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HIGH ACHIEVERS WEEKEND WRAP: Rideau Curling Club’s Howard Rajala rink wins Canadian men’s senior title

By Martin Cleary

If only there was an Ottawa Valley Curling Association Hall of Fame because there’s another elite rink waiting in the wings to be honored with an induction ceremony.

A few years ago, the idea of an OVCA Hall of Fame was discussed, but any enthusiasm or energy behind that momentum soon fizzled. Maybe, at some point, the idea will be brought forward once again and the Howard Rajala rink will have a little something extra to add to its resume and talk about at family gatherings.

The Rideau Curling Club rink of skip Rajala, third Rich Moffatt, second Chris Fulton, lead Paul Madden and alternate Phil Daniel continued its strong on-ice play this season by winning the men’s title at the Everest Canadian senior curling championships in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

It was the 13th time an Ontario squad had captured the men’s title since the national championship started in 1965. The Rajala rink joins Bryan Cochrane (2016 and 2018) and Bruce Delaney (2009) as Canadian men’s champions from Ottawa and area. Phyliss Nielsen and Joyce Potter were national women’s senior champions in 1988 and 2005 respectively.

In the women’s final, Sherry Anderson of the Nutana Curling Club in Saskatoon captured her fifth consecutive Canadian women’s senior championship by defeating Quebec’s Chantal Osborne of Gatineau 7-3 in an exciting final. Osborne represented the Thurso/Laval-sur-le-Lac/Roberval clubs with Josée Friolet, Marie-Josée Précourt, Sylvie Daniel and alternate Christine Paradis.

Taking a slow and steady approach, the Rajala team placed second in its pool with a 5-1 record, which was the same result as the leader, Glen MacLeod of Nova Scotia. MacLeod handed the Ontario rink its first defeat.

In championship pool play, Rajala dropped to third overall at 7-3 behind Manitoba’s Randy Neufeld at 10-0 and MacLeod at 8-2.


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But there was no concern from the Rajala rink as it qualified for the playoffs and didn’t experience another defeat.

After stealing one in the extra end for a 6-5 semifinal victory over MacLeod, the Rajala rink was in full command for the first six ends of the gold-medal game and held off the rallying James Pahl of Alberta over the last two ends for a 7-6 win.

The two single-point wins brought some balance to Rajala’s life as his rink lost the Canadian senior men’s final to Alberta’s Wade White in 2017. Rajala also lost the championship final in 2013 to New Brunswick’s Wayne Tallon.

The Rajala and Anderson rinks will represent Canada at the 2023 world senior curling championship April 22-29 in Gangneung, South Korea. The Anderson team is completed by third Patty Hersikorn, second Brenda Goertzen and lead Anita Silvernagle.

(From left) Skip Howard Rajala, vice-skip Rich Moffatt, second Chris Fulton, lead Paul Madden and alternate Phil Daniel of the Rideau Curling Club. Photo: Curling Canada/Clifton Saulnier

“It’s truly amazing. We’ve lost a couple of those senior finals so to win this time around is just perfect,” Rajala told Curling Canada.

“We’re not the type of team to go 11-0 and not lose a single game during the entire event. We know that, so we just keep plugging away. We’ll lose a couple here and there, but we’ve got a lot of battle in us.”

When it came time to battle the hardest, the Rajala rink gave a stellar effort all around.

In the semifinal, Rajala went ahead 2-1 after two ends, 3-2 after four, but found the match knotted at four after six ends. MacLeod went ahead 5-4 after seven ends, but Rajala sent it to extra ends with a single point in the eighth to even the competition 5-5. In the extra end, Rajala made a steal of one for the triumph.

The final saw Rajala move into a 3-0 lead after two ends, 4-2 after four and 7-3 following the sixth. The Pahl rink started its late charge with one in the seventh and two by a steal in the eighth, but fell one point short in the end.

“We saved our best two games for the last two. Nova Scotia played great in the semi, and the final was a tough battle. Alberta played well,” said Rajala, whose teams entered nationals with a 10-2 tournament record, after winning the Capital Curling Rideau Open and reaching the semifinals of the Capital Curling Classic.

Meanwhile, Ottawa Curling Club’s Rachel Homan, who would be a unanimous OVCA Hall of Fame choice, lost her first and only game in the final of the World Financial Group Masters by a 6-5, extra-end decision to Kerri Einarson of Gimli, MB. The competition was staged in Oakville.

