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Immonen Takes East Coast Canadian 9-Ball Open Title

Denis Boudreau (The Billiard Shop) and Mika Immonen. Photo courtesy of Barry Peddle

The first ever Billiard Shop East Coast Canadian 9-Ball Open was held in Halifax at RailBirds Billiards from November 7 to November 13, 2017.  The event was the brainchild of Atlantic 9-Ball Tour promoter Thomas ‘TJ’ Martin as a Pro-Am event to both showcase the Atlantic Canada pool scene to top level professional players, and to treat local players first hand to the level of talent pro players possess, something few people from this area get to witness in person.
In total, the week began with 238 paid participants, making this event one of the largest in Canadian history.  The Main Draw was double knockout, races to 11, winner break format, with $25,000 CDN added to the prize pool, which brought the total payout package of the Main Draw to $63,500.  In addition, there was $10,000 more in added money spread across 3 Second Chance Divisions available to players who did not cash in the Main Draw.
In the early rounds it was like winning the lottery for some local players who got to draw their idols.  While the matches may not have been the most competitive, they were surely entertaining for both the player and the crowds at the rail.  Halifax’s Brian ‘Pidge’ Ashworth drew huge applause when he won the lag vs John Morra, with Pidge triumphantly pumping his fist in the air at the “accomplishment”.  He drew even bigger applause when he captured the first game.  That, however, would be the extent of his success in this match, as Morra went on to capture the next 11 racks.  Cape Breton shooter Mike Basque could not stop smiling after seeing the draw sheet, knowing he was to play Alex Pagulayan on the show tables in the premier night time slot.  Alex was already up 10-0 before Basque finally got a game. That didn’t stop the crowd from roaring with delight at the win, as Mike pretended his work was done, offering to shake Alex’s hand before jokingly walking off in drop-the-mic style.  Basque managed to gain one more rack before succumbing to Pagulayan 11-2.  To their credit, the pros were taking the crowd’s enthusiasm “against” them in stride, laughing along.  The fans were just as awed and appreciative of cueing prowess displayed by Morra and Pagulayan in these matches.
Matchups were not all as lighthearted in the opening rounds.  There were a few local heavyweight clashes, such as Rocky Johnson of Dartmouth, NS winning 11-10 over Carl Sampson of Sydney, NS.  Gilles LeBlanc of Moncton, NB got by Bruce Lilly of Porters Lake, NS 11-9.  Dennis Penney of St John’s, NL narrowly missed sending one of the Maritimes best shooters to the B-Side early, but Rob Sakell of Moncton, NB was able to snatch the victory at hill-hill.   And while most top-level players were posting lopsided score lines in the early going, at least one local had some measure of success against the odds.  In round 2, tour promoter TJ Martin was able to hang close with Martin Daigle of Montreal, Quebec before Daigle pulled away late for an 11-6 win.
Daigle, a perennial threat in any event, was also involved in the first clash of titans on the board, meeting Erik Hjorleifson, a former Canadian Champion, in the third round.  Daigle kept Erik in his chair for most of the early going, amassing a 6-0 lead, only to see Erik make quick work of eating into that cushion, bringing the match back to 6-5.  Daigle recovered though, eventually closing Erik out 11-7, and sending the first big fish over to swim in the B side waters.  
In round 4, Atlantic 9-Ball Tour stalwart Chris Dempsey got a first hand lesson on how quickly a professional player can turn the tables.  With Dempsey up 6-4 in the match, an illegal break turned possession of the table over to John Morra.  Dempsey would not get to win another game, as Morra ran the set out from there. 
The match that got the fans most excited came on the B-Side in a contest to send the winner into the final 12.  Again, Martin Daigle was at the center, this time matched up with an Atlantic Canadian player, Clayton “Magoo” Dennis of Eskasoni, NS.  Although being the heavy underdog in the match, Dennis was able to trade blows with Daigle, with several lead changes, but no one pulling more than a few racks ahead.  At 10-10, the rail was teeming with people looking on in anticipation as Magoo methodically worked through the final balls.  Even the other matches being played stopped to witness the potential upset.  When the 9-Ball dropped, the entire pool hall erupted in cheer.  This was easily the most talked about (memorable) moment for the rest of the event.
