MEN’S NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Seven men’s teams gathered at a new venue for this event, the Dumfries Ice Bowl, with Alan MacDougall seeking to defend his title against rivals old and new. Alan had added Ben Fowler as a fifth player to the team this year, having taken Ben to the Europeans in November where he played a number of games in the new rotation system that the team were using. Old rivals Michael Opel and Jamie Malton continued together with Henry Carter and a new team member in Harry Mallows, in to replace Keith Wilson who has moved to Scotland. Jamie’s brother, Ken, completed the only other 5 man team in the competition.
James Dixon and Bruce Bowyer entered again with Nigel Patrick and Mark Wilkinson, who was playing his first games of the season, while John Summers entered his English Senior Champions, getting some extra games before heading off to Sochi in April. Three new teams were also entered – Greg Dunn returned to the Championships with Arthur Bates, and the two Canadians were joined by Stephen Hinds, who had not played in the Championships since 2009, and Steve Amann. Two more Canadians, Bryan Zachary and Jonathan Havercroft, had teamed up with the youngest (Ollie Kendall) and the oldest (John Brown) players in the competition while Owen Rees had brought a team from Kent including James Burman, Vincent Branch and Stephen Lea, all graduates from the Fenton’s Novice league.
A single round-robin followed by a final was the format for the competition and play began at 1400 on Thursday. The first action was the new double LSD procedure which has been introduced by the WCF this season. Two stones are thrown after 9 minutes practice by different players, one with a clockwise rotation and one anti-clockwise. The distance that each one finishes from the button is measured and then the total for each team used to decide which team has the hammer.
This first session produced the worst set of LSDs of the competition as the teams got used to the ice conditions, but it was the Champions who had the lowest total and they started against Greg Dunn with the hammer and made use of it to score 2. They then lost 7 shots in a row and after 7 ends it was 8-3 to Team Dunn and it looked like a shock was on the cards straightaway, but in a great comeback by Team MacDougall they scored a 4 and 2 singles, the last one on a measure, to win by 9-8. Other games saw easy wins for Bryan Zachary over Owen Rees and Michael Opel over John Summers, both by 12-3.
The second session was at 2030 and Team MacDougall was in trouble again, this time against Team Opel who were 6-3 ahead after 6 ends, but then an amazing streak of last stone misses by Michael Opel saw Team MacDougall take 4 singles to win by 7-6 against their biggest rivals. John Summers fought off a late comeback by Owen Rees to win 11-9 and Greg Dunn recovered from his first session disappointment to defeat James Dixon, having his first game, by 10-6.
There were no real shocks in sessions 3, 4 and 5 with MacDougall and Opel continuing to win fairly easily to set up an intriguing session 6. In this session MacDougall (undefeated on 5 wins) was due to face Owen Rees, who was winless, and Opel (with just 1 loss) had to play Greg Dunn who had won 2 and lost 2. If as expected, MacDougall won this, his last round-robin game, then the Opel v Dunn held all the cards about how the rest of the competition would go – if Opel won then it would be necessary for him to play (and win) his last round robin game to force a final, but if Dunn won then MacDougall would be champion again and there would be no need for a final as MacDougall would have 2 more wins than any other team, even before the last session. Of course if MacDougall lost then other permutations came into play!!
Andrew Reed took over skipping duties for Team MacDougall as Alan sat this one out and, in spite of a brief scare when Rees scored a 3 to close to 5-9, Andrew steered the team to a 10-5 win. Meanwhile Greg Dunn had started off against Opel by scoring three singles and by end 7 the game was still close with Dunn leading 5-3, having just lost a steal of one and the gallery were wondering if there would be a comeback from Opel to rival MacDougall’s against the same opponent. A great end 8 by Team Dunn, however, including a last stone hit and stick by Greg gave them a 4 and basically finished the game although Opel did play a 9th end to see if they could get close enough to make a 10th end necessary. A single shot was not enough though and hands were shaken at 9-4 for Team Dunn.
So with one round-robin session not needing to be played, Alan MacDougall and his team of Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaeggi won a 6th consecutive English Championship, helped this time by Ben Fowler, matching the feat of Alistair Burns and Stephen Watts 20 years previously. It was Andrew Reed’s 10th Championship and Tom Jaeggi’s 8th.
Here are the happy champions in their new kit, sponsored by the Barton Grange Garden Centre, near Garstang in Lancashire where the owner, Guy Topping, plans to build a 4 sheet curling rink in the next couple of years.
The final standings were: MacDougall (6-0), Dunn, Opel and Dixon (3-2), Zachary (2-3), Summers (1-4) and Rees (0-5), all teams except MacDougall only playing 5 games.
The best overall LSD score by an individual was an average of 13.9 cms for two shots by Vincent Branch followed by Ben Fowler at 31.1 cms and Alan MacDougall at 38.2 cms.
Many thanks to Graham Sloan and Dumfries Ice Bowl for staging the event and to Robin Shand for umpiring. Some of the games were streamed on the Ice Bowl website and can be seen on their Youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/DumfriesCurling