Homan, who holds the record for the most Grand Slam victories, has a 12-9 record in gold-medal finals.

After the first four ends, Einarson earned a 3-1 advantage. Homan countered with three in the fifth end to go ahead 4-3, but Einarson scored two in the sixth to sneak ahead 5-4.

Homan blanked the seventh end and saved the hammer to score one in the eighth to even the match at 5-5, after her final shot for two and the win was unsuccessful. In the extra end, Einarson’s final shot eliminated two Homan rocks and stayed in the rings for the 6-5 win and her fifth Grand Slam victory.

It was the 34th time the two rinks had met in their careers, but Homan holds the overall edge at 20-14. Einarson, however, has won 10 of their last 13 meetings, dating back to Feb. 19, 2019.

At the Goldline Victoria mixed doubles curling competition in Quebec City, the Ottawa team of Erica Hopson and Kevin Tippett were eliminated in the quarterfinals 9-5 by Jiyoon Kim and ByeongJin Jeong of Korea, after finishing the round-robin at 2-1.

FIRST WORLD CUP SKI CROSS MEDAL FOR HANNAH SCHMIDT

Flanked by her brother Jared, who won his first career World Cup medal last season, Hannah Schmidt of Dunrobin celebrated her first career World Cup podium this past weekend in France. Photo: Alpine Canada

Hannah Schmidt of Dunrobin is a World Cup women’s ski cross medallist for the first time in her career.

After winning the Small Hill final for fifth place last Thursday in Val Thorens, France, Schmidt placed second in the Friday race in her 24th-career World Cup start. Entering the race, she had a streak of six consecutive top-six results, including three fourth-place finishes.

“I’m a little speechless. A World Cup podium was a goal on the bucket list and I’m excited to cross it off,” Schmidt told Alpine Canada. “It was a pretty wild day out there, but we had a plan and I skied the way I know I can ski.”

On Monday night in Arosa, Switzerland, Schmidt won her round-of-16 race, but finished fourth in her quarterfinal, which left her 15th overall.

Her brother Jared was 26th in Arosa, after placing 22nd and 27th in a pair of World Cup men’s ski cross races in Val Thorens.

The FIS Para-alpine season opened in St. Moritz and Gatineau’s Alexis Guimond placed third in the men’s standing giant slalom to earn the bronze medal.

Merrickville’s Brian Rowland was 11th in the men’s sitting giant slalom.

TORY AUDET, BRONWYN WILLIAMS TOP OPEN WOMEN’S SKIERS

Bronwyn Williams. Photo: Timothy Austen

Tory Audet of Chelsea Nordiq and Bronwyn Williams of Nakkertok Nordic scored one victory each at the Eastern Canada Cup/Candy Cane Cup cross-country ski races at the Nakkertrak in Cantley, Que.

Audet won the women’s open 1.26-kilometre classic sprint in three minutes, 5.74 seconds, while Carleton University’s Maggie McClure was second at 3:12.35 and Williams finished fourth at 3:25.44.

But Williams dominated the 10-kilometre free-technique race, covering the multiple-loop circuit in 24:59.5. Shilo Rousseau of Nakkertok and the University of Ottawa was second in 25:09.9 and Audet finished third at 25:12.6. Audet’s performance also left her first in the U20 and U23 classes.

Nakkertok’s Evelyn Davies was a double champion, winning both the women’s U16/U14 one-kilometre classic sprint in 3:08.19 and the five-kilometre free-technique test in 15:01.9. She won the distance race by 34 seconds.

In the U18 category, Addison Frank of Nakkertok was first in the women’s one-kilometre classic sprint in 2:56.18, while teammate Mallory Jansen was the winner of the women’s 7.5-kilometre free-technique race in 19:26.4.

Emma Archibald, competing for SCOTIA XC Club and the University of Ottawa, raced against the clock in the women’s para-standing division and finished the 1.3-kilometre classic sprint in 5:14.82 and the five-kilometre free technique in 22:25.3.

The region’s other medallists were: Skinouk’s Martin Lacasse, (silver, men’s U18 one-kilometre classic sprint), Nakkertok’s Owen Siderius, (bronze, men’s U16/U14 five-kilometre free technique) and Gabriel Ferron-Bouius (bronze in men’s para-standing 1.3-kilometre classic sprint and five-kilometre free technique).

