John Epping capped a Cinderella run at the Grand Slam of Curling's Players' Championship in dramatic fashion on Sunday afternoon.
Epping drew to the button on the game's final shot to give his Toronto rink a 7-6 win over Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., in the championship game.
“From start to finish, the boys played so well today (Sunday),” said Epping. “All we wanted was the four-foot (on the game-winning shot).”
Lead David Mathers and second stone Scott Howard carefully guided the rock home while third stone Scott Bailey made the call from the house. Once Mathers raised his hand to indicate the shot was good, Epping dropped his broom and punched his fist in the air while breaking out in a big smile as the crowd roared its approval.
“I didn't throw many draws all game, but Mark's ice is so good you know it's going to be close to the same,” said Epping referring to head ice-maker Mark Shurek. “A skip has to draw to the four-foot, and I have two great sweepers, so I didn't have to worry about it too much.”
Epping took control in the second end. He just got his rock by a guard for a tap-back to count three points and a 3-1 lead. He never trailed after that.
“You have to make shots like that against these guys,” said Epping. “They are so good, they come at you all the time and are so consistent. He (Howard) left me a little opening and the guard kind of acted as a guide.”
Epping came into the season-ending event as the lowest seed of the eight-team field. He went 5-2 in the round robin, and rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits to beat Edmonton's Kevin Martin 6-4 in Saturday night's semifinal. Howard beat Winnipeg's Mike McEwen 7-3 in the other.
“When you look at the event, I don't think anybody could pick us to win it,” said Epping. “I don't think many people picked us to make the playoffs.
“We've had a good season, the boys worked hard and we had a bit of a slump mid-season where we didn't play so well, but the kids are so resilient.”
Howard praised the young Epping rink after the game.
“John's team outplayed us, and they deserved the win,” said Howard. “A couple of shots here and there I would like to get back, but I cannot complain. With the year we had, it was one for the ages.
“The guys played so well all year, we came in here really tired and yet we put on a great performance. I'm really pleased with the outcome.”
All Howard, third stone Wayne Middaugh, second stone Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill accomplished during the 2011-12 season was winning two Grand Slams, the Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men's championship, world men's championship, Capital One Cup and securing a 2013 Olympic trials berth.
The Capital One Cup, which is accompanied by a $50,000 top prize, is presented to the team with the most points in the four -event Grand Slam of Curling series.
The Howard rink also received an additional $22,000 - $12,000 runners-up share and $2,000 for each of their five round-robin wins in the Players' Championship.
Epping's rink earned $18,000 for winning the championship and $2,000 each for the five round-robin wins. They received another $10,000 for finishing third in the Capital One Cup race.
Howard said it's nice to have Olympic Trials berth locked up.
“That's always been a long-term goal, and you want to get your spot right away,” said Howard. “By getting it now, next year we don't have to worry about any of that.
“We can go out and enjoy ourselves, play in the spiels, play in playdowns and not worry about points. It's a matter of trying to make a few bucks, and get back to the nationals.”