Czechs halt Team USA in Olympic qualification opener

By Terry Kolesar | Dec. 10, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 10, 2013

Czechs stop USA in game one of Olympic qualification event

(FUESSEN, Germany) - It wasn't the beginning Team USA envisioned on its quest to earn the Americans a berth for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, but there is plenty of competition left this week as the first draw of the round robin as the World Curling Federation's Olympic Qualification Event got underway today at the BLZ Arena.

"We played some really good ends, and we played some really bad ones. Unfortunately, today, the really bad ones caught up with us," said John Shuster, skip for Team USA, after the 9-7 loss to the Czech Republic. The final two men's berths for the upcoming Olympic Games are up for grabs amongst eight competing countries. 

Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) and teammates Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Hibbing, Minn.), John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.), and alternate Craig Brown (Madison, Wis.) played an up-and-down game against Jiri Snitil's rink with both sides struggling at times to read the ice properly. 

It was the Czechs who were able to steal the win from the Americans in the 10th end as the U.S. team could not keep a path to the four-foot open for their skip to have a chance to send the game to an extra end. 

"That was a good start," said Snitil, who is leading the charge to earn the Czech Republic's first-ever Olympic appearance in curling. "We got a little nervous at the beginning, it was a little wild. I stole three, gave up three back and then we settled down and read the ice better than in the beginning. We have to fight it through." 
The U.S. men are playing a seven-game round robin with the top three teams advancing to the playoffs to battle for the two available Olympic spots.
 
"I just have to figure out what the ice is going to do for everybody's shots," said Shuster, 31, who is trying to make his third Olympic team. "It was curling so much in practice ... I don't think we were able to gauge what it was as going to do during the game. It was way different in practice, which it usually is, but it was waaay different." Team USA shot 69 percent compared to the Czechs, who were 78.

USA got the deuce set up early in the first end and had the Czechs chasing. Shuster was able to draw into the house for two points. The Czechs had a chance to get back in the game right away in the following end. Snitil made a soft hit with his final stone to push back the U.S. stone in the back eight-foot. After a measure, however, Shuster's final stone that he placed into a nest of Czech stones in the back of the house was second count and the score was 2-1. Two key misses by the Americans put five Czech stones in the four-foot in scoring position by the time Shuster threw his final stone of the third end. Shuster made a hit but his shooter stone rolled out and the Czechs were able to steal three points to take an early 4-2 advantage. 

After that momentary hiccup, Team USA got back on track in the fourth end by setting up the deuce early on. With American stones splitting the house, the Czechs had to play chase. Isaacson played a hit and roll with his first stone that positioned the U.S. even better as his stone ended up behind a center guard. As the end unfolded, the U.S. was able to capitalize on less-than-precise hits from the Czech skip with Shuster drawing his final stone into the rings for three points.
 
After the Czechs took the single point in the fifth end, the U.S. had control in the sixth after capitalizing on key misses. Snitil positioned his first skip stone just above the U.S. rock in the side of the back four-foot for shot rock. Shuster followed suit and nestled his stone to the CZE rock to take back the scoring position. Snitil used his final stone to once again draw down to the U.S. rock but the Americans still had first position, which ended up being the point the U.S. team would score in that end to take back the lead.

As the seventh end unfolded, the Czechs had the deuce set up for the majority of the end and Snitil had an open hit to take a 7-6 advantage. The Czechs controlled the start of the eighth end and had three stones in the house to zero for the U.S. Hoping to still set up the deuce, Shuster used his first stone to attempt to freeze to the Czech rock in the back of the eight-foot. Snitil chipped it out, forcing the Americans to draw for a single point against four Czech stones to tie the game. 

The Czechs had control of the ninth end until Isaacson got a stone buried behind the corner guard. Czech vice skip Martin Snitil tried to draw down to it but left his stone ripe for the picking for Shuster to chip out. His stone fortuitously rolled behind the other corner guard, leaving the Americans with two stones in the rings. Snitil removed one but he left half of the stone exposed for Shuster to remove. With the final stone, the Czechs converted a hit-and-stick for the single point. 

In the 10th end, the Czechs got a stone in the back of the four-foot that remained in play until the end. That placement set the stage for an end in which the Americans did not shoot precisely. With three Czechs rocks in scoring position already, Shuster used his first stone to try to draw through a port to play a freeze on the Czech rock in the back four. His stone was thrown too light and it ended up in the top 12 instead, further opening the door for the Czechs to steal the win. Snitil used his final stone to block that path Shuster tried to draw through. The American skip was left to attempt to raise a corner guard into the four-foot but ended up about an inch from scoring position. With that result, the Czechs stole a point - and the game. 

"It's execution. We had a couple chances to make a couple of shots really good and we both under-curled. Then, obviously, I'd love to have my first one back," Shuster said about the final end of the game.

The U.S. men return to the ice tomorrow to take on New Zealand (1-0) at 8 a.m. and France (1-0) at 4 p.m. (all times local, +6 ET). "We did some really good things in that game. If we tighten everything up, we should be fine," said Shuster, who won Olympic bronze in 2006 as lead for Team USA.

NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will produce a three-hour show from the event, which will air at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Game score:
*USA 200 301 010 0 - 7 
Czech Republic 013 010 201 1 - 9 
*last rock in first end

Other game scores: Korea 9, Japan 3; New Zealand 6, Finland 4; France 8, Germany 3

Standings:
Czech Republic 1-0
France 1-0
Korea 1-0
New Zealand 1-0
Finland 0-1
Germany 0-1
Japan 0-1
USA 0-1

Team USA game schedule:
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 8 a.m. local/2 a.m. ET: USA v. New Zealand
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 4 p.m. local/10 a.m. ET: USA v. France
Thursday, Dec. 12, 9 a.m. local/3 a.m. ET: USA v. Germany
Thursday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m. local/1 p.m. ET: USA v. Japan
Friday, Dec. 13, 12 p.m. local/6 a.m. ET: USA v. Korea
Friday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m. local/2 p.m. ET: USA v. Finland
Saturday, Dec. 14, Men's 1 v. 2 playoff, 8 p.m. local/2 p.m. ET
Sunday, Dec. 15, Men's second playoff, 12:30 p.m. local/6:30 a.m. ET

The U.S. men ended up in the qualification event after coming up one point of a direct berth to the Olympic Games. Points based on final finish at the previous two world championships were used to award the first seven berths for Sochi. Russia, as host, claimed the eighth spot. The same process is used to determine the 10 women's teams for the Olympic Games. Competing women's teams include China, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, and Norway. The U.S. women locked up a berth for Sochi after finishing fourth and fifth at the past two women's world championships, respectively. Erika Brown's team won the Olympic Team Trials and has been nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee. To view more information about the Olympic qualification process or rankings, go to http://www.worldcurling.org/olympic-qualification. 

USA Curling is sponsored by AtomAmpd, Nike, Brooms Up Curling Supplies, Sitrin, and The RAM Restaurant & Brewery, and is partnered with Hilton, United Airlines, RJM Licensing Inc., and CurlingZone.

Visit the USA Curling website at www.usacurl.org and connect with USA Curling on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare.

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For more information: Terry Kolesar, USA Curling, terry.kolesar@usacurl.org, 715-344-1199, Ext. 202, or 608-338-9900 (cell).

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