GANGNEUNG, South Korea — After a 2-4 start to the round robin, USA’s John Shuster had feelings of old creeping into his head. But, a fresh mindset and some inspiration from his family and a past Olympian who has had struggles helped the four-time Olympian lead his team to three straight must-win games to march into the semifinals as the No. 3 seed at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“We just stood there and watched the Korea-Japan game on the TV because we had to clear the field of play, as soon as Yusuke’s draw over-curled we looked at each other and said – ‘Well boys! Next step!’ Shuster said after learning the team had made the playoffs. Earlier in the week, Shuster watched a video about struggles Olympian Dan Jansen had performing on the highest level and wondering why it was potentially happening to him again. That video, and the love and support of the team’s fans here in Gangneung and back home, helped put him in a better frame of mind along with Carly Anderson, the team’s sports psychologist. The result has been a three-game win streak with a chance for more.
With a triumphant 10-4 win today over Great Britain’s Kyle Smith rink in the final session of the round robin, Shuster (Superior, Wis.) and teammates Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.), Matt Hamilton (McFarland, Wis.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) will enter the Olympic playoffs for the first time since winning bronze in 2006 in Torino, Italy. They will take on Canada (6-3) at 8:05 p.m. KT on Thursday at the Gangneung Curling Centre. The Americans defeated Canada, 9-7, in the round robin to record the first ever win for the U.S. over Canada in Olympic competition.
“This is what you dream about as a teenager when you are out practicing and throwing rocks. If you want to play anybody at the Olympics with medals on the line – it’s Canada,” George said. “To actually get to a game like that – man! It’s amazing! But, we’ve played these guys plenty of times. This is not a situation that we’re going to be uncomfortable in. They are going to come at us with everything they’ve got – but man – it’s going to be fun!”
Today’s postitive game result left the U.S. tied with Great Britain and Switzerland at the Gangneung Curling Centre. The U.S. team beat both of those countries in the round robin and earned the direct path to Thursday night’s semifinals based on head-to-head record. Great Britain and Switzerland will play in a tiebreaker tomorrow morning to determine which side will be the No. 4 seed to take on Sweden (7-2) in the other semifinal.
“It’s pretty awesome to be in the medal rounds and know that for sure we are one win away from a medal and two wins away from gold,” Hamilton said.
The U.S. team kept control of the scoreboard today to fuel the win over Great Britain as they surged into the playoffs.
“This team has had their backs against the wall a lot the last few years. They came in as unit and stuck together as a unit. No matter what happened, and I am just proud of them,” said Coach Phill Drobnick (Eveleth, Minn.).
The U.S. placed a stone behind a corner guard late in the opening end to get a deuce set up. When Smith’s double takeout attempt just feathered the second stone, the U.S. men had a draw for two. Great Britain would be forced to draw against two U.S. stones for a single point in the second end after solid shooting from the Americans.
The U.S. got into a little trouble in the third end but a raise double takeout with Shuster’s first skip stone made the final draw less complicated. However, the stone had a little too much weight on it and Great Britain stole a point to tie the game, 2-2.
The U.S. got a deuce in play in the fourth end until Great Britain made a takeout and rolled its shooter stone to the back of the house to out-count the other American stone. Shuster opted for a difficult takeout for two versus a draw for one and Great Britain stole another point. In the fifth end, the U.S. answered back with a takeout to score three points and take a 5-3 lead into the second half.
The U.S. carried the momentum into the sixth end and forced Great Britain to draw for a point while facing three American stones in scoring position. The Americans were then forced into making a takeout in the seventh end as well to score a point as they maintained control over the scoreboard with a 6-4 lead.
In the eighth end, the U.S. placed a second counter in the rings to put the pressure on Great Britain. When Smith’s first skip stone rubbed on a corner guard, the U.S. made a takeout to leave four American stones in scoring position. Not only that, the U.S. got a solid roll with the finish as it went into the top of the four-foot to reduce the scoring area for Great Britain. Forced to draw the full four-foot to score, Smith’s rock came up light and the U.S. stole all four points and got the handshakes from Great Britain to end the game. The U.S. team then had to wait for the results of the Japan-Korea game, which would conclude minutes later when Korea scored three points to eliminate Japan from tiebreaker contention and put the U.S. into the semifinals.
“We’re through! In third spot and will play Canada – just got to win two more games,” said Joe Polo, the team’s alternate, who won bronze with Shuster in 2006.
The winner of the USA-Canada match-up will advance to Saturday’s gold-medal game.
“We mustn’t let any pressure get to us. Set some goals before each game. Be ourselves and bring the best version of ourselves out onto the ice – and give it everything,” Landsteiner said about the team’s plans going into the semifinal against Canada.
The U.S. men finished 2-7 in their last two Olympic outings and have now won more games here in South Korea than those two Games combined.
“I think it’s resilience the team has shown in the past few days. It’s stage one – qualify for the medal rounds. We’re here to play for a medal. We’re going to go out in the semifinal and give it our all,” said Coach Derek Brown.
The American women, led by Nina Roth (McFarland, Wis.), will finish the round robin tonight against playoff-bound Sweden. A win coupled with a loss by Japan (5-3) to Switzerland (3-5) will put the American ladies (4-4) in a tiebreaker game for the final playoff spot as they try to match their counterparts with a semifinal berth.
For a complete photo gallery from each game, go to https://www.facebook.com/teamusacurl.
Great Britain 5-4TB
Q=Qualified for semifinals
Great Britain 6-3Q
Q=qualified for semifinals
Tiebreaker games, if needed, 9:05 a.m.
Men’s semifinals, 8:05 p.m.
Men’s bronze-medal game, 3:35 p.m.
Women’s semifinals, 8:05 p.m.
Men’s gold-medal game, 3:35 p.m.
Women’s bronze-medal game, 8:05 p.m.
Women’s gold-medal game, 9:05 a.m.
All games are streaming live at www.nbcolympics.com and on the NBC Sports app with TV coverage live or on tape delay on NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC. A complete schedule is posted at http://www.nbcolympics.com/live-stream-schedule#/.
For more information on the U.S. teams, go to https://www.teamusa.org/usa-curling/2018-us-olympic-curling-team.