Frs. Paul Moret, Patrick Baska, Jim Corrigan and Martin Carroll won the Canada-wide clergy bonspiel, the Friar's Briar, in Saskatoon March 9.
While Alberta may have come up short in the final of this year's Tim Hortons Brier, a foursome of Alberta priests captured the top prize at the distinguished Friars' Briar.
Fathers Patrick Baska, Paul Moret, Jim Corrigan and Martin Carroll, all priests of the Edmonton Archdiocese, won the gold medal game 9-8 in a stirring come-from-behind victory over an Ontario team that had been unbeaten.
Carroll is pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, and the other three are Edmonton-based priests.
This year's event was held March 5-9 at the Nutana Curling Club in Saskatoon. The round robin portion of the event was held Monday to Wednesday. They defeated the Kiesman rink, from British Columbia, on Thursday morning in their first playoff match-up.
Next, in the semi-final, they beat the Hunter rink, from Saskatchewan. The gold medal game pitted them against the undefeated Martin rink.
"We played a team from Ontario that had yet to lose that whole week," said Baska, skip of the rink. "They had gone undefeated through the whole tournament to that point. We knew we were in for a good game with them."
After five ends, the score was tied 4-4, but then the Edmonton priests faltered.
"The sixth end really stung us because we gave up four, so it was 8-4 after six ends," said Baska.
"Our collective noses were on the mat because it's an eight-end game, and we only had two ends to go. Experience teaches you that could well be it for us because it's hard to come back four points down with only two ends left."
Not losing hope, the Baska foursome pulled together and made the shots they needed. They scored three points on the seventh end.
"It was a really critical mistake by them. We were putting our rocks in good placement, but it was a critical mistake by them on the seventh end that let us come back. Until then, they had us on the ropes," said Moret.
Going into the final end, they trailed by one and were without the last-rock advantage. Again, they managed to place their rocks well in hopes that the other team would either make a bad shot or a bad call.
"The opposing skip happened to throw it out just a little bit too far and crashed on the front, moving one of our rocks up into the rings to score the two that we needed to win," said Baska. "We literally stole the game out from under them."
Shaw TV in Saskatoon televised the game, complete with commentary. They hope to obtain a DVD copy of the broadcast of their winning performance.
The Friars' Briar Association exists to promote fellowship and good curling on a national basis among clergy and their associates.
A rule of the event is that the skip must be clergy. The second and third must be employed by the Church or be relatives of Church employees. The lead can be anyone. The Baska rink believes it is the first team of all Catholic priests to win the tournament.
Baska is the most experienced of the team, and has been curling since junior high. Until forming as a team about seven years ago specifically for the Friars' Briar, the other priests were recreational curlers and relative newcomers to the sport.
The foursome has curled together in every Friars' Briar since, and have qualified for the playoff championship round every time. But this was the first time they came home with the trophy.
"There was one year we got silver, another year we got bronze, finished fourth, finished seventh," said Moret.
"Sometimes it depends which game you lose," he said. "The year we won the bronze medal, we only lost one game in the whole thing, but we lost the wrong game."
The Friars' Briar Association started hosting clergy bonspiels in the 1970s, always in conjunction with the national men's curling championship. It's held the same week and, with few exceptions, in the same city as the Brier. That way the clergy curlers can curl during the day and watch the pros in the evening.
The year the Brier was held in Halifax, the Briar was held in Salmon Arm, B.C. This is common when the Brier is held in the Maritimes because most of the clergy come from the West.
With next year's Brier held in Edmonton at Rexall Place, the Friars' Briar will also be in Edmonton at the Shamrock Curling Club.