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Carruthers climbs past Epping into Home Hardware Canada Cup final

BRANDON, Man. – Reid Carruthers has been to one of the highest peaks in the curling world before as one of the climbers. On Sunday, he hopes to take a step toward reaching the summit as the team leader.

Carruthers, who played second for the Jeff Stoughton squad that won the 2011 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship in Regina, on Saturday night led his Winnipeg team into the final of the 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup, presented by Meridian Manufacturing. After frittering away a 5-1 lead in the semifinal, Carruthers manage to edge Toronto’s John Epping 6-5 in a tense extra end.

“We can learn a lot from that game. We felt the full nerves we’re going to feel (Sunday) in the final, so we have to take this as a learning experience and go have a good rest,” said Carruthers.

The Carruthers crew will take on Brad Gushue’s team from St. John’s, skipped by Mark Nichols, who played third for Stoughton alongside Nichols for two seasons (2012-2014), in the final Sunday night. Both teams finished the seven-team round robin with 4-2 records.

In addition to the first-place prize money of $14,000, the winners will receive a berth into the 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials in Ottawa a year from now, an important plateau en route to the ultimate peak. It’s something both Carruthers and Nichols, who is filling in at skip for the injured Gushue, want badly.

“He’s my former roommate so I know a lot about him,” said Carruthers of Nichols. “We’re going to have to play even a little sharper than we did tonight. We had some really good ends, but that’s the beauty of 10 ends, you can’t take a couple off.”

For most of the round robin, Carruthers, third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samagalski, lead Colin Hodgson and coach Dan Carey were immersed in intense, tight games. Relaxing was not an option — at least not until they returned to their hotel rooms. Five of their games were grind-it-out skirmishes. They managed to win three of them and lose two close encounters. It just so happens the only game the team breezed through was its first upending Epping easily 8-3 in eight ends.

Despite that victory, Saturday’s semifinal wasn’t supposed to be easy. After losing its first three games, Epping’s team responded with four consecutive wins, including a 7-5 tiebreaker victory over Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock earlier Saturday.

Epping, third Mat Camm, second Pat Janssen, lead Tim March and coach Jim Wilson went from stone cold to white hot. Until Saturday night. At least the first half of the game.

The semifinal seemed to turn heavily in Carruthers’ favour in the fourth end when Epping, facing three, was forced to draw the four-foot just to get one. His draw, though, slid too far and he surrendered a steal of two to trail 3-0. Carruthers kept up the pressure in the fourth end and had Epping facing four as he drew the button to score one in the fifth end.

In the sixth, Carruthers bolted out to a 5-1 lead. It could have been worse if Epping hadn’t made a double with his last shot.

But just as it looked like Carruthers was going to breeze into Sunday’s final it turned tight, just like it did all week. Epping managed to pick up two in the seventh end to trail 5-3 when it looked like he’d only be able to get one.

John Epping watches his shot as Team Carruthers' Derek Samagalski, top, and Colin Hodgson look on.

John Epping watches his shot as Team Carruthers’ Derek Samagalski, top, and Colin Hodgson look on.

In the eighth, even though Carruthers had five rocks in the house, Epping welded his final shot to one of his own at the top of the button to sit two. Carruthers threw heavy weight at it but only managed to eliminate one reducing his lead to 5-4.

Despite a sweet double and roll partially behind cover by Epping with his final shot, Carruthers managed to spill it to blank the ninth end. Carruthers had an opportunity to finish Epping off with a draw that had relatively clear path to the button with Epping’s shot rock as backing. But it didn’t curl enough and just brushed it to go too far for an0ther Epping steal, forcing the extra end at 5-5.

In the 11th, Carruthers had a similar draw to the one he had in the 10th end but this time he wasn’t going to miss.

“I was doing by best not to remember what I did in (the 10th end). I had a chance for the win, we had a good end set up. The extra end, the biggest thing was I know my adrenalin is going to be going so I was trying to throw a guard and it worked,” said Carruthers.

Epping earned $5,000 for reaching the semifinal on top of the $2,000 per round-robin victory each team received.

“We fought hard and to have him throw his last one, I don’t think we can ask for more at that point. That’s the way we are. We’re gritty, we don’t give up. It was a great shot by Reid on his last one,” said Epping. “Midweek was looking pretty bad for us. It’s been a long week, a lot of close games for us, so it’s tiring, it’s exhausting.”

The winner of Sunday’s final will get $14,000 while the loser receives $9,000.

In addition, the championship team will represent North America at the 2017 World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Boyd Gaming, to be held in Las Vegas next month.

But the reward that may be nearest and dearest to the curlers heart is the Trials berth. The only men’s other team that possesses the prized spot is the one skipped by Kevin Koe of Calgary.

The 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup concludes Sunday with the women’s final at 1:30 p.m. and men’s at 6:30 p.m. (all times CST).

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