All of the Bemidji curlers competing in this year's USA Curling National Championships are headed for the playoffs.
That was assured Wednesday at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Bemidji's Pete Fenson skipped his team into the playoffs with a 9-8 extra-end victory over Todd Birr of Mankato in the morning draw.
Fenson, the 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, went on to defeat second-place Tyler George of Duluth 10-8 in the late afternoon draw, then topped Craig Brown 9-5 Thursday morning to finish at 9-0 in round-robin play.
Fenson will face No. 2 seed George in the Page playoffs at noon Friday. Birr and Heath McCormick over New York will meet in the other Page playoff.
Fenson's teammates are Shawn Rojeski of Chisholm, former Bemidjian Joe Polo of Duluth and Ryan Brunt of Bemidji.
Sisters Cassie Potter and Jamie Haskell, who grew up in Bemidji and represented the United States in the 2006 Olympics, clinched a playoff berth Wednesday afternoon with a 7-4 win over Allison Pottinger. Potter, of Birchwood Village, Minn., skips the rink, and Haskell, of White Bear Lake, plays second. Other team members are Maureen Stolt of Plymouth and Stephanie Sambor of Williston, N.D.
The Pottinger rink, which qualified for the playoffs Tuesday night, includes Natalie Nicholson of Bemidji. Pottinger, the skip, is from Eden Prairie. Teammates are Nicole Joraanstad of Madison, Wis., and Tabitha Peterson of Eagan. Nicholson was a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.
The other women's playoff qualifiers are Patti Lank of Lewiston, N.Y., and Erika Brown of Oakville, Ontario. Playoff positions were determined late Wednesday night in the ninth and final draw of round-robin play. Lank nipped Potter 8-7 and Pottinger edged Brown 7-5 in that draw. All four advance to the Page playoffs today at 8 p.m., with No. 1 Lank meeting No. 2 Pottinger and No. 3 Brown facing No. 4 Potter.
The first end of action between the undefeated Fenson rink and Birr's team was critical. With the last-rock advantage, Birr was just an inch off of converting a runback for three or four points in the first end but had to settle for a single.
Fenson countered with a takeout for three in the second end and forced Birr to draw the eight-foot against three for another single in the fourth, but Birr was heavy and floated behind the tee line to give Fenson two more. Birr stole two points in the fifth end to cut the lead to 5-4. Fenson countered with a deuce and forced Birr to draw for one in the seventh to continue to control the game. In the 10th, Fenson jammed his final takeout and gave Birr the steal of one to force an extra end. Fenson held on for the 9-8 win by converting a takeout of the Birr stone in the four-foot.
Against George, the Fenson rink had to rally after giving up three in the fifth end to fall behind 6-5. Fenson followed with three in the sixth and put it away with two in the ninth.
"It turned into a tough one. We scored the big four-bagger there and then we missed a couple of shots after that," said Fenson, who along with Rojeski, Polo and Team Brown's John Shuster won curling's first Olympic medal in 2006. "To their credit, they made a lot of really good shots. Chris [Plys] had a great game. But, we hung around and played well at the end. It's important to be able to close out games like that. The ice is so good here that you can make any shot on it."
Potter controlled the first half of the match against Pottinger by scoring deuces when it had the last-rock advantage to take a 4-2 lead after five ends. Pottinger tied the game after six but Potter scored in the next three ends and ran Pottinger out of rocks in the 10th to punch a ticket to the playoffs.
Fenson over Birr 9-8 (11), George over Goodland 8-7 (11), Larway over Hamilton 7-5, Brown over Jacobson 9-4, McCormick over Disher 9-2.
Fenson over George 10-8, Birr over McCormick 9-3, Disher over Hamilton 9-7, Jacobson over Goodland 7-5, Brown over Larway 9-1.
Fenson over Brown 9-5, McCormick over Goodland 8-4, George over Larway 8-3, Birr over Hamilton 8-6, Jacobson over Disher 6-4.
Fenson 9-0, George 7-2, Birr and McCormick 6-3, Jacobson 5-4, Brown 4-5, Hamilton 3-6, Larway and Disher 2-7, Goodland 1-8.
Potter over Pottinger 7-4, Reiser over Karst 10-6, Haag over O'Leary 7-4, Sormunen over Haase 7-5, Brown over Lank 10-3.
Pottinger over Brown 7-5, Lank over Potter 8-7, Haase over Karst 8-4, Sormunen over Haag 7-3, O'Leary over Reiser 11-9 (11).
Final round-robin standings
Lank 8-1, Brown and Pottinger 7-2, Potter 6-3, Reiser and Sormunen 4-5, Haag and O'Leary 3-6, Haase 2-7, Karst 1-8.