It was down to the very last rock to decide the winning rink at the Yukon men’s curling championships last weekend.
A botched shot late in the 10th end opened the window for Team Solberg to secure the win and the Yukon entry to this year’s Tim Hortons Brier, to be held in St. John’s, Newfoundland this March.
While seven teams signed up for the weekend territorial championships – including 2014 champion Pat Paslawski and defending champion Robert Smallwood – held at the Whitehorse Curling Club, the event was a showdown between Team Solberg and Team Pierce. Those rinks faced each other five times over the triple-knockout competition.
Team Pierce – skip Brent Pierce, third Wade Scoffin, second Steve Fecteau and lead Clint Ireland –won the A round, automatically qualifying for a spot in a championship semifinal.
Team Solberg – skip Jon Solberg, third Craig Kochan, second Ray Mikkelsen and lead Darrin Fredrickson – won the B round, qualifying their spot in a semifinal.
The Paslawski and Smallwood rinks were eliminated in the C round, which led to another Solberg-Pierce game.
Team Pierce, using Curling Canada’s free-agency rule, which allows for one of the team members to be from Outside, invited Pierce, who is from B.C. to skip for them.
They dealt Solberg their second loss, forcing the team to win two-in-a-row to win the championships.
“We came out very loose but focused,” said Solberg of his team’s Sunday morning do-or-die game. “We had fun on the ice. Fun team banter probably made all the difference in the world to our team.”
They won the match 11-5, preparing themselves for the challenge of the final they knew lay ahead.
“We knew the last game they were going to be a tough team,” said Solberg.
Indeed, the game would be tied 4-4 after five ends. Solberg earned another in the sixth to make it 5-4 and the teams had a draw in the seventh.
In the eighth end, a mistake by the Pierce rink allowed Solberg to steal a point making it 6-4.
A Solberg shot in the ninth almost spelled disaster for the team when the rock hit some debris on the ice and collided with a guard, instead of its intended target. Pierce took advantage to score two and tie it up heading into the tenth.
Another clutch shot by Team Solberg third, Kochan, who is an accomplished curler out of Oakville, Ont. and competing for Yukon under the free-agency rule, opened the door for Solberg to make an easy hit and win the point.
“I think originally I was in a bit of shock,” said Solberg of the win.
It will be his fifth time at the Brier, and his second as skip.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun even to be at this year.”
The Solberg rink will have to play in pre-qualification for a spot in the main draw. It’s the final year the pre-qualification will be in place at the Brier.