Even before the first rock was thrown during Sunday’s men’s final at the 2019 Home Hardware Canada Cup, Toronto’s John Epping had become Canada’s top-ranked men’s team.

All that the perennial contender Epping had to do was go out and prove his team has taken a step up as a championship-winning contender this season.

In a seesaw battle at Sobeys Arena, Epping edged Calgary’s Kevin Koe 7-4 to earn $40,000 and the first berth to the 2021 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings curling trials.

“Amazing,” said Epping, supported by third Ryan Fry, second Mat Camm and lead Brent Laing. “What a great week. We played okay today, got a couple of breaks, went away and it turned into us just winning.

“We really can start to see what the next few years will look like for this team.”

Epping finished the round-robin portion of the event in third place with a 4-2 record behind Koe and Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher after losing to both Alberta-based skips.

Epping then turned the tables on both the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier finalists, earning the right to face Koe after downing Bottcher 12-4 in Saturday’s semifinal.

“This one’s right up near the top,” said Epping about where this win ranks in his career. “It’s huge. The Brier was a special one to go to because I’ve been dreaming of going since I was a kid. This one, we just beat all the best teams in the world, so that’s huge for us.

“Among the top teams, people realize we’re good. It’s nice to win something. This is our third win this year. We’ve continued to make the playoffs in every event we’ve played in and we’ve played solid. I think we’re now on people’s radar.”

Epping was determined to have a strong season this year, bringing a pair of championship calibre curlers into his supporting cast. Tim Hortons Brier winner Fry was brought in at the start of this season. Laing, in his second year with the team, has three world championships on his resume.

“This team, there’s a lot of veteran presence with Lainger,” said Epping. “Fry, he’s one of the best shooters in the world and my second’s a great shooter. He’s always been solid and really come out of his shell in the last couple of years. For him to play that position, it’s been a dream story.

“We’ve always been in the mix. We’ve always been at the big events. We just haven’t stepped through and won one. It’s nothing new to me. I just feel this team believes it can win every time its steps onto the ice.”

Epping turned a precarious situation to his advantage with a three-ender in the fourth to take a 3-2 lead, neutralizing Koe’s hammer advantage and denying Koe a chance to post his first four-game win streak this year.

“Whenever you give up a deuce early, you can’t panic.” said Epping. “We were trying to get a deuce in the next end and we ended up with three.”

Even though Koe earned $25,000 for his finals appearance, the team’s loss denied him his third Home Hardware Canada Cup title.

“We were one down with a couple of times, so we had our chances to come back,” said Koe, whose team includes third B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Flasch, lead Ben Hebert and coach John Dunn.

“We didn’t play great. We missed too many early and a couple of little ones later. John just didn’t have hard enough shots. It’s always disappointing when you lose and don’t play great. We haven’t played many events this year. We’re going in the right direction. We just have to find another gear.”