When the game is on the line, Jim Cotter is clutch.
Vernon’s Cotter calmly drew to the button with the last rock in the 11th end Sunday to beat Dean Joanisse of New Westminster 7-6 and capture a second straight Canadian Direct Insurance B.C. Men’s Curling Championship, this one in front of a boisterous, bell-ringing, hand-clapping, partisan crowd at the Vernon Curling Club.
“He can make any kind of shot,” said former Vernon junior Rick Sawatsky, Cotter’s lead. “When the game’s on the line there’s no doubt in our mind that Jim can make it.”
Facing two Joanisse stones in the extra end, Cotter took a little more time in the hack, delivered his rock and turned things over to sweepers Sawatsky and Tyrel Griffith of Kelowna, who followed the call of third Ryan Kuhn to bring the decisive stone directly to the button in the house.
The win, shown live on Sportsnet, means Cotter and Sawatsky, as teammates, have won five provincial purple hearts and are heading to their fifth Tim Hortons Brier set for Feb. 28-March 7 in Calgary. Griffith is going to his third Brier and Kuhn, a B.C., Canadian and World Junior champion in 2000, is off to his first.
“I’ve never played in a men’s provincial,” said Kuhn, who replaced Calgary firefighter John Morris on this year‘s roster. “It’s great. We worked hard all year and I’m really proud of the guys and how they played. I’m extremely excited about going to the Brier. It’s a huge event for curling. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
The win avenged an 8-5 loss to Joanisse in the one-versus-two Page Playoff format Saturday morning. The two rinks were the top qualifiers with Cotter going undefeated to win the A event, and Joanisse captured the B side, dropping down after a 10-9 loss to Cotter Thursday. Joanisse got a bye to the final while Cotter needed a near carbon-copy 7-6, 11-end win over New West’s Brent Pierce in Saturday night’s semifinal.
“We haven’t been that good in that one-two game, we seem to come out flat in that game and we knew we couldn’t do it again today because they are such a great, young team,” said Cotter. “We knew it was going to be a tight game and we wanted to try and manage the scoreboard.”
After blanking the opening end, Joanisse was forced into a draw for only one in the second to take an early 1-0 lead.
The teams traded deuces and Cotter hit and rolled into the house to score a pair with his final rock of the fifth to take a 4-3 lead into the break.
Cotter upped the lead to 5-3 in the sixth with a steal of one after Joanisse‘s final stone slid a bit too far in the house. After blanking the seventh, Joanisse picked up a deuce with the hammer in the eighth to tie the contest.
The Vernon-Kelowna squad could only manage a single with the hammer in the ninth, but managed to hold the Royal City Curling Club squad to one point in the 10th, forcing the extra end.
Joanisse, backed by third Paul Cseke, a Salmon Arm native cheered on in the final by parents, Frank and Wendy, and about 20-30 friends – dubbed the Joanisse Police by the skip himself – and a front end of Jay Wakefield and John Cullen, was seeking a third provincial title.
He won in 2001 and 2007, but lost the 2002 final to Kelowna’s Pat Ryan, now the coach of Cotter’s squad. The 2002 Brier was also held in Calgary.
“Whenever the Brier’s in Calgary, we don’t have a chance, and the two that we won had a nicer finish to them,” joked a gracious Joanisse after the trophy presentation. “We were just looking forward to it (the final). We felt great. If we had another game we’d still feel great. We couldn’t have scripted a better provincial championship for ourselves. We did an excellent job. The quality of curling by both teams today was very high.”
Asked about winning the provincial title at their home curling club, and returning to the Brier –where they lost the 2014 final in Cotter’s hometown of Kamloops – Cotter and Sawatsky got emotional.
“The last one here (in Vernon, 2011), I was playing with Kenny Maskiewich and it was his first purple heart. This year, it’s Ryan’s first,” said Cotter. “It’s definitely special. The Brier, that’s what we curl for.
“Growing up as a kid, throwing a million rocks, you ultimately hope to win the Brier one day, and that’s going to be our goal.”
Added Sawatsky: “I grew up here as a kid, worked here (Vernon Curling Club) as a kid, spent a lot of time here as a kid, and for me to win a B.C. men’s championship here is really special. There’s not a building in the world where I feel more comfortable throwing a curling rock than here.”
Sunday’s championship had the potential to be an all-Vernon matchup.
Veteran skip Mark Longworth, whose rink of third Michael Longworth, his son, second Jonathan Gardner and lead John Slattery, reached the final four after being ranked 15th out of the 16 teams at the start of the tournament.
Longworth, in his ninth provincial appearance, and playing with a torn left hamstring suffered in practice less than a week before, qualified for the playoffs out of the C event where they lost 9-6 Saturday morning to Pierce.
“It was a great week in retrospect,” said Longworth, who also served on the provincial championship organizing committee.
“It was fun to play at home in front of family and friends and it was a great ride. It was special because I was able to curl with Michael and the young guys, and I love curling at home.”