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Northern Ontario books spot in Wheelchair Curling final, Sask 1 still in hunt for playoff spot

Extra end win over Quebec improves Northern Ontario to 7-0, guarantees spot in Friday’s title game; Sask 1 tied for second place at 4-2 after extra end loss to Ontario 1

The Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship has determined its first finalist, and it’s safe to say they’re on a bit of a roll. 

Northern Ontario’s Douglas Dean improved to 7-0 with an 8-7 extra-end victory over Quebec’s Benoit Lessard during the afternoon draw on Thursday at the Moose Jaw Events Centre, guaranteeing they’ll finish in first place in the championship pool.

The question now is who they’ll face for the title, with a host of teams still in the hunt heading into the final round-robin 7 p.m.

That includes Saskatchewan 1’s Gil Dash, who sits tied for second at 5-2 after dropping a 10-9 extra-end decision of their own to Ontario 1’s Jon Thurston. B.C.’s Gerry Austgarden is also 5-2 after an 8-2 win over Alberta 1’s Jack Smart, meaning that with wins in the evening draw Thursday, Sask 1 and B.C. will play in the semifinal on Friday morning.

Ontario 1, Alberta 1 and Quebec are 4-3 and have a shot at the playoffs with wins and a bit of help.

But for now, the class of the tournament has been Northern Ontario as they continue their unbeaten run.

“It’s where we want to be, and with the way this game here went, it was a tough one,” said Dean, who is taking the ice this week with third Gino Sonego, second Rick Bell and lead Lola Graham. “The thing about this tournament this year is there are so many good, high-end curlers and there haven’t been many easy games, so we’ve had to be playing well right from the start and it’s just kept going.”

Back-to-back three enders gave Dean a 6-4 lead through four ends, but points in three straight frames gave Quebec the lead coming home. North Ontario would force the extra end with one in the eighth, and thanks to a brilliant angle raise on Dean’s final shot, would pull off the steal in the ninth.

Now, it’s one more game for all the marbles, with Northern Ontario hoping what’s worked so far will work in the gold medal game.

“It’s all consistency,” Dean said when asked about their key to success. “When you’re setting up to do your delivery, there are the steps in your head that you have to go through, and things like that. If you can maintain that, you have a better chance of making the shot. 

“And even though we’re out here competing at a high level we still want to have fun. So many teams have worked so hard to get here, so when you get here you have to make the best of it.”

Dash, third Marie Wright, second Darwin Bender and lead Moose Gibson nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages against Thurston, who took the ice with third Collinda Joseph, second Karl Allen and lead Chrissy Molnar. 

A five-spot in the fifth end gave Ontario an 8-3 lead and they held a 9-5 edge heading into the final frame, but a couple of narrow misses by Thurston on his final two shots led to Saskatchewan scoring four and tying things up 9-9. Ontario recovered nicely, though, and made good use of traffic up front to eventually score their one in the extra end.

Saskatchewan 1 faces Quebec (4-3) in their final championship pool game Thursday night.

Saskatchewan 2 continued their solid play and improved to 5-2 to sit atop the Seeding Pool. 

Skip Rod Pederson, third Stewart McKeown, second Sheryl Pederson and lead Russell Whitsitt scored points across the final four ends to take a 7-3 victory over New Brunswick’s Mike Fitzgerald (1-6). Pederson and crew close out their nationals appearance against Ontario 2’s Paul Grose during the 7 p.m. draw Thursday.

The tournament semifinal is set for 9 a.m. Friday and championship game for 1:30 p.m.

Be sure to keep an eye on for all the up-to-date scores from the final three draws.

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