Epping set for second shot at Olympics
- Updated: September 10, 2013
Heading into last season’s competitive curling campaign, John Epping was feeling relatively comfortable about his team’s prospects of qualifying for the 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, presented by Monsanto.
A solid 2012 season, highlighted by a breakthrough victory over Glenn Howard in the final of the Players’ Championship, the last stop on the World Curling Tour’s Grand Slam schedule, had moved the Toronto team into fifth position in the Canadian Team Ranking System standings.
But, curling is a slippery game, and by the time the 2013 edition of the Players’ Championship rolled around, the race for a berth in the Canadian Curling Trials, Dec. 1-8 in Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, had tightened significantly.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” said Epping. “We actually had a pretty good cushion most of the way through the season. We had some points in hand, but then Brad (Jacobs) won the Brier and went on to the world championship. All of a sudden, the gap closed up pretty quickly.”
After dropping out in the quarter-finals of the 2013 Players’ Championship, the Epping foursome watched nervously on television as Jacobs took on Glenn Howard in a semi-final match. With the ensuing Howard victory, the Epping team nailed down the coveted invitation to Winnipeg this December.
“It was bad news for Brad, and good news for us. We would have been assured a spot in the Pre-Trials,” said Epping, referencing the 2013 Capital One Road to the Roar, presented by Monsanto, Nov 5-10 in Kitchener. “But it’s nice to avoid the stress of that week in November where there’s going to be some great curling. It gives you a different mentality… it’s a lot easier to plan your season.”
Epping, and third Scott Bailey, both have recent Trials exposure, after anchoring the front end of the Wayne Middaugh foursome at the 2009 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings in Edmonton.
“I think we’ll be a lot more prepared as a result of our experiences from 2009,” said Epping. “We’ll have a better awareness of what happens during the week. You work so hard for three or four years to get there, and then it all comes down to one pressure-packed week.”
“It’s obviously going to be different for me as a skip, and Scott will be moving up from lead to third, but we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
The front end of Epping’s roster features veteran Collin Mitchell – part of the Mike Harris team that won the 1998 Olympic silver medal for Canada – and David Mathers, a member of the Mat Camm silver medal team at the 2011 Canadian junior men’s curling championship.
With the Roar of the Rings on the horizon, the team’s preparations are well underway. “We always have a good off-season training routine, but with the Trials just three months down the road, we’ve kicked it up a notch. We had the good fortune of having summer ice for practice, so we’ve been able to get out there in August.”
An added dimension to this year’s training regime is the consultation of a sports psychologist who has been assisting the team with the mental aspect of the game. “I can really see that it’s making a difference,” said Epping, on the eve of their season-opening competition at the Ontario Curling Tour’s Stu Sells Oakville Tankard.
Epping credits the provincial tour with the growing number of elite-level teams on the competitive circuit. Four Ontario squads – Epping, Howard, Rachel Homan and Sherry Middaugh – have already qualified for the Roar of the Rings, and 10 more will be in the 24-team field at the Road to the Roar Pre-Trials.
“Over the past four or five years, the tour has made a big difference,” said Epping. “It’s given teams a chance to compete against each other week-after-week. And when Glenn Howard started entering events, as well as a number of the top out-of-province teams, it really raised the level of competition.”
“You Gotta Be There” when Epping hits the ice at the MTS Centre, along with the rest of the best in Canadian curling, for the 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings. Get your tickets today by clicking here.