Team Epping advances to men’s finalat 2019 Home Hardware Canada Cup

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John Epping of Toronto notched a stunning 12-4 semifinal victory over Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher at the 2019 Home Hardware Canada Cup, presented by Pioneer.

Less that 24 hours after losing 7-3 to Team Bottcher in the event’s final round-robin game, Epping’s win put his team of vice-skip Ryan Fry, second Mat Cam and lead Brent Laing into Sunday’s 5 p.m. (all times Mountain) men’s final against Calgary’s Kevin Koe.

“Kevin Koe is such a big-game player,” said Epping, whose team was edged 8-7 by Koe in the opening draw on Wednesday. “This is a Season of Champions event and he always seems to show up. He’s been playing great this week and we’ll have to be really sharp tomorrow night.”

Epping took advantage of a perplexingly shaky start by Bottcher that helped Epping build up an 8-1 lead after four ends.

Epping scored a pair of back-to-back four-enders when Bottcher’s last-rock draws fell short of the house in the third and fourth ends.

“We played a pretty solid game today,” said Epping. “Once we got up three, then seven, we were able to hit away. Overall, a good performance day for us.”

The game had another bizarre moment after Bottcher opened up the scoring with a single when he failed to roll out on a blank attempt. Bottcher vice-skip Darren Moulding’s slider needed repair, forcing a lengthy timeout during the break.

This will be Epping’s first shot at a Home Hardware Canada Cup title while Koe is looking to win his third (2008 as vice-skip for Blake MacDonald, 2015 as skip).

Even before the first rock was thrown in the semifinal, Epping’s team was ensured it would come out of this weekend as the highest-ranked team in the Canadian Team Ranking System. Epping’s team qualifies as a member of Team Canada at the 2020 OK Tire & BKT Tires Continental Cup, presented by Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing, Jan. 9-12 in London, Ont.

“That’s exciting,” said Epping. “That’s one thing we realized last night and we were pretty pumped after that. To be in something like that, that I’ve never been involved with is exciting. It’s something new.”

Bottcher, whose team had won 11 of its previous 12 starts including a World Curling Tour win in Penticton, B.C., last weekend, will have to be content with winning $15,000 for his brief semifinal appearance. His only loss during that streak was to Koe.

“Sometimes, despite all the planning and all the preparation, it doesn’t quite work,” said Bottcher. “That’s sorta how it felt early for us. We never quite got into it and it definitely showed. We just got fooled a little all around. In practice, it (the ice) was right up to speed and feeling great. It just felt a little crunchier and we came up a little light on those two draws.

“The biggest thing to take away for us is another great week. We played well against the top teams all week. This is the kind of week we continue playing for, so I’m really proud of the guys for that.”

The 2019 Home Hardware Canada Cup continues with draw Saturday at 7 p.m., the women’s semifinal between Tracy Fleury (5-1; East St. Paul, Man.) and Chelsea Carey (4-2; Calgary). The winner plays Ottawa’s Rachel Homan (5-1) in the women’s final at noon Sunday.