Here comes Team Epping!
Team Epping gaining momentum at Tim Hortons Trials
John Epping has had his share of highs in the curling world.
But none of them have been enough for the 38-year-old consultant, including three appearances at the Tim Hortons Brier representing Ontario — four if you count a loss in a wild-card game in 2019.
Now, only something big will suffice, and it doesn’t come any bigger in Canada than winning a berth into the Olympic Winter Games.
That goal remained dead in his sights Wednesday at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon where nine men’s and nine women’s teams are scratching and clawing at the Tim Hortons Curling Trials, presented by AGI, for the two Canadian four-player team berths into the Olympics in Beijing.
Team Epping, from the Leaside Curling Club in Toronto, blasted Team Tanner Horgan (1-4; Kingston, Ont.) 8-4 in eight ends in the evening draw to improve its record to 3-2, and if the skipper doesn’t have visions of the Olympics dancing in his head by now, he should. Epping — aided by vice-skip Ryan Fry, second Mat Camm, lead Brent Laing, alternate Glenn Howard, and coach Jim Wilson — is right in the mix for one of three playoff spots on the weekend.
And once in the playoffs it’s anybody’s ball game.
Epping, like every other skip in the competition, dreams of winning the Tim Hortons Trials. It’s the pinnacle of the sport in the country. He would trade in all his other championship trophies, from juniors where he represented Ontario in 2004, to mixed – where he won a gold medal in 2006 – to four Grand Slams titles, for a chance to represent Canada at the Games.
Now he’s given himself a chance.
Team Epping got off to a slow start, losing two of its first three starts, although those losses were to event biggies Team Brad Gushue (St. John’s, N.L.) and Team Brad Jacobs (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), a couple of Olympic gold-medal winners. No shame there.
But Team Epping has hung tough, quietly flying under the radar, waiting for things to come together.
“We feel like we’re building a lot of momentum right now,” said Epping. “We’re getting stronger every game and feeling really comfortable out there.”
Epping, who’s playing in his fourth Tim Hortons Trials, says the experience at this level is so important.
“It’s a comfort level out there. Experience. You can’t buy it, and it’s huge to have,” he said.
Team Epping took control early, putting up a quick two, then applied huge pressure. Horgan drew against four to get a single in the second, then needed the high, hard one to bust up a cluster of Team Epping rocks in the fourth, yielding a single steal.
“They let us off the hook with some misses,” Epping admitted. “The good thing is we put some rocks in good positions. They didn’t really put us in trouble and capitalize on our misses, but we capitalized on every one of there’s.”
Things tightened up dramatically Wednesday when front-runner Team Gushue finally was brought back to earth. Gushue, who rolled up five straight wins, dropped a 7-6 decision to Jason Gunnlaugson (2-3; Morris, Man.).
The Gunner was rightfully pleased with the win.
“It’s been a long time since we beat him,” he said. “The guys came back with another beautiful game and it was nice to make the ones down the stretch to get the W.”
Meanwhile, Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe won its second game of the day, shading Team Mike McEwen of West St. Paul, Man., 7-6 in a rematch of the 2017 Tim Hortons Trials final in Ottawa. The win lifted Koe into a tie for second place with Team Jacobs, one game behind Gushue, with 4-1 records. Team McEwen dropped to 3-2.
In the other evening game, Team Matt Dunstone (1-5; Regina) hit the win column, defeating reigning Canadian men’s champion Team Brendan Bottcher (1-5; Edmonton) 9-4.
Team Jacobs had the evening bye.
The first-place team advances directly to Sunday’s championship game. The second- and third-place teams will meet in the semifinal Saturday.
The 2021 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials will continue Thursday with draws at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (all times Central).
Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2021 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials are available at www.curling.ca/scoreboard/
All draws from the 2021 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials are being broadcast in Canada on TSN and RDS. CLICK HERE for the broadcast schedule in Canada. As well, streaming coverage will be available on ESPN3 to fans in the U.S. with valid U.S. cable or satellite accounts.
This story will be available in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/2021trials/nouvelles/?lang=fr