It was an awkward practice for Team Epping on Tuesday in advance of the Grand Slam of Curling’s Players’ Championship in Toronto.
The foursome of John Epping, Mat Camm, Craig Savill and Brent Laing hit the ice at the Mattamy Centre, 24 hours after an emotionally charged press release and social media firestorm in the wake of the team’s announcement that Savill would be replaced next season by Ryan Fry.
“It’s a little awkward. It’s a little different,” Savill told CBC Sports of playing the season’s final two events with the group. “It’s not the same obviously and [I] didn’t expect it to be.”
The team put out a release announcing the change on Monday, followed shortly by Savill putting out his own statement.
“I was deeply disappointed when I got the call from Brent Laing that Team Epping’s future will be moving in a different direction that doesn’t include me,” Savill said in his statement.
Since then, many have taken to social media to draw their own conclusions about the team change, including suggesting Epping should have been the one to inform Savill.
On Tuesday, the team wanted to set the record straight.
“I think they’re making a big deal of nothing,” Savill told CBC Sports. “Knowing my relationship with Brent, we’re such good friends, it should come from him. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the skip. I talked to him later that day.”
For nearly their entire curling careers, Savill and Laing have been beside one another on the curling ice. That’s what made this change that much more difficult.
“Yesterday was a tough day, obviously. Team changes are never fun and for me personally when it’s Craig it’s a totally different level,” Laing said.
But to suggest there was any ill-intent or wrongdoing with how this all played out is offside, Laing said.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t about not wanting Craig on the team,” he said. “It was a chance to make the team better with a proven third. That left one guy out. It sucks, but it’s part of the game.”
Laing didn’t mince words when it came to the social media outrage over the move.
“The online people are going to find a hole in anything and see a written statement and think they know everything that went down. They don’t. Some of the things you read on social media, you think they were in the room,” he said.
Epping says it wasn’t an easy decision.
“As a skip, you’re the leader of the team,” Epping said of informing Savill. “In this case Lainger wanted to do it. I talked to Savill right after. When it comes to the new team, Ryan Fry is one of the best players on the planet. To me it was a massive opportunity for us.
“This is not an easy thing to do. You build relationships with each other. You spend 25 weeks on the road together. It’s the hardest thing in the world to make these changes.”
All three curlers agree that this is the challenging reality of curling today. Since the sport was added to the Olympics in 1998, the team changes have been happening with greater frequency. It’s all about finding that elite foursome to make a run at wearing the Maple Leaf on sports’ biggest stage.
“In our sport, we don’t have a coach and manager who makes these decisions. It’s a little different,” Epping said.
And while Savill accepts it’s part of the game, it still stings.
“I definitely went through the range of emotions and the biggest ones were shock and disappointment,” he said. “I think I was insulated from team changes playing with Glenn for 12 years and before that in juniors I played with John for 10 years.
“I saw all the other changes. It never really happened to me. It’s kind of different when you’re on the other side. Unfortunately it happened to me.”
The team has two more events remaining this season. They hit the ice Tuesday night to begin the Players’ Championship, losing to Brad Gushue 2-1 in seven ends, and then they’ll finish the curling year in Saskatoon at the Champions Cup.
Epping’s new-look team for next season includes Fry at third, Camm dropping to second and Laing playing lead.
For his part, Savill is unsure of his curling future.
“In my heart I know I’m still a great curler. Who knows what happens next. If it’s as a player or something else in curling I know I can contribute. I would continue playing if I had the right fit.”