TRURO, N.S. — John Epping has claimed all four majors in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.
Epping captured the elusive Canadian Beef Masters for his Toronto-based club with a 7-4 victory over Calgary’s Kevin Koe in Sunday’s men’s final at Rath Eastlink Community Centre.
No two title wins have been the same for Epping. After winning the National in 2008 while playing second for Wayne Middaugh, Epping branched out and won the 2012 Players’ Championship and 2015 Canadian Open while skipping different lineups.
“It feels awesome,” Epping said. “We played pretty solid all week and I finally really started to get a hot hand today. I was able to play pretty good. The boys have played great all week and it was my time to show up today.”
It’s the second title for third Mat Camm, who is the lone holdover from Epping’s Canadian Open win, while second Brent Laing claimed No. 16 — 15 of which are majors — and lead Craig Savill picked up his 13th. The front-end dynamic duo captured 12 together during their days with Glenn Howard and now also a record seven Masters title victories.
“It’s not something I think about a ton,” said Laing, who tied Wayne Middaugh for third on the all-time majors list. “I’ve looked back a couple times just as I’m getting older and you never know how many more you’re going to win.
“In the last four years, we only won one Players’ and a Tour Challenge and we had a pretty good run. They’re hard to win, really hard to win, so you never know when you’re going to win any more. If 15 is the number, that’s pretty crazy. All it really says is that I’ve been on some great teams with some great skips and great thirds and we’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of success.”
Laing left Team Howard to join Koe during the previous quadrennial winning the 2016 Brier and world championships and representing Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Savill, who stepped from the sport in 2015 to battle Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was ready to return full-time after being declared cancer-free and reunited with his longtime friend this season.
“This one feels really good getting back playing full-time again,” Savill said. “These Slams are really tough to win, so any time you get to be in a final and have a chance of winning is always good. I’m proud of the boys with how they played this week and happy for John because it gets him his career Slam.”
Team Epping collected $30,000 of the $250,000 total purse plus a berth in the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup and 12 points towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the season champion following the conclusion of April’s Players’ Championship.
“It’s huge for us,” Epping said. “We want to play in every Slam that we can and to qualify for that one, make sure we’re in all seven now probably this year, is awesome. Also, the Pinty’s Cup too to get some points and get ourselves in the mix for that. It’s great.”
Koe and lead Ben Hebert are the only holdovers from last season’s Canadian Olympic Team. Third B.J. Neufeld, formerly with Team McEwen, took over for Marc Kennedy, who stepped back from competitive curling. Colton Flasch moved from Saskatoon to replace Laing.
Koe, who entered the final undefeated winning six consecutive games, held the hammer to start but was unable to capitalize scoring just a single in the first frame. Epping made an open tap for two in the second to pull ahead and didn’t relinquish the lead.
The five-time GSOC title winner Koe struggled with his draw shots rolling through the rings and out the back in the fourth to give up a point, and he conceded two more in the fifth when he was light.
Laing knows better than anyone you can never count out Koe though and got his deuce in the sixth to close within two. Epping fell into a bit of trouble in the seventh and conceded a steal of one that cut the deficit down to 5-4, which wasn’t too bad for him considering it meant retaining the hammer coming home for the final end.
“He just doesn’t give up. He doesn’t look defeated ever,” Laing said. “He just hangs in there and plays and plays and plays and makes so many shots. It’s the same with the other guys. As emotional as Benny is, he doesn’t ever go away. He looks like he’s quitting but he never does, deep down. You know that any of the top teams you’ve got to beat them right to the end.”
It was a bad break for Koe though as his last in the eighth picked something and veered off target. Epping fired one of his typical angle raises to kick out the counter, tack two more points on the board and secure the championship.
“We played a good scoreboard today and stayed in control pretty much the entire game,” Epping said. “It was a little scary late there but I’m happy that I had that one to win.”
“Time’s were intense but I think that’s part of being in the zone today,” he added. “I felt really confident there, especially with that shot there that I had to throw. I felt really good the last few ends.”
The Canadian Beef Masters is the second event and the first major of the 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.