(FARGO, N.D.) - America's past two Olympic skips will battle for a return to the helm for Team USA at the upcoming 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
2006 Olympic bronze medallists Pete Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.) and John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) will meet in the playoffs of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling beginning tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. CT.
"We had a lot of confidence coming in but against this great field we have here we knew we couldn't come here and play anything less than our A game," Shuster said.
The two teams battled today in the finale of the round robin with Shuster and teammates Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Duluth, Minn.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) defeating the Fenson rink, 4-3, in a defensive battle.
"We talked before we came this week about being patient and not necessarily trying to force anything. As you can see we were plenty patient in that game," Shuster said. "We were patient and got an opportunity to capitalize and were happy to get the three. We were trying to force singles out of them and score when we had opportunities."
Fenson and teammates Shawn Rojeski (Chisholm, Minn.), Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.), and Ryan Brunt (Portage, Wis.) had to wait for the outcome of the game between Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.) and Heath McCormick (Sarnia, Ontario) in order to know if they were advancing to the playoffs. When McCormick converted a routine takeout to defeat George, 8-5, the Duluth-based George team was eliminated from playoff contention and also nullified a need for any tiebreaker matches.
"They played good, but we just didn't make a lot of draws early in the game and left them some outs ... and they hit so well. We just can't do that," Fenson said about the loss to Shuster's team today.
The Shuster rink waited for an opportunity to score multiple points and pounced in the fifth end with a draw for three to break open a game that was highlighted in the first four ends with a lot of peel shots. After the sixth end was blanked, Shuster's team continued to control the match by forcing Fenson to hit for a single point facing three Shuster stones. A miss in the eighth end left Shuster drawing for a single to stretch the lead to 4-1. Fenson had a slim chance for two in the ninth end but ended up with a single instead. Needing to steal two points in the 10th end to tie the game, Fenson's team got the stones in the rings but two-time Olympian Shuster sealed his team's ticket to the playoffs with a takeout for the win.
The final few ends for the George rink were riddled with small errors that left a big impact. In the eighth end, the final rock by Plys came up short of the rings. In the ninth end, the team's final stone - a hit and stick - saw the stone roll out of scoring position instead. Trailing by three points, the team tried to set up a steal, but McCormick clinched the game with a takeout.
The men's playoff format is the same as the ladies - a best two-out-of-three competition.
"We have similar teams, similar strengths and similar weaknesses, the fact that we've been through a few battles together there's probably going to be a few things that rub off. We have a lot of respect for that team and we know we're going to have to be great," Fenson said about the matchup with Shuster.
The playoffs get underway at 2:30 p.m. Friday with the first game for men's and women's finalists.
The second playoff game for the men will take place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday followed by the second women's game at 7 p.m. If needed, the final men's game will be played at 11 a.m. Sunday with the women's competition potentially concluding at 2 p.m.
Pete Fenson 000 000 101 1 - 3
*John Shuster 000 030 010 0 - 4
Heath McCormick 201 010 211 x - 8
*Tyler George 020 201 000 x - 5
*last rock in first end
*Erika Brown (Oakville, Ont.) 4-2
*Allison Pottinger (Eden Prairie, Minn.) 4-2
Cassie Potter (St. Paul, Minn.) 2-4
Courtney George (St. Paul, Minn.) 2-4
*clinched a playoff spot
*John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) 6-2
*Pete Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.) 5-3
Heath McCormick (Sarnia, Ont.) 4-4
Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.) 4-4
Brady Clark (Seattle, Wash.) 1-7
*clinched a playoff spot
Men's playoff teams:
Team Shuster: John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.), Jeff Isaacson (Gilbert, Minn.), Jared Zezel (Duluth, Minn.), John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.)
Team Fenson: Pete Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.), Shawn Rojeski (Chisholm, Minn.), Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.), Ryan Brunt (Portage, Wis.)
Women's playoff teams:
Team Brown: Erika Brown (Oakville, Ontario), Debbie McCormick (Rio, Wis.), Jessica Schultz (Minneapolis, Minn.), Ann Swisshelm (Chicago)
Team Pottinger: Allison Pottinger (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Nicole Joraanstad (Verona, Wis.), Natalie Nicholson (Bemidji, Minn.), Tabitha Peterson (Eagan, Minn.)
NBC Sports Network is slated to air up to 15 hours of live playoff action from Trials beginning with the playoffs on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT and continuing through the weekend. If a game three is not necessary, the games from Saturday will be re-aired.
The women's berth for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games has been secured, whereas the men's berth will need to be earned in December at the final Olympic Qualification Event, Dec. 10-15, in Füssen, Germany. The winner of the men's side of the Olympic Trials will represent the U.S. at the Olympic qualifier.
A complete game schedule, news access guidelines as well as the media accreditation form can be downloaded at www.usacurl.org (click on the Olympic Trials logo).
Winning teams will be nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
Visit the USA Curling website at www.usacurl.org and connect with USA Curling on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare.
For more information: Terry Kolesar, USA Curling, email@example.com, 715-344-1199, Ext. 202, or 608-338-9900 (cell)