(FUESSEN, Germany) - The Olympic path for Team USA will take a slight detour as the U.S. will now be playing in a tiebreaker game to get into this weekend's playoffs for a shot at earning a berth for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
John Shuster and the American men won their third straight game to conclude the round robin with a 5-2 record. That matches Korea, Germany and the Czech Republic. Based on head-to-head results among the four tied teams, the Czechs and the Germans advance to the 1-2 playoff game on Saturday night because they both had 2-1 records. Korea and the U.S., both with 1-2 records, will play a tiebreaker game tomorrow at 4 p.m. The winner becomes the third playoff team and has one shot at making it to the Olympic Games by playing the losing side of the 1-2 playoff match. [The winner of the 1-2 game earns an Olympic berth.]
Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) and teammates Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Hibbing, Minn.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) defeated Finland's Aku Kauste rink, 10-4, tonight at the Olympic Qualification Event at the BLZ Arena.
"We really put some pressure on early and got a big three in that first end by executing early, which we hadn't done all week," Shuster said after the win. "So we got a better start and hung on there for awhile and played a couple really good ends later on defense."
The U.S. team then had to wait to see the results of the match between the Czech Republic and New Zealand, which concluded with the Czechs winning 7-6, as well as the extra-end drama between Germany and Japan as Germany made its last shot to secure an 8-7 victory. Those results put the U.S. in the tiebreaker game versus a direct playoff berth.
The Americans got the offense fueled up quickly in the opening end against Finland as they took advantage of an error and were able to draw in to the rings for three points with Shuster's last shot. In the second end, Kauste was in a tough spot after Shuster played a hit and roll to remove the Finnish shot rock buried behind a series of guards. Kauste needed to draw fully into the four-foot but was heavy again and the U.S. ended up stealing a single.
After the third end was blanked, Finland got an opportunity for two points thanks to their skip, who made a takeout with his first stone to set it up. After Shuster couldn't make the thin double takeout, Kauste completed a draw for two points. When Finland got two stones on both ends of the outer circles of the house in the fifth end, Shuster was forced to draw for a single point to expand the lead to 5-2.
Finland made up for its heavy draws in the first two ends with a clutch draw for one point in the sixth end facing a potential steal of three. However, they missed an opportunity for two points with Kauste's first stone as a takeout was not hit properly
"We got fortunate that he missed a shot at the end of the sixth, otherwise it's a one point game after getting out to a 4-0 start," Shuster said.
The U.S. had a chance to put the game out of reach in the seventh end with a takeout for three, but the last stone didn't curl as they'd hoped and missed the target plus removed one of the U.S. stones. The shooter stayed around to give the U.S. two points and a 7-3 lead. "I apologize for that one," Shuster said.
"When I got in the hack I could actually see less than I thought. I probably should have just thrown the draw for two rather than playing that for three. Every now and then in curling that stuff works out. My teammates said 'Oh, we saw it there the whole time' so I guess I can feel a little less bad."
Faced with the prospect of giving up another steal, Kauste reluctantly used his final stone of the eighth end to draw the button for a single point. The U.S. sealed the team's fifth win with a takeout for three points in the ninth end.
The Czech Republic and Germany will compete in the 1-2 playoff game at 8 p.m. (local time) on Saturday. The winner advances to the Olympic Games while the losing side will play the winner of the tiebreaker match between the U.S. and Korea 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.
*USA 310 010 203 x - 10
Finland 000 201 010 x - 4
*last rock in first end
Other game scores: Korea 7, France 2; Czech Republic 7, New Zealand 6; Germany 8, Japan 7 (extra end)
Czech Republic 5-2*
New Zealand 3-4
*advance to 1-2 playoff game
** to play tiebreaker game for 3rd playoff spot
Czech Republic 2-3
*advance to 1-2 playoff game
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