Andy Aupin of Sudbury, ON, one of eight shooters in the field with a 700+ Fargo Rating, got the hard luck draw among top players, losing to Mika Immonen in a tight match, 11-9, on the A-Side, and later dropping an 11-3 decision to Imran Majid on the B-Side.  
For his part, Majid had the crowd buzzing about his play all week, making it look effortless on way to victories 11-0, 11-1, 11-1, and 11-1 before dropping a match to Pagulayan 11-5.  Majid rebounded on the B-Side, continuing his dominating score lines against tough competition, winning 11-3, 11-3, 11-3, 11-4, and 11-2 to reach the B-Side Semi Final. 
Majid would next meet Immonen, who was fresh off an 11-7 victory over Hjorleifson.  Immonen jumped out to the early lead 5-0.  Majid was not ready for his week to be over, leveling the match at 8-8.  However, the final racks went Immonen’s way, moving him past Majid 11-8.
Immonen then moved on to tangle with Pagulayan, the ‘Lion’ having just lost in the A-side semi-final 11-7 to Morra.  This matchup had the fans salivating, finding it surreal they were about to watch two former World 9-Ball Champions duke it out live in Halifax.  Mika was on his third straight match in a matter of a few hours, yet he showed no sign of mental fatigue, outlasting Alex to take the match 11-9, securing Mika a place in the final.
The final was to be one race to 17.  Immonen started to pull away around the mid-point of the match, building a 14-9 lead.  Morra managed to get the next two racks, before Immonen again put a bead over to his side to lead 15-11.  It was here that Morra changed his own fortunes, managing to get out on each of the next 5 racks, thus wrestling the lead from Immonen and perching himself on the hill 16-15.  A scratch on the ensuing break brought Mika back to the table, but without a great opportunity on the 1 ball, he chose to play safe.  This started a short safety battle on the 1 that Johnny came out on top of.  Johnny moved through the rest of the rack easily, but when shaping from the 7 to the 8-Ball, Morra left his cue ball pinned to the rail, which meant difficulty in trying to get the cue ball from the 8 to the other end of the table for the 9.  Morra chose to roll the 8 in and take on the long pot of the 9-Ball, which sat a few inches below the spot.   The cut shot barely missed, and the 9 and cue ball spun around the table, leaving Mika a back cut to the bottom corner, which he deposited.  Mika made a ball on the following break, setting himself up nicely to run out the rack, taking down the final 17-16, and earning the $10,000 first prize.
Chris Penney of Yarmouth, NS took home top honors, and $1390, in the A Division Second Chance event, getting the better of Rob Sakell, Moncton, NB in the final.  Jason Thomas, Tracadie, NB was third.  Brent MacIntyre, of Dartmouth, NS earned $1120 as the B Division Second Chance winner, over Terry Gulliver of St. John’s, NL.  Finishing in third was Rodney Carpenter, also of St. John’s, NL.  The C Division Second Chance $1000 first prize was captured by Leo Sanchez of Halifax, NS beating Brandyn Griffin, of Toronto, ON.  Jarrett Campbell, Halifax, NS, placed third. 
The lion’s share of appreciation goes to TJ Martin for tirelessly working the phones to secure sponsorship and participation from pro players.  This event was not just a tournament, but an experience for a great number of amateur players.  Thank you to the title sponsor – The Billiard Shop, and to RailBirds Billiards, a stellar host pool hall, and also a major sponsor of the event.  Thank you to Canada Billiards, Simonis Cloth and Aramith Balls for their support.  Thank you to sponsors Pechauer Cues, Atlantica Hotel, and Coastal Cannapy.  Thanks to the referee crew of Dale Brimicombe and Derek Peterson, and to the Tournament Director Steve Cooper and Scheduler Craig Teal.  Thanks to all the Atlantic Canadian players that took part in the event, and all the spectators for rooting on your favorite players.  A special thank you all the players came from away to support year one, especially those professional players for believing what was promised would be delivered.  The Billiard Shop Eastern Canadian 9-Ball Open was a large success due to all of you!
Next year’s event has been announced for November 6 to 12, 2018, with $50,000 CDN added.  There is sure to be even greater interest from pro’s, amateurs, and fans!