Patrick McDonald competes in the wheelchair curling robin match between the United States and Slovakia at the Ice Cube Curling Center on March 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
SOCHI, Russia — Team USA battled Slovakia this morning in the opening round robin game of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at the Ice Cube Curling Center. But it was the second opponent - the ice - that stymied Patrick McDonald (Madison, Wis.) and the Americans as they struggled against the Radoslav Duris rink.
"I think overall it was just a couple of misses - execution on some of our shots, weight-wise - that hurt us," said McDonald, 46, who is making his second appearance at the Paralympic Games for USA. "We needed another couple of ends to adjust."
Slovakia earned the 6-4 win with a last-rock takeout despite a solid final end by McDonald and his team of David Palmer (Mashpee, Mass.), Jimmy Joseph (New Hartford, N.Y.), Penny Greely (Green Bay, Wis.), and alternate Meghan Lino (East Falmouth, Mass.) as they tried to steal to force an extra end.
"We were a little off on our weights. The ice was tricky in the first few ends," said McDonald, a U.S. Army veteran. "It changed a lot from practice and changed throughout the game. One side, the in-turn coming back home, three-quarters of the way down it's looking good and then just stops rotating and switches handle - straightens out-and you just don't know what to do."
The U.S. started the game with the last rock advantage, but it was Slovakia that dominated the scoreboard early on.
"They had a couple of key shots. Some of their hit and rolls were perfect," said Palmer, 52, who is making his Paralympic debut after taking up the sport in 2009.
The U.S. got into trouble right away in the first end as Team Slovakia piled granite into the house behind center guards. Palmer used his second stone to remove one of three potential scorers for Slovakia but Slovakian skip Duris replaced the stone in the top of the house, fully blocking the path to the four-foot. McDonald's final stone - a hit and roll attempt - didn't get the curl it needed and slid through the house.
In the second end, Slovakia continued to dominate with its draw weight on target. Duris played a raise with his final stone to promote a lone stone into the rings with six stones blocking the house. McDonald's takeout was slightly off and just rubbed the Slovakia stone - not enough to move it off the 12-foot ring and Slovakia stole a point to take a 3-0 lead.
The U.S. finally got stones in play in the third end but couldn't capitalize for the deuce as McDonald's final takeout made contact for the removal but couldn't stick around for the second point.
Trailing 3-1, the U.S. set out to play solid defense in the fourth end. McDonald played a freeze to the Slovakian stone in the back eight-foot ring with his first stone to grab shot rock position. When Duris inadvertently moved his own stone to the back of the eight-foot, USA had a chance to place a second stone in scoring position but McDonald's stone slipped deep into the house. That left Duris with a chance to draw the four-foot for a point. However, his stone also was heavy and Team USA stole a point.
Slovakia had a chance to make a takeout for two points in the fifth end to extend the lead but had to settle for a point instead as the takeout didn't go exactly as planned.
In the sixth end, Palmer placed a U.S. stone perfectly behind the corner guard to put two stones in scoring position for the Americans. After a successful takeout by Slovakia on the U.S. stone in the back four-foot, Palmer's second stone stopped short of the house as the U.S. tried to set up the deuce. McDonald used his first stone to try to draw around the stone Palmer left as a guard but ended up raising it into the rings instead. Duris played the perfect hit and roll to thwart the deuce opportunity and set up the single steal.
Needing a big end, the U.S. got stones around the outer rings in the seventh end and held on to score two points to pull within one.
The first four stones for the U.S. in the final end went according to plan as the U.S. protected a stone in the four-foot to try to set up the steal as Slovakia patiently peeled guards.
Palmer's second guard attempt was light and didn't cross the hogline, giving Slovakia the chance to finally remove the U.S. shot rock in the four-foot that had been troubling them. McDonald used his first stone to draw around the high center guard but it sank too deep and Slovakia's stone in the top of the house was in first scoring position. Duris placed a stone in the top of the four-foot that McDonald then removed. The U.S. stone, however, didn't get the roll to hide behind the corner guard, setting up a takeout for the win for Slovakia.
The round robin continues this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. (MSK) as the Americans will take on Korea, which lost to Norway, 10-0, this morning. Team USA is coached by Steve Brown (Madison, Wis.) and Rusty Schieber (Portage, Wis.).
"We need to try to figure out the ice a little quicker," Palmer said about looking forward to this afternoon's match with Korea. "I think the ice today was a just a little tricky. In the final end there I felt like I threw my guard hard, into the house, and it stops short of the hogline."
In other round robin games today, Canada, winners of the past two Paralympic Games, defeated Great Britain's Aileen Neilson, 6-4. Host Russia defeated China, 5-4, on the last rock much to the delight of the 2,000 fans on hand.
Teams will play nine round robin games with the top four teams moving on to the semifinals next Saturday.
USA line score
Slovakia 210 011 01 - 6
*USA 001 100 20 - 4
*last stone in first end