SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. — Rod MacDonald and his team stood by the near hog line, leaning on their brooms and pondering their next shot at the 2013 Canadian senior curling championships on Thursday.
Eight stones sat scattered between their next shot and the button, the majority of them being Nova Scotia yellows on the Silver Fox Curling and Yacht Club ice surface.
"Jeez, it’s better guarded than Fort Knox out there," a fan remarked, drawing laughs from the audience.
End after end, this seemed to be the case for MacDonald’s P.E.I. squad, but it didn’t stop them from improving their record to 7-2, and further tangling the top of the standings.
The 8-6 victory over Nova Scotia's Alan O'Leary moved MacDonald into a second-place tie with Alberta's Wade White and Ontario's Howard Rajala, the latter of which P.E.I. will face in a crucial game Friday.
MacDonald, who defeated the Northwest Territories' Glen Hudy 7-1 in Thursday's early-morning draw, takes a five-game winning streak into the Ontario game.
"Every win that we get from here on in is very important," said MacDonald, whose teammates are third stone John Likely, second stone Mark O'Rourke and lead Peter MacDonald. "We've got some good teams left to play yet, but we've just got to keep playing well."
Also, New Brunswick's Wayne Tallon won twice on Thursday to maintain first place at 8-1.
Tallon outlasted Northern Ontario's Bruce Munro 9-6 in the late-afternoon draw after counting a deuce with the hammer in the 10th end to edge Quebec's Robert MacLean 7-6 in morning action.
New Brunswick faces Manitoba's Bob Sigurdson and British Columbia's Craig Lepine in their final two round-robin games Friday.
The first-place team goes directly to Sunday's final. The second- and third-place teams will meet in a semifinal on Saturday. If a tiebreaker is needed, it will also be played Saturday.
After P.E.I. and Nova Scotia swapped singles in the first two ends, a cat-and-mouse game began in the third.
With MacDonald's squad sitting two, O'Leary pulled off a difficult runback to take out the two red stones. In the same position a few shots later, O'Leary attempted the same shot again, but missed.
After MacDonald landed another stone in the house, O'Leary attempted the shot a third time and managed to again knock out two red, limiting the damage to a steal of one for P.E.I.
O'Leary would answer back, drawing for two in the fourth end to tie the game again.
The fifth end featured both teams pile guard after guard into the middle of the ice, ending with both skips maneuvering through the mess like a student driver through pylons.
With the advantage of the hammer, O'Leary drew near the middle to score a single point in the end.
The sixth end was much of the same, and ended with a tough decision for MacDonald. With the house littered with stones, MacDonald had the option of attempting a difficult double takeout to score five, or draw to the button for an easy two. After calling a timeout and talking it over, MacDonald opted to leave the Hail Mary shot alone, and took the modest two.
The seventh and eighth ends both featured the teams swapping the lead, with O'Leary scoring two before MacDonald picked up two of his own.
The turning point came in the ninth end, with P.E.I. sitting two and O'Leary delivering the last rock. He shocked the crowd when he missed his final draw to place shot rock, giving MacDonald a steal of one and a two-point lead heading into the final end.
In the 10th end, O'Leary would attempt a double takeout via a runback, but would miss both stones. With MacDonald having a clear shot to sit three and make it impossible for O'Leary to come back, the teams shook hands.
While the game was a change of pace for MacDonald's squad, it's not something that bothers him.
"I don't mind the rocks in play," he said. "I like my draw weight and we're playing the draw game, so I don't mind."
With Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick all on other sheets at the same time, spectators had plenty to keep an eye on. All three teams went into the match tied, and came out the same way.
MacDonald said his team managed to keep their focus, despite the potential impacts of all the games around them.
"You certainly find yourself taking a little peek at (other scores), but if you ask me who won on the other sheets I wouldn't be able to tell you," he laughed.
MacDonald will close out the round robin against Newfoundland and Labrador's Glenn Goss at 7 p.m.
In women's play, Colleen Pinkney and her Nova Scotia teammates -- third stone Wendy Currie, second stone Shelley MacNutt and lead Susan Creelman -- clinched first place in the round robin on Wednesday afternoon.
Pinkney's 11-8 win over Nola Murphy's P.E.I. representative from Summerside improved the Truro Curling Club rink's record to 9-0.
The loss dropped P.E.I.'s record to 1-8, but Murphy, third stone Donna Arsenault, second stone Elspeth Carmody and lead Laurie Tirone gave the 2009 Canadian senior champions all they could handle. P.E.I. led 4-2 after three ends, and went into the fifth-end break up 5-4.
Nova Scotia countered with back-to-back deuces in the sixth and seventh ends to take an 8-5 lead. P.E.I. got one back with hammer in the eighth, and then stole two in nine to tie the score 8-8. Nova Scotia closed out the win by counting three in the final end.
There are six teams battling for the final two playoff spots. Quebec's Catherine Derick looked to maintain sole possession of second place, but lost 7-4 to Northern Ontario and fell into a three-way tie for second at 6-3.