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Rivals will be cheering for Epping tonight at Home Hardware Canada Cup

BRANDON, Man. – A few of his fiercest competitors will be fans of John Epping tonight.

He has the power to pull 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs’ team back to create a tiebreaker situation in the final men’s draw of the 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup, presented by Meridian Manufacturing.

Epping defeated Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock 8-6 Friday afternoon to give himself, third Mat Camm, second Pat Janssen, lead Tim March and coach Jim Wilson a 2-3 record heading into tonight’s final round-robin draw. That’s when he’ll play Jacobs, who is 3-2 after falling 5-1 to Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers, who finished the round robin at 4-2.

The Brad Gushue team of St. John’s, Nfld., won despite losing Friday. Although Team Gushue was beaten 8-6 in an extra end by Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, it has advanced to Sunday’s final. Although the Newfoundlanders are also 4-2, they get first place because they beat Carruthers and Jacobs, the only teams that can match them, during the round robin.

If Jacobs wins tonight he will play Carruthers in Saturday’s semifinal. No mess no fuss. If Epping wins, the standings get messy. Jacobs would fall to 3-3 with Epping and Laycock. McEwen would also have a shot if his squad can defeat defending champion Kevin Koe of Calgary (1-4), the only team who can’t reach the playoffs.

“It’s nice to be playing a meaningful game in the last game of the round robin. It’s not fun playing a game that’s really meaningless to us. It will be meaningful to us and I’m sure it’s going to be a good one tonight,” said Epping.

The Toronto team lost its first three games and has bounced back with some excellent play.

“We had a big team meeting after our three losses in a row and those first few games we could play a lot better. We just had to pull things together and see what we need to do,” said Epping.

McEwen (2-3) will be taking frequent glances at the sheet next to him hoping Epping can beat Jacobs.

“Looks like Epping and us are playing from the bottom up,” said McEwen. “To have a chance at playoffs potentially at 3-3 you can’t ask for more than that. Sometimes that doesn’t even give you a sniff. At least it’s on the line tonight. Epping’s playing for a lot tonight with Jacobs and we’ve got to take care of our own business and be part of something.”

After an 0-2 start McEwen is happy to be in the position his team is.

“We had some tight games where we didn’t execute when there was a scenario where there could be a momentum change and this time we finally made one,” said McEwen.

Gushue skip Mark Nichols along with third Charley Thomas (filling in for the injured Gushue), second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coach Jules Owchar had their hands full with McEwen Friday. But now they can rest up and wait for their opponent in Sunday’s final.

“We let a couple of chances slip away but Mike and them played really well,” said Nichols. “We’ve been doing a lot of things right so we’re going to continue to try doing that.”

Carruthers’ victory was a big bounceback for the skip, who missed a makable draw in his morning game against Steve Laycock but sailed long to lose 5-3.

Rachelle Brown, left, and Dana Ferguson of Team Sweeting were working hard in Friday afternoon's win. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Rachelle Brown, left, and Dana Ferguson of Team Sweeting were working hard in Friday afternoon’s win. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“We didn’t have much of a turnaround after a disappointing game like this morning,” said Carruthers. “We had a hard-fought battle with (Laycock), always a really good team and then having to play the Olympic champions your next game and having to win to get in was a little bit nerve racking.”

All of the team’s games have been close. But they got the night while all the others battled it out.

“We know we’re playing tomorrow so we’re really happy,” said Carruthers.

At 3-2, Team Jacobs still has a chance at a playoff berth or tiebreaker if they can defeat Epping in the final round-robin draw.

“Gotta play better, gotta play more consistent if you want to win these big events,” said Jacobs. “You’ve got to curl consistently about 90 per cent as a team if you want to win games out here. All the teams are so close, it’s stiff competition.

On the women’s side, Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg and Rachel Homan of Ottawa will battle to determine who gets the bye to the final. Both are 4-1 heading into the last draw. Jones fell from the ranks of the unbeaten when she lost 6-4 to Val Sweeting of Edmonton.

The loser of the Homan-Jones clash will take on the winner of a tiebreaker or tiebreakers Saturday. Sweeting finished the round robin at 3-3 and is guaranteed to be involved.

So will the winner of a game between Chelsea Carey of Edmonton and Kerri Einarson of Winnipeg. Both are 2-3. Einarson has lost three straight including a 6-5 loss to previously winless Kelsey Rocque of Edmonton.

Tracy Fleury of Sudbury is also 2-3 and will play Rocque tonight.

Besides the $2,000 payout for every round-robin win, there was little at stake for Jones Friday afternoon. Win or lose against Sweeting, she needed to beat Homan to go directly to Sunday’s final.

For Sweeting, on the other hand, winning was vital to keep any hope of making the playoffs alive. Jones lost to Sweeting in last year’s Home Hardware Canada Cup semifinal in Grande Prairie, Alta.

Sweeting saved the game in the eighth when, facing two buried Jones’ counters, she needed a wick off her own rock to score one for a 5-4 lead.

“After how this week was going we’ll take a tiebreaker for sure,” said Sweeting, who lost her first two games. “I feel like we’ve been really close out there, and we’re not that far off, we just haven’t been getting the results that we always deserve. Coming back and bouncing back like that will be good for us in the tiebreakers.”

The men’s and women’s champions of the Home Hardware Canada Cup earn $14,000 plus $2,000 per round-robin victory, but the big prize is a berth in the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials 12 months hence in Ottawa, where Canada’s Olympic four-player teams will be decided.

The winner also gets a trip to Las Vegas in January to be part of Team North America at the 2017 World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Boyd Gaming, are the big prizes available on Sunday.

The 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup continues with tonight’s draw at 6:30 (all times CST).

TSN/TSN2 and RDS2 will provide complete coverage of the Hardware Canada Cup. Click here for the complete schedule

The Home Hardware Canada Cup format calls for the men’s and women’s teams to play a three-day round robin, with the first-place teams advancing to their respective finals on Sunday, while the second- and third-place teams meet in semifinals on Saturday, after any required tiebreakers, to determine the other finalists.

For ticket information for the 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup, go to www.curling.ca/2016canadacup/tickets/

This story will be posted in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/?lang=fr