John Epping working extra ends coaching Team Galusha

John Epping delivers a stone during Saturday's action at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard at High Park Club. (Anil Mungal)

TORONTO — John Epping is pulling double duty this weekend at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard.

The three-time Grand Slam champion is not only skipping his crew on the men’s side in his hometown tournament, he’s also working overtime coaching Kerry Galusha’s women’s squad from the Northwest Territories.

Epping’s dual roles aren’t duelling as he believes coaching is a nice distraction from competing himself.

“I really enjoy coaching and teaching,” Epping said. “The girls have been here since Tuesday. We did a couple training days in Toronto to try and get them prepared for their season. I absolutely love it. I would never let it get ahead of my own games and my own team, that wouldn’t be fair to my guys, but it’s a welcomed distraction.”

It was Epping who made the initiative and reached out to Galusha a couple years ago as he felt something was off with the way she was playing and offered his assistance.

“I think Kerry was kind of discouraged with the sport, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do and had a couple rough goes through relegation,” he said. “I was talking to her and said, ‘I would love to help you if you want it.’ It was a few months later, we hadn’t talked, and she gave me the call and said, ‘If you will, let’s do this.’ It’s been two years and it’s been a great relationship.”

Epping’s addition has already paid dividends for Galusha, who battled out of the relegation round last season at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and finished with a personal-best 8-7 total record.

“With John coaching us we’re a whole different team,” Galusha said. “Just one day of working with him, he makes us better. He’s such a good curler himself, he’s so smart and it’s just amazing how well he works with us. I know he worked with other teams in the past, but I think with us it really shows how much he helps us. It’s great that he’s taking the time to do it because he’s got a pretty busy season himself and he has his own team to focus on, so for him to even be able to help us has been great.”

Epping has seen Team Galusha steadily improve over the past couple years noticing subtle differences that have added up big time.

“They’re all great shooters I just think it’s maybe more of the little things of the game,” he said. “When they don’t play as much in spiels they don’t get to do everything that they probably should. I just find the little things of the game, managing the game, and they’re definitely a better team than when I was first with them two years ago.”

“I’m lucky they believe in me and listen to me,” he added with a smile. “They could tell me to go somewhere else. It’s nice that they trust that I’m going to help them.”

Perhaps one of Epping’s unorthodox coaching methods was supplying the team with candy for an energy boost while in the midst of a back-to-back set of games during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which actually worked out.

“They had just won the relegation game, they were playing right after in their first game of the round-robin and I don’t think any team had ever won their first game after [relegation],” Epping said. “I think you would have such a relief feeling after you get through that game, so that was one thing I was really prepared for was having them come back out, play well right away and not let them feel that relief.

“I could see they were lacking a little energy so I said why not, let’s grab some candy. If it comes back and bites me in the you-know-what then that’s fine, whatever. I’ll take the blame for that. To be honest, it’s funny when you sell them on something and make them believe, they were sold that this was it for this game. This was what was going to get them through and they actually played one of their best games of the week, so that was fun.”

Team Galusha’s lineup has changed this season with Shona Barbour returning at lead after stepping back for a bit and 24-year-old Sarah Koltun from Whitehorse, Yukon, joining the team at third/vice skip.

“Everyone knows she’s a good little curler. I’m almost 20 years older than her though but she’s fit in really well,” Galusha said with a laugh. “This is only our second weekend together and it’s been like our team has been together for years. We’ve all really clicked and the dynamic is really good right now. It’s nice to have a real third because Megan [Koehler], who is second now, used to throw third but she was never in the house with me. It’s a different dynamic, it’s nice to have [Sarah] and she helps me with the game, ice reading, and it’s just really good.

“We did some personality testing with John and that’s helped us understand each other better and what we’re dealing with. It feels really good out there right now, so it’s just hoping we’ll get the results.”

This is a key training week for Team Galusha and well worth the trip from Yellowknife to have those in-person sessions with their coach and maximize their time together. It’s especially crucial this season since Epping will not be able to join them at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts as it conflicts with his own provincial championship.

“It would be better if I could at least throw with them and practice with them,” Epping said. “We kind of work their schedule where if they’re in Toronto or if I’m in a spiel and they’re close by, we’ll get together and try to make it work so that we can do some training. It really makes a huge difference if I can be on the ice with them. I’d love to be at some of their events but it just doesn’t happen obviously with my own schedule. We rely on Skype, Facebook, phone calls and texts and I try to be there as much as I can for them.”

“He’s playing himself, but he’s watched both our games already and has been able to give us a lot of input,” Galusha added. “We have to take what we can this week and then we’re not going to see him again so we have to really utilize him and figure things out this week.”

While Team Galusha trekked roughly 4,900 k.m. to get to the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, Epping would probably win the award for having travelled the shortest distance. He said it’s great playing close to home and having family, friends, and fans cheering him on and providing extra motivation to win. Event sponsor Stu Sankey is also one of Team Epping’s major supporters, which is another reason the skip wants to do well here too.

“It’s nice to be able to stay in our own beds for the weekend and not have to worry about a hotel room and maybe eat at home a little more, which is nice, no restaurants,” said Epping, whose team is based out of the Leaside Curling Club. “We don’t get to do that often, so that’s really helpful.

“This event is really important to us because our sponsor, Stu, gives so much to the game. We just love to support every event he runs and puts on and there aren’t many people in curling like him. We feel very fortunate he is a sponsor of Team Epping and without him we wouldn’t be playing as much as we do.”

NEWS & NOTES

– Epping qualified for the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard playoffs Sunday via the B side of the triple knockout with a 4-1 win over Chang-Min Kim of Korea.

– Halfax’s Jamie Murphy and Thomas Ulsrud of Norway also advanced through the B brackets. Murphy scored three in the seventh to beat Tanner Horgan 6-4 while Ulsrud shut out Jordan Chandler 7-0.

– Chandler, Winnipeg’s William Lyburn, and Team Hall, skipped by Mike Harris, from Kitchener/Waterloo, Ont., made it through the C qualifiers. Lyburn clipped Horgan 4-3 in an extra end, Harris downed Kim 7-2 and Chandler topped Greg Balsdon of Kingston, Ont., 6-4.

– Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L. and Codey Maus of London, Ont., hold the top seeds as the A qualifiers. Gushue goes up against Chandler, Epping will play Murphy, Maus meets Team Hall and Ulsrud takes on Lyburn in Monday’s quarterfinals.

– Seven Ontario women’s teams qualified for the playoffs with Julie Tippin of Woodstock leading the way posting an unblemished 4-0 record. Tippin will face the lone non-Ontario team, Jennifer Armstrong of Fredericton, in Monday’s quarterfinals. The rest of the bracket sees Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay meet Jacqueline Harrison of Mississauga, Toronto’s Hollie Duncan play Ottawa’s Hailey Armstrong and Fleury face Chrissy Cadorin of Thornhill.

– Galusha lost both of her games Sunday falling to Eve Belisle 7-5 and Hailey Armstrong 6-4 to finish with a 1-3 record and miss the playoffs.

– All three playoff rounds are set for Thanksgiving Monday at High Park Club.