Fenson survives semifinal to advance to gold medal game

By Rick Patzke | March 07, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)
March 7, 2014

In dramatic finish, Fenson’s team survives to move on to gold medal game.

(PHILADELPHIA) – The semifinal between the Heath McCormick and Pete Fenson teams at the 2014 USA Curling Nationals presented by Labatt was a classic from start to finish, figuring to come down to whoever had the hammer last, or made the last mistake. The fans crowding the stands and adjoining pub viewing area at IceWorks Arena were treated to high drama in nearly every end, down to the last Ailsa Craig rock.

Holding the hammer in the 10th, McCormick’s team had the final say in who was going to meet the Craig Brown rink in Saturday’s gold medal game, and needed only to draw the four-foot to say it was them. But heartbreak instead of elation was what rang out for McCormick (Sarnia, Ontario) and his team of Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.), Rich Ruohonen (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Colin Hufman (Seattle) as their final stone slid little more than two inches too far, giving Fenson’s team a steal of one for a 5-4 win. 

Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.) and teammates Shawn Rojeski (Chisholm, Minn.), Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.), and Ryan Brunt (Portage, Wis.) lived to play another day on the strength of their last-rock hit-and-roll behind a guard that, while leaving the four-foot wide open for McCormick’s side to win the game, was akin to leaving a tap-in par putt two inches to the side of the hole while your buddy eyes up a 12-inch birdie putt to win a million bucks. It looks easy, and 99 times out of 100 the shot will be made, but there’s always that chance…

“You do what you can to get to the end and then you hope you can make him have to make the last shot,” said Fenson, a seven-time national champion playing in his 17th nationals. “We had to make the big shot in the 10th, a hit-and-roll under cover. It rolled too far by about a foot.”

By not too far by a foot and two inches, which would have meant McCormick would have had a chance to repeat the national championship he pulled off at IceWorks in 2012 when he beat Fenson’s team in the final.

“It’s very disappointing,” a gracious McCormick said after the game. “We played a great game. I had draw weight all game. That spot curled in the eighth end, but in the 10th it stayed out. If it curled earlier it would have been OK. It’s very disappointing.”

McCormick had the hammer to start the game, and as things went along, that looked like it was going to make all the difference, especially as he was the hot skip, shooting in the 90s most of the way. 

McCormick’s team opened the scoring with one in the first. After a blank second, Fenson had a hogline violation with his first rock in the third end, so rather than setting up a potential deuce, he wound up drawing against three with his last shot. Facing a somewhat tricky line, he had to draw the edge of the button for count. His shot just rubbed an opposing counter in the top 12 and spun into second count, giving McCormick’s side a steal of one and 2-0 lead.

McCormick upped the pressure in the fourth and Fenson had to draw the button again for one, against three counters. This one Fenson’s team made perfectly to make it a 2-1 game. The scenarios were much the same over the next two ends. McCormick had to draw for one in the fifth, and Fenson again had to draw the button for one against multiple counters in the sixth to make the score 3-2.

In the seventh, both skips missed freezes in the back of the house with their first stones. Fenson was nearly perfect freezing to shot rock with his second, however, forcing McCormick to draw for one.  But this draw came up short, so instead of a 4-2 lead McCormick’s team found itself in a 3-3 tie.

The Fenson team was counting five in the eighth by the time McCormick came up with the hammer this time. He again drew, and with strenuous sweeping by Hufman and Ruohonen, made the shot for first count by inches to take a 4-3 lead. 

It was McCormick’s turn to ratchet up the pressure in the ninth. The end took shape after a center guard tick by Polo wasn’t converted, and Hufman drew his second stone perfectly to the top of the button behind the replaced center guard. With the last rock of the end, Fenson’s team had to draw the four-foot against three opposing counters. Fenson threw the stone to his sweepers, and they took care of it all the way to the button to make it a 4-4 game and set up the dramatic last act.

The men’s gold medal game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday, preceded by the women’s final at 10 a.m. Very few tickets remain available for either game.

The live webstream is available throughout the championship courtesy of USA Curling’s partnership with the 12th End Sports Network. All the action from Sheet C/3 is being streamed live. A complete game schedule is available at www.usacurl.org. In addition, live scores, stats and standings from USA Curling partner CurlingZone. 

The official Twitter hashtags for the event will be #2014Nats or #curling. USA Curling will post updates and photos to its Facebook page as well at https://www.facebook.com/pages/USA-Curling/107975609011. 

Media credentials can be picked up at the main entrance at IceWorks. If you have not requested a credential yet, go to http://2014usacurlingnationals.com/media-accreditation-request-2014/. 

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

Follow us on Facebook (search for USA Curling) and Twitter (@terry_usacurl). Be sure to visit the new USA Curling website at www.usacurl.org. 


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