Epping adds experience with new-look team for next season

Rob Faulds, Kevin Martin and Mike Harris recap the final of the Princess Auto Elite 10.

When Toronto skip John Epping was looking for a new front end for next season, he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to bring Brent Laing and Craig Savill back together again.

Laing and Savill formed a dynamic duo winning two world junior titles with John Morris and two Briers, two world championships and 12 Grand Slams with Glenn Howard.

While Laing had spent the previous Olympic cycle with Kevin Koe’s crew and represented Canada at the Winter Games, Savill was forced to take a step back from the game when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. Savill returned the following year on Charley Thomas’s team and served as the alternate this season for Reid Carruthers during the lead-up to the Olympic Trials.

Now that the quadrennial is coming to a close and teams are shuffling their rosters, Laing and Savill have linked up once more joining Epping and third Mat Camm.

“I knew that Craig really wanted to get back into the game,” Epping said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Craig and what he brings to the front end. Brent had messaged me and said there might be changes over on the Team Koe side and then said he would love to reunite with Craig. They had such a such an obviously long-standing relationship and great results together. To reunite them, it just seemed like a great fit.”

Epping made the announcement Monday on social media he was revamping the roster and retaining Camm.

“I had lots of success with Mat and we have such a strong relationship in the back end that it seemed like a good fit for the four of us to give this a run, especially with the experience,” Epping said. “Mat and I still could use a little more experience and we know that two guys like Brent and Craig are going to offer that and make us better players.”

Although all four live in Ontario, Epping is going to be a bit lonely at the Leaside Curling Club with Laing up the highway in Shanty Bay while Camm and Savill are relatively near each other in Cornwall and Manotick, respectively.

“Lainger is not too far up north but it’s actually great that Mat and Craig are going to be so close together,” Epping explained. “I’ll make things work in Toronto and make sure that I have somebody holding the broom for me because that’s key in practice.”

Epping cleaned house at the end of the previous Olympic cycle adding third Travis Fanset, second Pat Janssen and lead Tim March to his lineup in 2014. Camm replaced Fanset at third the following season.

Their highlight in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling during the quadrennial came at the 2015 Meridian Canadian Open when Epping captured his third title in the series and first with Camm, Janssen and March. The team went undefeated 6-0 in the tournament with Epping throwing 100 percent and making ridiculous runbacks from every angle in the final against Team Brad Gushue to win 7-4.

Although they fell short of their ultimate goal during the Olympic Trials this season, Epping won his first Ontario Tankard title in February. The 34-year-old Epping made up for the lost time at the Brier finishing on the podium securing a bronze medal.

“This team checked a bunch of things off our bucket list,” Epping said. “We won a Grand Slam title, five World Curling Tour events together, being at the Olympic Trials and, of course, going to the Brier. What a great way to end for this team and still the Players’ Championship too, which is in Toronto, so really excited to finish our run together there.

“I was so lucky to be surrounded with these guys. They became great friends. That’s the thing, you spend more time with them on the road than you do with your own spouses. You form great relationships. I have the utmost love and respect for the guys and I hope we continue to have great friendships going forward. It’s never easy to do but it seems these four-year cycles are what teams are now trying to do with the Olympics being the ultimate carrot.”

The Players’ Championship, running April 10-15 at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, will be their hometown farewell event and Epping is expecting quite the crowd of support.

“A lot of our friends and family will be there and members from the club, people from the GTA to cheer and that’s really special,” he said. “I hope we can finish with a big win.”

Considering Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen and his team announced they were disbanding last week and then proceeded to roll through their hometown Princess Auto Elite 10 to claim the title Sunday, it’s what Epping is hoping will happen to him at the Players’ Championship.

“That would be great but I’m sure we’re not going to be the only team that’s going to be finishing at the Players’,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of teams asking for that.”

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