Maerki makes playoffs in nationals debut

By USA Curling | Feb. 13, 2020, 9:06 p.m. (ET)

Jason Smith Delivery

Jason Smith (photo by Rich Harmer, USA Curling) throwing last stone for Maerki, made the extra end draw for the win over Sinnett

 

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Dominik Maerki never thought he would finish third in the round-robin standings in his first USA Curling National Championships. 


Yet, here he is sitting in third place and all set for the Page playoffs. 


Maerki, who is originally from Switzerland and now calls Fayetteville, Ark., home, qualified after edging Chase Sinnett (Medfield, Mass.) 9-8 in an extra end during the final men’s round-robin draw Thursday at Eastern Washington University’s Recreation Center in Cheney. Both teams finished with 5-4 records and will face off again Friday in the 3-4 game. 


“It’s awesome,” Maerki said. “We kind of got lucky a little bit in this game. Sinnett had a pick, I think it was in the eighth, and then he had an open hit in the 10th to finish the game. I still think, overall the whole week, we still deserved to win and be in the playoffs.”  


Joining Maerki, vice Stephen Dropkin (Minneapolis, Minn.), second Shawn Banyai (Minnetrista, Minn.) and lead Erik Quistgaard (Eden Prairie, Minn.) this week was the secret weapon Jason Smith (St. Paul, Minn.), who made the final draw shot to clinch the playoff spot.

 

Smith, who played in the 2010 Winter Olympics with John Shuster, was “quarterbacking” his own squad this season with former NFL players Jared Allen, Michael Roos and Marc Bulger dubbed the All Pro Curling Team.  

 

“He did such a good job,” Maerki said. “He came in, I think, at second then he played a couple of games at third. I kind of struggled and then we did the lineup switch and he played fantastically. It’s really good. Not really sure what we’ll do with the next game but we’ve changed every single game so there might be a different lineup tomorrow again. We’ll see.”  


Maerki won Olympic bronze as the alternate for Peter de Cruz in 2014 and knows how important it is having a fifth player coming off of the bench as versatility was key this week. 


“I guess a lot of teams may think we’re kind of crazy but from the beginning, we said we’ll take Jason as the fifth but we are going to use him in most of the games,” Maerki said. “He is a really good thrower and adds so much to the team. It’s really great to have him.” 


Other than perhaps yet another lineup shuffle and tightening up their game, Maerki doesn’t plan to mess around with his pre-game routine heading into the rematch against Sinnett. 


“I hope we can come out a little stronger,” Maerki said. “We did have some misses this game. I hope we play a little better and it’s going to be another close game.” 


Meanwhile, Shuster (9-0; Duluth, Minn.) is all tuned up for the playoffs completing an undefeated round-robin run with a 7-4 victory over Scott Dunnam (4-5; Philadelphia). 


“We didn’t exactly play a perfect game out there,” said Shuster, who is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and defending champion. “We played a really good game. I think we played pretty solid all week, so hopefully, we can continue that solid play into the playoffs.”  

 

Shuster will take on Rich Ruohonen (7-2; Minneapolis) in the 1-2 game with the winner heading to the final and the loser taking on the victor of the Maerki-Sinnett match in the semifinal. Ruohonen scored two in the 10th end to eliminate Steven Birklid (4-4; Mountlake Terrace, Wash.) 11-10. 


It was a case of too little, too late for Korey Dropkin (4-5; Chaska, Minn.), who was in the driver’s seat cruising 10-2 past Todd Birr’s short-handed squad (3-6; Ham Lake, Minn.). The top-ranked Dropkin started off the tournament strong winning three straight before losing five in a row and needed the victory just to keep his hopes alive although as it turned out fate was not in his hands. 


Birr was sick and did not play as Andrew Stopera (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.), Hunter Clawson (Clarksville, Md.) and Tom O’Connor (Brooklyn Center, Minn.) carried on as a trio. 


Kyle Kakela (3-6; Rolla, N.D.) ended his run on a high note defeating Jed Brundidge (1-8; West St. Paul, Minn.) 10-5. 


The nationals will help determine Team USA for the world women’s curling championship, March 14-22 in Prince George, British Columbia, and the world men’s curling championship, March 28 to April 5, in Glasgow, Scotland. Winners also receive berths to the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. 


Any men’s or women’s team that wins the 2020 National Championships and is ranked 70th or higher in the WCF World Team Ranking System or has earned 60 points year to date as of Jan. 31, 2020, will be named Team USA for the Men’s/Women’s World Championships. 


Jamie Sinclair (6-1; Charlotte, N.C.) and Tabitha Peterson (6-1, St. Paul, Minn.) will play in the women’s Page playoff game. The winner advances to Saturday’s final while the loser takes on Ariel Traxler (4-3; Fairbanks, Alaska) Friday evening in the semifinal.


The Page playoffs go down Friday at Noon PT followed by the semifinals at 7 p.m. PT.