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‘Game of inches’

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Clint Barton was left wishing they were just an inch closer to the button in an extra end of Saturday’s final at the Canadian police curling championship in St. John’s, Nfld.

That inch, which put Barton and his Northern Ontario rink on the short end of a 6-5 decision to Ontario, cost them a chance to win their second national police crown in three years.

In fact, Barton’s rink, which included third Scott Gobeil, second Ron Eyolfson, and lead Jeff Simpkins, proved in the early going that they were one of the dominating teams in the 12-team field.

But in the end, it was Gerry Chartrand, their nemesis from Ontario, who put an end to their quest for another title.

Tied 2-2 after five ends in the final, Barton took a 3-2 lead in the sixth but then gave up one in the seventh. He then regained his one-point advantage in the eighth only to see Ontario counter with a pair in the ninth.

But Barton could only score one in the 10th with the hammer to send the game to an extra end, which Ontario won when Chartrand’s final shot hit a Northern Ontario rock in the four-foot and rolled out, leaving their rock just ahead of a Barton stone in the 12-foot for the victory.

"I don’t think I would have played the shot that he did. He only had about a quarter or an eighth of an inch of the rock [visible]," admitted Barton, who has curled at the police level for four of the last five years.

"Still, I’m pretty pleased [with our performance but] it would have been nice to win it."

Barton, who advanced to the final with a 6-5 win over a tough Manitoba foursome in the semi-final earlier Saturday, admitted he thinks he should have played more aggressively against Ontario.

But Gobeil said they were "just an inch short" of breaking the game open in the eighth.

"We had a crack of three in the eighth but Clint’s last shot just came a little light so all we got was one," he lamented.

Northern Ontario jumped out to a 6-0 start during round-robin play, including impressive wins over defending champion Alberta, Quebec, and Saskatchewan, leaving them tied for first with Ontario.

Gobeil said the team got a "big lift" when they nipped Alberta 6-5 in the second draw on the opening day, then gained more confidence as they knocked off Yukon/NWT, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan in quick succession after opening with a win over P.E.I.

But a pair of losses midway through the playdowns--9-5 to B.C. and 11-3 to Ontario--dropped Barton back in a race for a playoff berth after eight draws.

But the local rink shook off the two-game losing streak and cruised to dominating wins over Newfoundland (10-1), Nova Scotia (10-2), and Manitoba (6-3) to finish tied for first at 9-2 with Ontario.

(Chartrand was awarded top spot by virtue of his win over Barton during the round robin, earning a bye to the final).

"You obviously want the bye into the final but when you play the semi-final in the morning and win it, your team’s more in tune [for the final]," Gobeil said.

Gobeil said the lopsided scores, in many cases, at the playdowns were the result of the free-guard zone, adding they weren’t too worried about being blown out by Ontario during the round-robin.

"Even when you see teams in the Brier, one team will kick the other team, and then that team will come right back and smack them--that’s just the way it goes," he said.

"We figured that if we could beat everyone in the east and pick up at least one win against the west, we would be 8-3 and make the playoffs," he added, noting several former champions were playing on western teams.

Barton’s rink definitely was in tune throughout the week, with Eyolfson leading all seconds in shooting percentage to be named to the all-star squad.

Gobeil finished third amongst thirds while Barton was second in skip’s shooting percentages.

Barton said the play of Eyolfson was a highlight for their rink.

"Ron is going to retire in six months, and because he’s never played at that level, I was a little worried, but I was really pleased with how he played," enthused Barton, who announced he plans to take a year off from police curling to give a shot at mixed curling.

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