BEIJING — The curling world’s biggest nightmare is back.
The Americans are back in the medal round.
Facing a win-win challenge to advance to the semi-finals of the men’s olympic game. The United States team eliminated a lesser team from Denmark 7-5 to finish 5-4 in the round robin. Team Shuster, the defending gold medalist team from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, has a chance to repeat the performance.
The United States play a semi-final match against Great Britain which started at 6 a.m. You can get live score updates here.
The road to the medal round was treacherous at times as Team USA struggled against teams they had to manage. They complained of difficult playing conditions on Tuesday in a loss to ninth-placed Italy. But Team Shuster also had to rally in round robin play in 2018 before advancing with a similar 5-4 record. And it turned into a series of gold medals.
No one with Team Shuster will complain about following a similar path.
“They’ve played really well all week, honestly,” captain John Shuster said. “As I just did, I feel like we missed some of the bad shots, in a few of those games. We could have easily gone through this 7-2 thing.”
The United States team will face Great Britain at 6:05 a.m. central time on Thursday morning in one of the semifinals, while Sweden, runners-up in the United States four years ago, will face Canada in the other semi-final. Great Britain won’t be happy with the draw as Team USA were the only team to beat them in the round robin.
Everything seemed to fall into place on Wednesday as Team USA was aggressive early on and saw their opponents suffer at times.
Team USA’s path to the semi-finals was simple. Beat Denmark, the team that placed last in the round robin entering Wednesday, and they would return to the semifinals for the second straight Olympics.
There was a scenario where Team USA could lose and move on if Italy beat Norway. But what would the Shuster team think of their form if they fell back in the semi-finals after losing to a poor Danish team?
The Italy-Norway match was played simultaneously three sheets at the National Aquatic Center. So the Shuster team could take a look at the score from time to time.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know which team we had to win there,” Plys said. “I think our coaches wanted to make sure we were focused on our sheet, but I knew something was going on there. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
“So luckily I didn’t know that, and it was easier to just focus on the game.”
Shuster said he was too focused on the ice conditions in his game to check Italy-Norway. His throws were breaking differently than normal, and he had to keep that in mind when throwing.
Of course, it looked like something was wrong when the Shuster team trailed 2-0 after two ends.
Denmark had the hammer and took a 1-0 lead in the first half. It was Team USA’s turn with the hammer in the second, and they had a chance early on for several points. Denmark, on back-to-back shots, failed to cross the boundary line – removing that stone from play – and then missed an out. But he played good defense, forcing Chisholm’s Shuster to draw for just one point. But Shuster’s shot had too much weight – perhaps a misinterpretation of the ice conditions – and Denmark finished with the point.
Team USA got two in the second to tie, then surged in the third.
The United States had three rocks in the house after a withdrawal from Shuster. Denmark’s Mikkel Den Krause had the chance to score a point, but his shot was too heavy and slipped. Team USA finished with three points and a 5-2 lead.
“I think we showed very good patience, starting with two after two.” Plis said. “We had a few chances in the first and second end and we just said, ‘We’re playing good, so keep going and we’ll get our chance. And then we did.”
Team USA entered the eighth with a 6-3 lead. In addition to Shuster, Plys of Duluth was on fire and Matt Hamilton outplayed his Danish counterpart. It was about managing the game. As in baseball, the Shuster team had to avoid giving up twisted numbers in one of the remaining ends while taking advantage of the hammer. And he held one.
And come back in the semi-finals.
“We knew we were playing pretty well,” Shuster said. “I was like, keep giving me chances and I’ll put points on the board.”
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