(LONDON, ON) – It’s not as simple as one plus one equals two, but the math is on Team Europe’s side at the OK Tire & BKT Tires Continental Cup, presented by Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing.

Heading into the final day of competition at The Sports Centre at Western Fair District, European teams have done all they could to set the table for its first-ever back-to-back titles.

Switzerland’s Alina Paetz did what she had to do, beating Sudbury’s Tracy Fleury 7-3 in mixed team scramble play.

Anna Hasselborg at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
Anna Hasselborg at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

Scotland’s Eve Muirhead helped with an 11-5 verdict over Calgary’s Chelsea Carey while Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg completed the sweep with a 9-4 decision over Rachel Homan of St Albert, AB.

Heading into Sunday’s skins games, Team Europe holds a 20.5-6.5 edge over Team Canada. On a day when 33 points (five per three afternoon games and six for evening meetings) are up for grabs, Team Europe needs just 10 points to successfully defend its title.

It’s been two years since Paetz switched her curling focus, giving up skips duties while focusing on throwing last stones for the Silvana Tirinzoni-skipped team that won the 2019 women’s world championship title.

Alina Paetz at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
Alina Paetz at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

“It’s definitely different,” said Paetz, who skipped Saturday night’s mixed scramble winning team supported by Swiss teammate Esther Neuenschwander at second, boyfriend Sven Michel at third and Valentin Tanner at lead. “I haven’t won as a skip since I joined the girls. It’s special to play at the Continental Cup. It’s special to play mixed scramble as a skip without skipping for two years.”

Team Europe is in a much more comfortable spot in this go-round than they were heading into last year’s final-day win at Las Vegas.

“It’s a comfortable position, but we saw last year that anything can happen on Sunday,” Paetz said about Team Canada’s comeback attempt last season. “It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow. We have to be sharp. We know the Canadians will play well tomorrow. I hope we can keep the good work up and play as well as we did today.

“We are enjoying ourselves out there. We have such great teammates. It’s great to play here and it’s great to have so many great teams playing here. I’m excited about what’s coming tomorrow.”

Valentin Tanner with shot, Sven Michel, and Esther Neuenschwander at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
Valentin Tanner with shot, Sven Michel, and Esther Neuenschwander at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

Paetz had to draw on her experience to find a way to overcome an early deficit against event rookie Fleury at skip, Darren Moulding at third, second Liz Fyfe and lead Brent Laing. With a strong finishing kick, Paetz scored five straight points in the last three ends to seal the deal.

“Tracy played amazing,” said Paetz. “She had some tremendous shots in the second and fourth ends. We really had to make some good shots to beat them. The three-ender (in six) was definitely the turning point in the game.”

Tracy Fleury urges on Darren Moulding as Alina Paetz watches at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
Tracy Fleury urges on Darren Moulding as Alina Paetz watches at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

The fact the male members of the scramble team were also Swiss helped. It’s been one of the keys to Europe’s strong showing this week that the three representative countries have male and female teams here, making for an easier transition in the scramble format.

“It’s always special for us,” said Paetz. “It’s not like we’re playing back home. This is the Continental Cup. When we play the scramble, it’s special for us. We know each other well because we spend so much time together on tour. It’s fun and different than anywhere else. We really enjoy that.”

Over the years, the final-day skins format proved to be Team Canada’s strength and Sunday afternoon’s session proved to be no exception. Leading 26.5 to 15.5, and Europe needing four of the 18 available points to win its first-ever back-to-back title, Canada can still win its seventh title in the past eight years if it can grab 15 points.

John Epping at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
John Epping at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

On Sunday, Team Canada did what they had to do in the second-last draw to deny Team Europe the title. They made sure that tonight’s final draw will remain relevant. Toronto’s John Epping led the charge, scoring a 4.5-0.5 decision against Scotland’s Bruce Mouat.

BJ Neufeld at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
BJ Neufeld at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

In other games, Winnipeg’s B.J. Neufeld upended Sweden’s Niklas Edin 3.5-1.5, while Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni beat Calgary’s Chelsea Carey 4-1. With Epping leading the way, it was Team Canada’s first session win this week, winning two of three games.

“Just to give us a chance tonight … we were so far behind going into today, we thought we had to throw everything at them just to get to tonight,” said Epping, supported by third Ryan Fry, second Mathew Camm and lead Brent Laing. “Because we were so far behind, it was a bit of a loose feel. I don’t think the nerves were there.”

“You don’t have to play ultra, ultra aggressive. You can score a deuce in the final end and it’s worth a lot of points. That can happen again tonight where you get a couple of carryovers and maybe get a big shot for a bunch of skins.”

With a win in his final appearance as a rookie skip at the event, Epping has embraced the entire experience of the week.

Brent Laing at Curling Canada's 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.
Brent Laing at Curling Canada’s 2020 Continental Cup as part of the Season of Champions at the Western Fair Sports Centre in London, Ontario, on 11 January 2020. Ian Shalapata.

“This is amazing,” said Epping. “This is so cool. I’m having so much fun. Having a chance to represent your country at an event with the crowd, being from Ontario, being in London, this has been just a special week.

“Just to help the team out. That’s all I wanted to do all week and put some points on the board for Canada. To do it here, it’s so much fun. It’s one of the best experiences of my life.”

Even though he struggled out of the gate, posting just a tie, Epping can go home with a huge smile on his face as a winner in his final appearance this week.

Epping made a superb sixth-end draw to corner freeze on Mouat’s rock, setting up a steal worth 1.5 points, cashing a two-end carryover.

“There was a lot of skins on the line there,” Epping said. “We lose that one, then we put ourselves into an even bigger hole.”

“When it came down to the last one, there was a bit of adrenaline there,” Epping said. “This is why we play the sport. I was a little nervous half-way down the sheet (on his last shot), luckily we had Lainger on it and he’s one of the best sweepers in the world. He helped me out on that one, for sure.” 

The 2020 OK Tire & BKT Tires Continental Cup concludes with a six-point skins draw at 7pm.