By Charlene Wirtz and Alison Squires
The first weekend of 2014 will go down as the best curling Wadena has had the pleasure of viewing live when the Wadena Curling Club hosted the Goldline Saskatchewan Players Championships.
The event is organized by the Saskatchewan Curling Players Association (SCPA) and usually held in December just after Christmas.
“As the top teams tend to take a break over Christmas, it usually features the second- and third-tier teams,” SPCA president Shawn Joyce told the News. This year is different in that this final stop of the men’s regular curling tour is being held the first weekend in January and the top 15 men’s teams were attracted to the event, said Joyce.
Draws started at 6 p.m. on Friday and continued to the final at 4 p.m. on Sunday with Teams Bitz and Hartung looking for bragging rights and Hartung, especially, a berth in the tankard.
Bitz had come from behind, suffering two losses off the hop against Mike Armstrong and Justin Mihalicz to put him on top of the C-side against Darrell McKee. Bitz beat McKee, then trounced Darren Camm 5-0 Sunday morning in the quarter-finals before squeaking by Kevin Marsh 5-4.
From the onset Hartung just kept winning, first against William Coutts Friday night, then Brock Virtue and Darrell McKee on Saturday, landing against Bruce Korte on Sunday morning. Hartung then won 7-2 to face Bitz in the final.
Despite some stellar end shots by Hartung, Bitz pulled ahead to win the final 7-5. A total of $12,000 in cash and $5000 in Goldline merchandise was won by the top four teams.
A successful win for Jeff Hartung and his father-sons team would have meant an automatic berth in the men’s tankard as Bitz was already qualified. As son Tyler Hartung was recently crowned provincial junior champion, and dad Jeff is his coach, they were off to Nova Scotia on Jan. 16 for the M&M Junior Nationals Championships; Jeff would miss the men’s playdowns and another opportunity at a tankard berth.
However, not all was lost for Team Hartung, as their performance over the weekend had earned them enough points to win the wild card berth based on combined (WCT) and Saskatchewan Curling Tour (SCT) points.
The SaskTel Tankard is in Shaunavon starting Jan. 29 and runs till Feb. 2. Teams already booked include Darrell McKee, Brock Virtue, Kevin Marsh and Steven Laycock, none of which need to participate in regional playdowns.
ORGANIZERS RUN TOP-NOTCH EVENT
Saturday featured a pancake breakfast sponsored by Crossroads Credit Union and the Players’ Luncheon sponsored by Wadena Co-op prior to the SPCA’s annual general meeting.
Despite the minus-40C temperatures blowing outside, fans could not have asked for a better weekend of curling.
Comfort, along with the board and members of the curling club, pulled out all stops to make sure the players were welcomed, while other volunteers stepped forward to take turns at the door, helping to clean the ice or managing data. Members of the Wadena and District Museum board volunteered to run the kitchen for the weekend.
Curlers were impressed with the Wadena Curling Club’s facilities, and local “Ice Man” Scott Comfort, whose idea it was to host, received nothing but good reviews over the weekend.
“Best small-town curling lounge around,” one player piped up.
“I hope you get to host more events out here because we’d love to come back,” said skip Scott Bitz.
In conversation with members of Team Marsh, lack of local overnight accommodations was among the topics; however, the members assured the News that “The hospitality has been fantastic!”
The teams included Team Scott Bitz from Regina Highland Curling Club (CC); Team Kevin Marsh from Saskatoon Nutana CC; Team Terry Marteniuk from Yorkton CC; Team Jeff Hartung from Langenburg CC; Team Justin Mihalicz from Regina Highland CC; Team George Hall from Saskatoon Granite CC; Team William Coutts from Regina Highland CC; Team Darren Camm from Saskatoon Sutherland CC; Wadena’s own Team Nathan Grudnizki; Team Bruce Korte; Team Josh Heidt from Kerrobert CC; Team Brock Virtue from Regina Callie CC; Team Darrell McKee from Saskatoon Nutana CC; Team Randy Woytowich from Saskatoon Nutana CC; and Team Mike Armstrong from Saskatoon Nutana CC.