Yesterday, I started my day a few minutes before 4am. Fortunately I awoke on my own since I mistakenly set my alarm for 3:50pm. Without wanting to wake my wife, I got dressed, grabbed my bag and set off to pick up my brother, Morgan. We were on our way to the 3rd Annual Turtle Island Crokinole tournament.
Dale Henry has emerged as one of several boosters of crokinole in large part by fostering the Tuscarora Crokinole community in Lewiston, NY. I'm envious of his promixity to Ontario, but I know its his warm and generous personality that attracts the 'A' level players to his events. Dale is quite an impressive individual who seems to selflessly commit himself to all the communities of which he is a part. I'm not surprised that the Turtle Island tournament in only its 2nd year has become the only tournament outside of Canada sanctioned by the National Crokinole Association (NCA).
While traveling, Morgan and I were discussing Dale's list of player that were planning on attending. In our very brief time playing crokinole, we have come to meet, play, or watch more than half the attendees. For a competitive crokinole fan, the list of competitive division players was also quite "intimidating." It occurred to me, while Morgan and I excitedly discussed spending time with these elite players, that they may be similarly discussing us.
It's no secret that Morgan and I were traveling to the tournament from the New York metropolitan area. We were very fortunate to benefit from empty seats and employee benefits to fly very very inexpensively from JFK to Buffalo. Combined with the least expensive car rental I could find, our travel expensives were likely comparable with the Ohio and Ontario contingents gas and toll prices. Despite the costs (or lack thereof), we still stood out as amongst the most eccentric would-be members of the crokinole community. After all, there are not many "Crokinuts" that are going to spend 18 hours making 800 mile roundtrip in a day to play competitive crokinole.
Once we arrived at the Tuscarora Nation House, we were quickly greated by familiar faces from Ontario and Ohio (fellow fanatics I had met previously in Tavistock). We shared a nice breakfast, registered and bought t-shirts and raffle tickets, and practiced a bit on some of the boards. It was quite nice to be remembered by so many of the people we had met before. Several people asked of my son, who accompanied me to the last 2 championships in Tavistock, and complimented me on having such a good kid. It makes a father proud.
Dale's uncle welcomed us on behalf of the Tuscarora Nation, and then Dale let us know that the first round of the tournament would be conducted as a full round robin in each of the divisions. I was thrilled to learn I'd get to play everyone!
I'm excited to say that I have played many of the top ranked crokinole players, and I was able to grow that list. I've sat across a board 3 times now with former champions, Jon Conrad and Ray Bierling; twice with Tony Snyder, Fred Slater, Clare Kuepfer and Peter Carter. Yesterday I got to add Roy Campbell to my list. Obviously I was excited to play a match with Brian Cook, the current and only 4-time World Crokinole Champion. If Joe Fulop is the Wayne Gretzky of crokinole, does that make Brian the Mario Lemieux?
My performance was "ok." I was able to make some good shots and even get into a couple of decent rounds with each of the "A" level players. The difference between a good crokinole player and a great crokinole player is that a great player rarely makes a true mistake, and almost always capitalizes on their opponents. This was my lesson of the day. I lost 8-0 to several of these players, and played the 2nd round in the "B pool" of the competitive division.
After another round robin, I was seeded 2nd to the the playoff rounds with Eric Miltenburg, Cathy Kuepfer and Brian Henry. Brian and I would face off for the third time of the day to make it to the "B pool" finals. Brian won the first game 6-2 and I realized I had to get back mentally in the game. I concentrated and won the second game 6-0. I was off to a strong lead in the 3rd game but fell back to a 4-4 tie which put us into tie breaker zone. We would play pairs of rounds (each of us going first) until one of us won both rounds. It wasn't till the 3rd tiebreak that I had finally won. Definitely my favorite match of the day.
To the finals with Eric, as the 1 seed he was able to choose his board. And, in fact, he chose his personal board. We got started and he quickly one the first game. In the first game of the second round, I thought I had secured the win, but Eric made a clutch takeout as hammer to secure a tie. A few games later and he had the 2nd game and match under his belt. Despite my quicker loss, Eric is as much of a crokinole fan as I and it was a pleasure to play and chat with him.
As runner-up of the "B pool," I did get to take home $50 in prize money. Although from a competitive point of view, I would have preferred to be bottom of the top half than top of the bottom half.
Either way, it was a great day spent with good people and playing some good crokinole.