Lorne Jackson had something to prove when he stepped onto the ice at the Northwestern Ontario Curling Association’s men’s district playdowns last week in Red Lake.
The veteran curler was eager to earn a berth at the provincial championships, coming up Feb. 5-11 in Sudbury, and, in the process, prove to both himself and the rest of the curling community that his past accomplishments were no fluke.
The Fort Frances Curling Club member had enjoyed a great deal over the years—the highlight coming in 2002 when he earned his first berth at the provincials in Kapuskasing.
Joined by fellow local rinks Bryan Bonot (Stratton) and Anthony Smaha (Fort Frances) at the district playdowns in Red Lake, Jackson set out to finish among the top three in the 16-rink field and thus realize his objective.
After four days of competition that included eight games against some of the top teams the region has to offer, Jackson, along with teammates Don DeBenedet (third), Derek Jackson (second), and Mike Kjerulf (lead), reached their goal—finishing third.
“We played very, very well,” Jackson remarked. “We beat a number of the top teams from Thunder Bay to get where we were going, so we were very pleased with that.
“This is kind of nice because it proves that wasn’t a fluke the first time,” he added. “We beat some good teams to get to go, so that made it that much better.”
Jackson’s rink now has its sights set on improving upon their performance the last time they qualified for the provincials—something the skip believes is extremely likely to happen given they now have experience playing on Northern Ontario’s biggest curling stage.
“You have to aim to win it,” he stressed. “You have to go there with that mindset and if we play the same way we did last weekend, there’s no reason we can’t finish in the top four and get to the playoff games after the round-robin.
“When you get there, it’s a nine-team playoff, round-robin event,” he explained. “We were really nervous last time and it took us a while to get our first win. We missed the play-offs by one loss, so we were close.
“We learned a lot of what not to do,” he added. “This time, the first-time jitters will be gone.”
Jackson’s rink will be joined at the provincials by Ryan Adams Jr. (Port Arthur) and Jeff Zechner (Nipigon).
The opening round of the district playdowns featured a triple-knockout format designed to whittle the draw from 16 rinks to eight.
Jackson split his first two matches on the opening day last Thursday, winning his first game 7-5 win over Ken Anderson (Red Lake) but losing 6-2 to Joe Scharf (Port Arthur) that night.
Day two of the competition strongly resembled the first as Jackson dumped Kevin Dubreil (Manitouwadge) 8-1 in his opening game but then lost 9-2 to Zechner (Nipigon) in the nightcap.
Facing a must-win situation Saturday morning, Jackson defeated Dubreil again—this time by a score of 9-4—to advance to the qualifier round, which featured a double-knockout format.
Jackson won 7-3 against John Salo (Port Arthur) in his opening game of the qualifier round on Saturday afternoon, but then lost 7-4 to Adams Jr. (Port Arthur) that night.
By virtue of their 2-0 records in the qualifier round, Adams Jr. and Zechner automatically qualified for the provincial playdowns while Trevor Clifford (Fort William) and Salo (Port Arthur)—both sporting 0-2 records—were eliminated from further contention.
The remaining four teams—including Jackson, Jeff Currie (Port Arthur), Scharf (Port Arthur), and Anderson (Red Lake)—were forced to enter a four-team, single elimination playoff for the final provincial berth.
In one semi-final, Jackson defeated Currie by a score of 9-4 to set up a showdown with Scharf, who had cruised to a 7-3 win over Anderson in the other semi-final.
Then in the finale, Jackson beat Scharf 7-4 to advance to Sudbury and have a shot at representing Northern Ontario at the Tim Hortons Brier later this winter.
Smaha had gotten off to a strong start in Red Lake, winning two of his first three games to earn a spot in the qualifier round.
He defeated Cory Nephin (Geraldton) 8-7 in his opening game last Thursday before losing to Adams Jr. 8-1 later that night. However, Smaha rebounded from the loss with a 10-3 win over Mike Procyk (Red Lake) on Friday morning.
Smaha opened play in the qualifier round with a 10-4 loss to Salo on Friday night, then was eliminated courtesy of a 9-2 loss to Anderson the following morning.
“We lost two qualifying games after having the lead at the fifth-end break so we have our work to do for next year,” Smaha remarked. “We know that we have to play 10 ends against those guys.
“It was a great event and we’re sad that we didn’t go any further than that but we’re happy for Lorne [Jackson] that he can represent Fort Frances [at Sudbury].”
Meanwhile, Bonot lost all three of his matches—7-4 to Currie, 8-5 to Procyk, and 9-5 to Bill Spence (Red Lake)—and so did not advance to the qualifier round.
“The tournament went fine, we just came up short,” Bonot said. “It was just one of those weekends.”