USA tied for first place at Olympic Qualifier

By Terry Kolesar | Dec. 13, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

USA tied for first place at Olympic Qualification Event 

(FUESSEN, Germany) - After six rounds of action, Team USA has finally scratched its way to the top of the standings at the Olympic Qualification Event at the BLZ Arena.

However, the spot at the top is a little crowded. With one game remaining in the round robin, Team USA's John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.), Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Hibbing, Minn.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) are tied for first with three other countries - the Czech Republic, Korea and Germany. 

The American men improved to 4-2 with a 9-6 victory over Korea's Soo-Hyuk Kim. "Today is a big day. We need two wins. That might not guarantee us to be in the one-two [playoff game] if we win both but we can only hope," said Landsteiner, 23, a recent college graduate who works as a civil engineer in Minnesota. 

None of the four tied teams play one another in the round robin finale tonight. Head-to-head is the first measure used to rank teams that are tied at the conclusion of the round robin when playoff spots are being determined. USA has a 1-2 record against the current tied teams. That would likely relegate them to a tiebreaker game for the third playoff spot should all four teams ended up tied after tonight's results. 

"We have to stick to the same game plan, don't change anything and stay focused. We control our own destiny so we'll go out there and try to win our game," Landsteiner said. 

Korea started the game with a fairly routine hit for two points to take their first lead of the game. In the second end, Korean third-rock thrower Jong-Duk Park played a perfect double takeout on U.S. stones blended together with Korean stones in the four-foot. Isaacson followed with a perfect hit and roll to keep his stone hidden behind a corner guard. When Park missed the raise takeout, Isaacson attempted to freeze his second stone to a Korean rock in the back of the house. The result wasn't a freeze and it set up a double takeout for Kim. Shuster attempted to draw behind the corner guard but his stone over-curled and it was in second position. Shuster was forced to hit for a single point with the last rock to get on the scoreboard. 

By the time Kim went to throw his first skip stone of the third end, three American rocks were in the house. Kim made a soft hit on one of the stones in the four-foot but he didn't full remove it. The Korean stone was left in the open for Shuster to remove, forcing Kim to make a takeout for a single point and a 3-1 advantage. 

The start of the fourth end went well for the U.S., setting them up for multiple points. Shuster made a takeout with his first stone to place three rocks in the house. Kim tried the double takeout but couldn't remove both and Shuster had a draw for three points set up to take USA's first lead.

In the fifth end, Korea's freeze attempt with Kim's first stone was deep and took away the team's chances for a deuce. Shuster made a takeout with his final stone, leaving Kim to follow suit and accept a single point after removing the U.S. rock. While the Korean skip got to throw guards with his stones in the sixth end, Shuster was battle tested and used his final stone to draw around a center guard to the button to narrowly out-count Korea by an inch to score a single point.

The U.S. was unable to take advantage of an error by Korea in the seventh end. Both skips failed to draw around a center guard into the house with their first rocks. Korea had a stone buried in the side of the eight-foot already and Shuster drew to the back of four-foot behind the center guard with his final stone. Kim was able to follow the path of Shuster's shot and delivered a soft tap to score two points and take a 6-5 lead. 

A well-placed freeze with Isaacson's first stone set up the Americans for a deuce in the eighth end. When Kim's final takeout rolled out of scoring position, Shuster had a chance at three points with a tapback but after contact, his shooter stone rolled too far and the U.S. settled for two points.

The U.S. protected its stones as the battle of the four-foot took over end nine. A double takeout by Isaacson put the U.S. in even better position. Shuster was able to use his final shot to make a narrow hit on the Korean shot rock. Facing three U.S. stones, Kim made the hit on the top stone but that was all he could remove and the U.S. stole two points to take a 9-6 advantage.  After the first few stones were thrown in the 10th end, Korea felt they didn't have enough time remaining (just under four minutes) to set up the end and offered the handshake to conclude the game. 

"We had higher percentages and better shots. We're looking better as a team overall," Landsteiner said. The U.S. shot 86 percent in the game, compared to Korea's 77 percent output. "I think the ice conditions have gotten a little better too and easier to work with, more consistent across the sheet. Our first three games it seemed to be one-sided where one side of the sheet was slow and the other side was fast," Landsteiner said. 

The USA-Finland (2-4) match at 8 p.m. tonight will now be the feature game on the World Curling Federation's live webstream. 

The playoffs for the qualifier get underway at 8 p.m. (local time) on Saturday with the top two ranked teams playing. The winner advances to the Olympic Games while the losing side will play the third-ranked playoff team on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. The winner of that second playoff earns the final men's Olympic berth. 

Follow all the action at http://sochi2014.curlingevents.com. 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:

*Korea 201 010 200 x - 6 

USA 010 301 022 x - 9 

*last rock in first end

Other game scores: Czech Republic 6, Japan 5; Germany 8, Finland 4; New Zealand 8, France 4

Men's standings:

Czech Republic 4-2

Germany 4-2

Korea 4-2

USA 4-2

New Zealand 3-3

France 2-4

Finland 2-4

Japan 1-5

Women's standings:

China 4-0

Japan 4-0

Germany 2-2

Czech Republic 2-2

Norway 2-3

Latvia 1-4

Italy 0-4

USA Curling is sponsored by AtomAmpd, Nike, Brooms Up Curling Supplies, Sitrin, and The RAM Restaurant & Brewery, BalancePlus, 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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