and what is to come next for the World Championships and the great game of crokinole. Several visitors from far away promised to make their return again soon, and we look forward to seeing them in 2016.

Until then, the National Crokinole Association continues with the next tournament in New York in August. Meanwhile at CrokinoleCentre, the vow to edit and post the videos from this year’s World Championships in a much more timely manner begins. It will take time, but over the summer months they will become available.

Thank you for all enjoying the 2015 World Crokinole Championship, I look forward to the next one.

To the good times we’ve shared with crokinole, and to many more.
Nathan Walsh

Several photos in this blog were taken by Bill Gladding of the Tavistock Gazette, who wrote a comprehensive review of all of the events at the 2015 Championship than can be read here.

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