OAKVILLE, Ont. — Finally, John Epping has won the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard.
Real estate agent Stu Sankey sponsors a number of tournaments and teams and has supported Epping’s club for a decade but the Toronto skip had yet to win one of the high-profile events.
The elusive streak came to an end Sunday as Epping and his new-look squad defeated Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone 7-3 in the men’s final at the Oakville Curling Club.
“It feels awesome,” Epping said with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to try and win one of Stu’s events because he’s been such a great supporter of our team over the past years. We’ve been close a couple of times but most importantly, it’s just a nice start to our season.
“We played really well this week, grinded a lot of games out. It was a marathon, played a lot of games, I think it was like five games in 24 hours. Also, I think we knocked off a Champions Cup spot, we’re hoping, so that’s just nice to get that out of the way and lots of positives.”
It was Epping’s first event with new third Ryan Fry in the fold. The 2014 Olympic gold medallist joined Team Epping after leaving Team Brad Jacobs at the end of last season. Mat Camm moved from third to second to accommodate Fry’s arrival while Brent Laing slid over from second to lead as the club parted ways with lead Craig Savill.
“The nice thing is I’ve known Ryan for so many years, so I didn’t think it would be such a big adjustment and it really wasn’t,” Epping said. “We’re still trying to figure out a few things and he’s still getting used to me and I’m getting used to him, especially the dynamic at the other end with those three.
“It seems easy now but we’re in the honeymoon stage. Ask us in three, four or five months, maybe it’ll be a little different but we’re good friends, it’s been awesome so far and I actually really look forward to the year with him.”
Team Epping finished with an overall 7-1 record including wins over Norway’s Team Thomas Ulsrud and Team Scott McDonald of Kingston, Ont., earlier Sunday in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. Epping beat Ulsrud 7-6 and bounced McDonald 6-4 in a rematch, but no repeat, of last season’s provincial final.
It was the lone loss of the week for Dunstone, who opened with the hammer but fell behind to start by missing a double takeout and giving up a single steal.
Tied 1-1 after two, Epping took control of the match in the third. Team Dunstone third Braeden Moskowy missed a raise takeout that allowed Fry to draw and split up the house to sit three. Epping maintained the triangle during skip stones to score a crucial three points that proved to be the difference-maker of the match.
“We played a good end and the guys ahead of me really played solid,” Epping said. “That was probably our best game of the whole week. Obviously, a three-point end is a big turnaround and allows you to maybe run a little bit.”
Dunstone (6-1) narrowed the deficit with a single in four and delivered back-to-back sharp shots in five — a triple takeout followed by a come-around draw to the button that Epping was unable to eliminate — to snag a steal of one but that was as close as his team would get. Epping widened the gap again with an open hit for a deuce in six to make it 6-3.
The gloves came off after seven when Dunstone misfired his last to give up another steal.
“A pretty good start and I think it was pretty important for us,” said Dunstone, who finished runner-up in the Saskatchewan men’s provincial championship last season. “We kind of limped down the stretch at the end of last year. We had three tough events to go out, so it is nice to get back on the winning train a little bit and then know what that feels like to get on a little bit of a roll.
“It sucks we played maybe not our best in the final today, not sharp and then Johnny’s team made us pay for it. They played great. That’s the way she goes but overall we’re pretty happy with our start to the year.”
Meanwhile, Team Anna Hasselborg of Sweden claimed the women’s title following a 5-2 win over Team Anna Sidorova of Russia.
Hasselborg broke a 2-2 tie with a single in the fifth and added back-to-back steals in the sixth and seventh ends.
“I’m really, really happy with our season’s start,” Hasselborg said. “We said we wanted to start a little bit later this year but we had some really focused and really good sessions before coming here. We’ve just been playing better and better all week. I think today and this final was our best game. I’m really, really proud of the week.”
The reigning Olympic gold medallists completed an undefeated 8-0 run including five wins within a 24-hour period to capture the championship.
“I’m surprised by how well we did it but I shouldn’t be because we trained hard all summer. This is what the coach (Wayne Middaugh) said we’ve trained for,” Hasselborg said. “ It definitely was a grind. We had five back-to-back games and we had jet-lag coming from home, five hours of sleep and I’ve got a cold, so it was a bit of a grind.”
The Oakville Curling Club has been good to Epping and Hasselborg in the past. A number of Epping’s mixed curling banners hang on the walls, including a Canadian championship. Hasselborg won the Oakville Fall Classic title in 2016 — her first World Curling Tour title with her current lineup of third Sara McManus, second Agnes Knochenhauer and lead Sofia Mabergs — and kicked off their road to Olympic gold.
“It’s a great club, the members are fantastic, the ice is absolutely fantastic,” Epping said. “Scott Foster is a top-notch ice maker, one of the best in the world. I went to my first men’s provincials with him, three of them with him, and he’s a great player too. I think we’re spoiled to play this event here and I think the Oakville Curling Club members are spoiled to have this type of ice.”