Team Alberta to face Team Canada in Tim Hortons Brier final

REGINA – Alberta is a win away from setting a record for most Canadian men’s curling crowns, and if it happens it will come from the latest in a long line of sharpshooting skips the province has produced. Brendan Bottcher’s Edmonton team defeated Ontario (Toronto), skipped by John Epping, 6-4 Sunday to advance to the final of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic. Alberta will face Team Canada, the defending world champion skipped by Brad Gushue of St. John’s, tonight (6 p.m. CT). Team Alberta is tied with Team Manitoba for the most titles at 27 thanks to the likes of multiple winners such as Kevin Koe, Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey, Pat Ryan, Ed Lukowich and Ron Northcott. “It’s pretty remarkable,” said Bottcher. “I’m just so proud of the guys. We’ve done everything we wanted to this week, we’ve beaten so many good teams. I just want to out there in the final and play my best one more time, and hopefully it’s enough.” Epping started strong in the first end with his aggressive strategy resulting in a hit-and-stick for two with his final shot. Epping controlled most of the fourth end, but he just missed a cross-house double takeout with his last shot, leaving Bottcher with a double takeout of his own to score two for a 2-2 tie. In the fifth, Bottcher bailed out his team with a beautiful hit and roll to freeze onto an Ontario rock, and all Epping could do was get one out of it. “The roll in five was pretty fortunate. I probably would have given up two in that end, and to put it in that spot and force him to one was big,” said Bottcher. “That was sort of a momentum switch for us. I thought from there we played a little bit better than they did, whereas in the first half they probably outplayed us a little bit.” In the sixth, Bottcher tried a circus double in an effort to get two but only scored one for a 3-3 tie. The next end, Bottcher forced Epping into a tough draw just to score, but it was heavy and wide allowing Alberta to steal two and get its first lead, 5-3, of the game, making the decidedly pro-Alberta crowd extremely happy. In the 10th, Epping, lying two, forced Bottcher to draw with no backing to the four-foot to secure victory. and he drew the button.

Ontario skip John Epping watches his shot, as Alberta’s Karrick Martin, top, and Brad Thiessen look on. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“He made a couple of game-savers, and obviously that steal of two (in the seventh end) stands out on the scoreboard. Really we were just sloppy with a couple of early shots in the ends,” said Epping, who was supported by third Mat Camm, second Pat Janssen, lead Tim March and coach Jim Wilson en route to a bronze medal in their first Tim Hortons Brier as a team. “This was an unbelievable week. So much support we had back home, and here. It was a really special first Brier.” This is the Alberta team’s second Tim Hortons Brier, having finished 3-8 in St. John’s last year. “We’re just trying to approach (the final) where we’re already so proud of how we’ve done, and in this final especially we’re going to be the huge underdogs to Brad Gushue. There isn’t a whole lot of pressure on us, and I feel like there’s a ton of pressure on him,” said Bottcher, whose team of third Darren Moulding, second Brad Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin (Kevin’s son) was the only one to beat Team Canada all week, winning 10-7 Wednesday morning. “Brad’s playing great. Certainly the game last night where he shot 100 per cent, he’s got to have a little bit of confidence from that. But at least we know what it feels like to beat those guys, and I think that’s big for our team in the game this evening.” The winning team receives $62,000 in prize money, and will represent Canada at the 2018 World Men’s Championship in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 8. If the team reaches the podium in Vegas it will be invited to participate at the 2019 World Financial Group Continental Cup as part of Team North America. Victory also means becoming Team Canada at the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier in Brandon, Man. Sunday’s runner-up will go home with $52,000. As third-place finisher, Epping earns $42,000 while Northern Ontario received $32,000 in prize money for finishing fourth.

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