The 2018 Winter Olympics have recently concluded, but the international competition that really matters took place last July at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, a luxury fly-in fishing lodge in Manitoba. If you somehow missed all the coverage on ESPN, I’m talking about the annual Aikens euchre tournament between Team Canada (Aikens co-owners Pit Turenne and Pat Trudel) and Team USA (a group of friends who’ve been vacationing at Aikens for the past 7 years).

Aikens Lake, site of the annual World Series of Euchre.

It’s a story you can likely relate to: That annual competition — cards, horseshoes or bean bag toss — among friends at the lodge or hunting camp that’s way too much fun and, at times, way too serious.

At Aikens, it’s a best-of-seven series that carries with it both bragging rights and a giant trophy some consider on par with an Olympic gold medal in terms of prestige.

With a convincing four games to one victory, Team USA won the world championship for the third consecutive year in 2017, much to Turenne’s chagrin.

Team USA etches their names in the history books by winning the trophy for a third consecutive year.

“Gene was getting crazy cards,” Turenne said. “The year before, we had a big lead in the deciding game, but we choked. This year, they pretty much had us the whole time.”

Team USA group leader Bill Lapp with a nice Aikens Lake walleye.

In reality, of course, the tournament is just one small piece of what’s become a fantastic annual trip for a group of friends who love spending time together on the water.

“I was recruited by Bill Lapp (group leader) a few years ago, and we’ve had some success with the cards,” said Gene Reibel, from Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s just a fun little competition between the ‘Canadians’ and ‘Americans,’ and it gives another reason to spend a little more time at Big Molly’s (the bar at Aikens).”

Gene Reibel squeezes in some fishing in between euchre practice.

The trip itself provides a reason — and a rare opportunity — for a group of busy friends to relax together and enjoy the Aikens Experience.

The weather was great during their 2017 trip — 80 degrees and sunny nearly every day — and the fishing was good, with the group registering three Century Clubs (one by Larry, two by Garrett). The year prior was one of their best fishing year’s to-date at Aikens, with six different group members making the Century Club (four walleyes caught in the same day surpassing 100 inches in total length), and two guys catching Master Angler trophies (Manitoba designates Master Anglers as walleyes 28 inches or more, lake trout 35 inches or more, and northern pike 41 inches or more).

The entire experience has provided the group with many memories — beyond their run of success in the World Series of Euchre. “It’s superior hospitality, food, staff and accommodations in a beautiful outdoor setting combined with world-class fishing that makes Aikens special,” said Reibel.

Bill Lapp (red t-shirt) and friends on their annual Aikens Lake trip.

“For our part, we enjoy having such a fun and genuinely kind group here at Aikens, even if they’ve been a little too good at euchre lately,” Turenne said. “They’re all just really nice guys. The staff and guides love them, and they’re a fun group to hang out with. It’s also cool to see a group of friends like that who enjoy each other’s company and have an annual trip like this to share with one another.”

When the group of Americans returns to Aikens this summer, you can bet that they’ll remind Turenne and his staff about another recent battle between Team USA and Team Canada. You see, Turenne and his staff are big hockey fans, and Team USA bringing home the Olympic gold in women’s ice hockey against Team Canada had to hurt.

We’ll let you know who wins the friendly competition during 2018. USA! USA!

Aikens co-owner Pit Turenne, facing the camera, mulls his next play in the highly competitive World Series of Euchre.

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