Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

UNDEFEATED – Team Smallwood third Jon Solberg prepares to release a shot during the Yukon Brier playdowns Saturday night at the Whitehorse Curling Club. Team Smallwood went 5-0 in the round-robin bonspiel.

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

TOUGH LOSS – Team Blandford second Vern Janz watches his stone head down the ice Saturday night. His team was squeezed out from Brier contention Sunday.

Smallwood bests ex-teammates for Brier repeat

Bob Smallwood is heading back to the Tim Hortons Brier.

By Marcel Vander Wier on January 18, 2016

Bob Smallwood is heading back to the Tim Hortons Brier.

A game-changing steal of three in the eighth end gave Smallwood a lead he would not relinquish in the final of the Yukon men’s curling championship Sunday at the Whitehorse Curling Club.

Ahead 6-5 entering the eighth, rival skip Matt Blandford came up heavy with his hammer attempt, sliding through the house with help from a valiant sweep by Smallwood.

The miss gave Smallwood an 8-6 lead heading into the ninth end, where he would add another point after Blandford missed a double takeout attempt.

The Smallwood rink, which also includes third Jon Solberg, second Clint Abel, lead Scott Odian and fifth David Rach, played it safe in the 10th, ultimately running Blandford out of rocks.

“We made him throw a draw, which was tough for everybody on this ice, especially the skips,” 41-year-old Smallwood said of the eventful eighth end. “We were throwing the big weight all the time just trying to clear stuff out.

“When you have to throw a draw, it’s a big change in speed. You rely a lot on your sweepers, and if you don’t do that, then it’s in the hands of the curling gods.”

The two Yukon Brier finalists were on a collision course throughout the weekend, both earning 4-0 records prior to their final matchup in the last game of the round robin Sunday morning.

Pat Paslawski’s rink finished third in overall standings at 3-2, while teams led by Walter Wallingham and Dustin Mikkelsen each finished 1-4.

Herb Balsam’s foursome went 0-5.

“It means a lot, just like it would for anybody,” Smallwood said of earning a second straight trip to the Canadian curling championships.

“Getting back to the Brier with three quarters of my old team and a couple of new guys ... it’s going to be good.”

With plenty of fans in the upper concourse Sunday, Smallwood roared out to a 3-0 start through the first two ends.

But the 30-year-old Blandford scored four with a clutch double takeout in the third end to thrust his team back into the game.

Back-to-back singles in the fifth and sixth gave Blandford a 6-4 lead, before Smallwood closed the gap to one entering the eighth end.

Until that end, onlookers were treated to a gem of a game, as both teams put on a show, trading high-level curling blows.

“We were battling a lot,” a dejected Blandford said Sunday. “We missed lots of opportunities and they just hung in there and kept playing the same kind of game. ... We just made mistakes, and that’s what happens. You lose games when you make mistakes.”

The Newfoundland native admitted regret at his choice of weight in the eighth end, facing an open draw against three Smallwood stones.

“I really should have hit on my last one. Worst case, if I did roll out, we’re only down one. That’s a bit of a better scenario than being down two.”

Blandford noted that of his 14 previous shots, 12 were hits alongside an earlier draw that had also sailed wide.

“I probably should’ve stuck to what I was doing,” he said. “It was just a bit of an unfortunate miss, 99 times out of 100 I make that draw, but today wasn’t that one.

“That was the turning point, really.”

Sunday’s victory marks a second straight territorial title for Smallwood, who splits time between the Yukon capital and Atlin, B.C.

Last year, Smallwood was ousted by Prince Edward Island 7-6 in the play-in game that went all the way to an extra end.

The game was the final match of a three-team pre-qualification tournament that also included Nova Scotia.

In Calgary last February, Smallwood was teammates with third Wade Scoffin, lead Clint Ireland and fifth Steve Fecteau, who split ways this season before adding Blandford, a free-agent skip from Cold Lake, Alta., for the local Brier playdowns.

Vern Janz was also a new addition to the Scoffin crew, playing second.

This season, Smallwood and co. will again attempt to win their way into the main draw, squaring off against the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Nunavut in a mini-tournament prior to the Brier, March 3 to 5.

The addition of Solberg, 44, should help. Solberg has represented three different jurisdictions at the highest curling competition in the country, including Yukon in 2002, Northern Ontario in 2005 and N.W.T. in 2009.

“It’s nice to be going back,” Solberg said. “It means a lot to be going with this team. These guys have been around for a long time and I’ve always thought a lot of them.

“Team Blandford played pretty well, but we feel blessed to go and represent. We’re a bunch of old guys in our 40s now, but we still feel like we have a lot of game left.”

Smallwood asked Solberg to come on board a month after the 2015 Brier. Previously, Solberg had been away from the game to spend time with his young family.

The main draw will take place March 5 to 13 at TD Place in Ottawa. The event will receive major television exposure courtesy of TSN.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, Thomas Scoffin also endured a tough-luck weekend at the men’s northern Alberta Brier playdowns in Leduc.

The 21-year-old Golden Bears skip finished 2-3 in the event, which featured 18 teams.

In Yukon women’s championship action, Nicole Baldwin’s rink edged Jenna Duncan two games to one in a white-knuckle three-game series to earn the territorial Scotties berth.

See coverage in Tuesday’s Star.

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Whitehorse Star Sports on Jan 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm

For video footage of this event, visit our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFX2GbtAHWE

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