Five days of exciting curling at the North Battleford Civic Centre came to an end Sunday, as Pat Simmons' team played Carl deConinck Smith's team for the third time during the 2011 provincial championships.
The Rosetown rink of deConinck Smith, Jeff Sharp, Chris Haichert and Jesse St. John earned the first page playoff spot after going 4-0 and winning the A-final over Scott Bitz. With skip stones in an extra end, deConinck Smith had to draw to the four-foot and did so with his final shot to beat Bitz. To get to the A-final deConinck Smith had to draw with his final shot to win 7-6 over Simmons. The extra end wasn't setting up great for the deConinck Smith team, as some close misses put their skip in a situation for a difficult draw, but he handled the pressure and prevailed.
"I just tried to draw on my mistake last night (Thursday), with the adrenalin, I was just a little bit heavy last night," said deConinck Smith. "I tried drawing from that and let the boys take it at the end and they did it."
Despite the loss in the A semi final, Simmons went on to win five straight and win the championship.
Simmons rebounded from the semi final loss winning three straight games in the B-event and earning the B qualifier over Shawn Joyce 10-5. The Simmons rink, which is skipped by Steve Laycock, stole a single in the first end and scored every second end with the hammer to grab the second page playoff qualifying spot.
In the C-event, Brad Law responded after losing his first game to Dean Moulding and the B-event quarter final to Simmons. Law won three straight including one of the C qualifiers over Randy Bryden, who was seeded in the top four for the upset.
Shawn Joyce's team also lost their first game and rebounded to win four straight. They lost to Simmons and won two more games including the final qualifier against Darren Camm.
With four teams remaining in the playoffs and 12 eliminated, Joyce and Camm faced off in the first playoff game, where the winner would advance to play the loser between Simmons and deConinck Smith in the page playoff game.
Law trailed 4-0 after four ends, but battled back and was trailing 7-6 heading into the final end without the hammer. Joyce took advantage of his final shot and scored two points for the 9-6 win.
In the page playoff, after deConinck Smith had nearly a 30 hour break between games, Simmons continued to curl well and had momentum on his side coming into the rematch with deConinck Smith.
In the page playoff, it was singles and blanks until Simmons capitalized on a deConinck Smith miss and scored two in the eighth to win 6-2. Simmons advanced to his sixth Tankard final in seven years.
With the loss, deConinck Smith played Joyce in the semi final Sunday morning. After a tied game heading into the seventh end, deConinck Smith scored two with the hammer in the seventh and stole three in the eighth end to secure an 8-3 win and a rubber match with Simmons.
In front of one of the largest crowds of the weekend, which was in the range of 600 spectators, Simmons and deConinck Smith took centre stage with the winner advancing to the Brier in London, Ont. March 5 to 13.
It was singles for each team in the first two ends, as deConinck Smith was heavy with his final draw of the second end to score only one. The following end was blanked and in the next five ends the teams traded deuces and Simmons led 7-5. He held deConinck Smith to one in the ninth and had a great double takeout to score one with his final rock in the 10th to earn the win.
"They played well and we missed a couple opportunities early in the game to put the pressure more on them," said deConinck Smith.
It was the third time during the week and fifth time this season the deConinck Smith team played Team Simmons and despite a 3-2 record against the Simmons team this season, deConinck Smith's team lost the one that really matters.
"At the start of the year we played Pat at our first bonspiel in Edmonton and I said 'boys this is probably going to be the Tankard final right here', and it was," said the rookie Tankard skip.
Skip Laycock admits he could tell his front end guys, Brennen Jones and Dallan Muyres were nervous, but they were able to bottle the nerves and curl well for their first Tankard championships.
"They didn't show it much on the ice," said Laycock. "They made tons of great shots and really kept composure and did some great sweeping - they were great."
Laycock, moved from the lead position to skip on Simmons' team this season and although Simmons threw last rocks, the duo at the back end were the most consistent third and skip of the week. That was ultimately the reason Laycock and Simmons will be making their third Brier appearance together.
"We have had a good year, a good consistent year, and that's what you want going into an event like the Brier," said Simmons. "We know the teams that are going to be there, give-or-take, we know how to beat them. We are just going to have to play our best. Hopefully we aren't too young, or too fresh."
Simmons admits he never questioned the idea to have Laycock, the former junior skip, call the game and when they were looking to build this new team. It was an easy decision to have Laycock hold the broom, he said.
"I never once worried about that," said Simmons. "He is smart down there. I will throw my input his way, but we work really well together."
After 16 teams from across the provinces arrived in the Battlefords, all with the same goal in mind, the experience at the back end and consistency prevailed and team Simmons will now represent Saskatchewan.
What is next for the 2011 SaskTel Men's Tankard Curling Championship winners?
"We didn't want to look ahead too much. Obviously we will try to find an event to play in, likely a local bonspiel," said Laycock hoping his team can stay sharp mentally and physically and be prepared for the Brier.
The host committee and nearly 100 volunteers made it a great event in the Battlefords and they are now hoping it was a stepping stone to a successful Brier for Team Simmons of Regina, which now carries the title of Team Saskatchewan.