As the dust settles and pool play concludes at the Granite Curling Club in Saskatoon, only six men’s and six women’s playoff qualifiers would remain.
In the main event Thursday, Team Elysa Crough (5-0; Edmonton) defeated Team Taylour Stevens (4-1; Halifax) 8-7 to secure top spot in Pool B. Also coming out of the pool is Team Adrienne Belliveau (2-3; Dundas, Ont.), who beat Team Madison Kleiter (2-3; Saskatoon) in what became a winner-take-all game.
In Pool A, Team Ladouceur (4-1; Sudbury) defeated Team Cassie Rogers (1-4; Yellowknife) 7-3 to earn a spot in the semi-finals. Joining Team Ladouceur in the playoff round are Team Erica Cluff (3-2; Fredericton) and Team Walter (3-2; East St. Paul, Man.) Team Cluff won the head-to-head game on the final draw by a 7-3 count.
Team Mackenzie Mitchell (3-2, St. John’s, Nfld.) missed the playoffs based on head-to-head play among the three 3-2 teams. Team Mitchell defeated Team Cynthia St-Georges (1-4; Laval, Que.) 7-5 in the final draw.
In the battle of top pool B teams, Team Crough jumped out to an early 7-2 lead over Team Stevens. The Nova Scotia team battled back and trailed 8-6 with the hammer coming home. Stevens slid a tad too far with her final rock, giving Crough an 8-7 win.
As the game got tighter, most eyes in the large crowd turned to the heavyweight match.
“I bet it was fun to watch, my goodness,” Clough said moments after leaving the ice. “Yeah, that was a game.”
She said her team started off strong in building the five-point lead.
“Then, we had a couple of unfortunate misses and they got back into it, but that’s the way curling works. We never got down on ourselves. We handled it well.”
She said any lead is not safe with the five-rock rule and 10 end games.
“There is no sitting back in curling. Anything can happen and all it takes is one shot to do that.”
Crough was asked what the bye means to her.
“Honest, I don’t even know what time we play tomorrow.”
It will be at 5 p.m. against the winner of a game between Team Cluff and Team Belliveau.
On the other side of the draw, Team Ladouceur will play the winner of a game between Team Stevens and Team Walter.
“We played all these good teams, so it feels really good coming out on top,” Ladouceur said. “We are going to keep going; there are a lot of good teams out here.”
She said having a bye can go both ways.
“I think sometimes people take the bye, but don’t realize (other teams) will have an extra game to feel out the ice.”
Team Belliveau seemingly came out of nowhere to earn a playoff spot. The team was 1-3 going into the final draw.
“At the start of the week, we didn’t play too well as a team. We didn’t see it going too well, but we kept our focus,” Belliveau said. “We weren’t really playing our strategy the last couple games, but today we really buckled down and played our game, and it worked out for us.”
She said the style is both clean while putting pressure on the opponent early.
Emily Bowles (1-4; New Westminster) ended the playoff hopes of Team Rachel MacLean (1-4; Cornwall, P.E.I.) with an 8-2 win. That left Team Belliveau and Team Kleiter battling for the third spot in Pool B.
In the A Pool, in the men’s first draw of the day, Team Scott Mitchell (4-0; Whitby, Ont.) defeated Team Johnson Tao (3-1; Edmonton) 11-6. Team Jordon McDonald (3-1; Winnipeg) defeated Josh Nowlan (1-3; Moncton) 11-3, and Team Mitchell Schut (1-3; Cornwall, P.E.I.), defeated and Team Dallas Burgess (0-4; Kakabeka Falls, Northern Ontario) 9-8.
Team Mitchell, Team Tao and Team McDonald have all qualified for the playoffs.
In the B Pool, Team Owen Purcell (4-0; Halifax) defeated Team Jullian Bowling (0-4, Yellowknife) 10-3, Team Daymond Bernath (3-1; Saskatoon) defeated Team Connor Deane (2-2; New Westminster, B.C.) 7-6, and Team Nathan Young (3-1; St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador) defeated Team Raphael Patry (0-4; Jonquiere, Que.)
With the win, Team Purcell have qualified for the playoffs and are joined by Newfoundland and Labrador’s team Young and Saskatchewan’s team Bernath.
The winners of the championship will advance to the Worlds in March in Sweden, and get a trip to the Continental Cup.
The six teams advancing to the playoffs were decided before the final round-robin draw at New Holland World Juniors Qualifying Event at the Granite Curling Club in Saskatoon.
What was at stake were positions in the standings to determine playoff matchups.
Team Owen Purcell (5-0; Halifax) and Team Scott Mitchell (4-1; Whitby, Ont.) locked up their spots in the semi-finals as pool winners, while four other teams were jockeying for their spots on the playoff board.
One of those games featured Team Nathan Young (4-1; St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador) and Team Daymond Bernath (3-2; Saskatoon). The other was a game between Team Johnson Tao (4-1; Edmonton) and Team Jordon McDonald (3-2; Winnipeg).
Team Young and Team Tao won those games to become the second seeds.
In the quarter-finals, Team Tao will meet Team Bernath, and Team Young will meet Team McDonald. The winner of the Tao-Bernath game will meet Team Mitchell, and the winner of the Young-McDonald game will meet Team Purcell.
Team Tao lost earlier in the day to Team Mitchell. Tao said he didn’t want to go into the playoffs with two consecutive losses.
“It was really important for us to bounce back and get that win. It didn’t really matter too much in the grand scheme of things, but it was really good to get our confidence up and have momentum going into tomorrow.”
The 8-3 win against Team McDonald moved Team Tao from third to second in his pool.
“We were in the quarter-finals either way, but that win was more a confidence booster than anything.”
Team Young also finished on a winning note, defeating Team Bernath 8-7.
“We’re feeling really well,” Young said. “It has been five really good games. We feel every game we are improving. We’re picking a few things to work on every game and looking forward to the playoffs now.”
“We are looking at three tough playoff games (to win the championship). Although both teams are in the playoffs, it was an excellent game to prepare us for the playoffs.”
He said the team would continue to do what it did to go 4-1 in the round robin.
“We have to remember to stay focussed and to stay together as a team. That is a key for us. We are very good friends. Have fun.”
Team Purcell was the only team to go unbeaten in the round robin. The team defeated Team Connor Deane (2-3; New Westminster, B.C.) 5-4 in their finale.
Purcell said going unbeaten in the round robin “was fantastic” and feels “really good.”
He said it is back to square one for the teams remaining in the competition.
“We’re feeling good going into the semi-final, and then hopefully the final.”
He said there won’t be change in preparation for a playoff game.
“Just keep doing what we are doing, and focusing on throwing the right weight at the stick, and keeping our weight judgment crisp. Keep throwing good rocks and good things will happen.”
Team Schut’s Chase MacMillan and Mitchell Schut (Facebook)
Team Mitchell dropped its final game 7-6 to Team Mitchell Schut (2-3; Cornwall, P.E.I.)
In the other games, Team Dallas Burgess (1-4; Kakabeka Falls, Northern Ontario) defeated Josh Nowlan (1-4; Moncton) 7-4, and Team Raphael Patry (1-4; Jonquiere, Que.) defeated Team Jullian Bowling (0-5, Yellowknife) 8-5.
Young paid tribute to organizers for the way the event has been managed.
“Saskatoon has been a great time. All the volunteers here, the officials, the curling club and the ice crew have been amazing. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The winners of the championship will advance to the worlds in March in Sweden, and get a trip to the Continental Cup.
Live scoring, standings and statistics for the New Holland World Juniors Qualifying Event are available at www.curling.ca/2021worldjuniorqualifier/ and curling.ca.