Meanwhile at the World Cup cross-country ski races in Beitostolen, Norway, Nakkertok Nordic’s Katherine Stewart-Jones of Chelsea and Skinouk’s Antoine Cyr of Gatineau formed the front-end of the eighth-place Canadian team in the mixed 4×5-kilometre classic/free-technique relay.

Stewart-Jones skied the opening five-kilometre leg in 15:18.9, which put Canada ninth and Cyr had the national team in fourth place at one point, but finished his assignment in 13:59.2 for seventh at the halfway mark.

In their individual classic races over 10 kilometres, Stewart-Jones was 19th and Cyr was 20th.

“I am happy with where both Katherine and Antoine are at. They have both had some viruses to deal with, but I believe they will unload more training and can be even faster,” said Robin McKeever, the national team coach of the Olympic stream athletes.

IVANIE BLONDIN WINS GOLD, LOSES BRONZE AT WORLD CUP

Gloucester’s Ivanie Blondin won a medal and lost a medal as the World Cup long-track speed skating circuit returned to the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

Blondin, Gloucester’s Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais continued their dominance in the women’s Team Pursuit by being smooth and together on the ice and scoring a 3.18-second victory over Japan with a winning time of 2:57.675.

“We’re the Olympic gold medallist, we don’t expect less than winning the Team Pursuit every time that we show up on the ice,” Weidemann told the International Skating Union.

“This is definitely not as fast as maybe we would like, but I think that what’s important is that we have a three-second gap with the other teams. So, I think it shows how strong our team is and at some point that’s what matters.”

At the end of the women’s mass start, which is Blondin’s other strength, she crossed the finish line third, but was later disqualified.

Judges penalized Blondin for a lane change in the opening laps that caused another skater to slow down significantly to avoid a collision.

Blondin’s final race put a sour note on an otherwise successful meet. Besides the Team Pursuit gold medal, she also was fourth in the 3,000 metres in 3:59.747, sixth in the 1,500 metres in 1:53.860 and 14th in the 1,000 metres in 1:15.082.

Triple Olympic medallist Weidemann was an uncharacteristic 11th in the 3,000 metres in 4:05.968, finishing nine seconds behind the winner. She also was first in the 1,500-metre B-class final in 1:56.930.

Vincent De Haître of Cumberland opened his World Cup season with a pair of B-class races, placing third in the 1,500 metres in 1:44.956 and fifth in the 1,000 metres in 1:08.404. Jake Weidemann was 18th in the B-class 1,500 metres in 1:47.17.

Gatineau’s Cedrick Brunet was 14th in the B-class 500 metres in 35.315.

LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST

· Rideau View Golf Club’s Roger Beale tied for ninth place at the PGA Head Pro Championship of Canada at the Verrado Golf Club in Buckeye, Arizona, with rounds of 69-70-71 for a six-under-par 210 total ($1,350). Craig Gibson of Sirocco Golf Club was first at 66-68-71 for an 11-under 205 ($9,000).

· Transition player Jordan Stouros of Ottawa scored his first National Lacrosse League goal as the Rochester Knighthawks defeated Toronto Rock 11-7. Stouros was recently traded to Rochester from the Buffalo Bandits.

· The Ottawa Redblacks joined the St. Matthew Catholic High School Tigers football team celebration by giving the team a pizza party for the Tigers’ victories at the OFSAA National Capital Bowl and the NCSSAA city Tier 1 championship. Redblacks’ GM Shawn Burke presented St. Matthew head coach Geoffrey Coventry with a signed Ottawa football.

· Ottawa’s Olivia De Couvreur was one of the few Canadians left standing at the conclusion of the women’s Rugby Sevens World Series event in South Africa. With only one substitute available come their sixth match in three days due to multiple injuries, De Couvreur and numerous teammates carried a heavy load of field time en route to an eighth-place finish. Canada tied France 19-19, lost to USA 24-7 and beat Japan 21-12 in pool play, lost to powerhouse New Zealand 50-5 in the quarterfinals, and then fell 19-14 to France in extra time and 26-12 to Fiji in placement contests.

· Ottawa’s Kelleigh Ryan had a winning record but underwhelming rankings at the World Cup fencing competition in Serbia. She won five of eight individual bouts but placed just 75th overall in the 199-entrant women’s foil event. In the team competition, the Canadian women lost their first bout 44-36 in the table of 16, but then beat Austria 45-35, Germany 45-37 and Hungary 45-44 to secure ninth place.

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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