Line-up Changes Help Lift Team USA’s Curling Hopes
VANCOUVER - For the fourth time in six Olympic curling matches, Team USA went to an extra end with the hammer.
Saturday, for the first time, it came away victorious.
Jason Smith, sliding the final stones for a second consecutive day, drew the last rock into the four-foot circle, lifting the U.S. men to an 8-7 victory against Sweden.
"I had just done the same shot (on the previous stone), so I tried to do the same thing, maybe a foot less in weight," Smith said.
Beleaguered skip John Shuster returned to the ice after being benched for USA's 4-3 victory against France on Friday. Shuster threw with 82(PERCENT) efficiency on Saturday, executing several key takeouts, as the U.S. improved to 2-4.
"My family and friends have been unbelievably supportive," said Shuster, who has been pelted with criticism, particularly online, after missing three potential winning shots. "I just had to search within and find out how I could help my team no matter where I was on the ice - or off the ice.
"I heard there was a big sign in the arena that said, 'We still love you John Shuster,' so I had to laugh about it out there."
Smith said that even though he's thrown final stones the last two days, the team continues to lean on Shuster, who is back as skip.
"John is still the skip of our team, our leader and he's still the best curler on our team," Smith said. "That's the bottom line. I had a couple bad games a few weeks ago and sat out."
Alternate Chris Plys, the skip for Friday's victory was back on the bench Saturday.
"It's a coaches' decision," Plys said. "I'm just taking it, whatever they want me to do. If I play every game from here on out or if I don't play a game, it doesn't matter much to me. I'm just here to do my job."
Team USA coach Phill Drobnick said Plys did precisely that.
"Chris was brought in there for one game and he did everything he absolutely needed to do," Drobnick said. "He got this team on a roll and put us in position to win a couple of games and we're very happy with that."
Although Drobnick said the lineup will be re-evaluated for each remaining game, indications are that Smith will continue to throw the final stone.
"Jason has just done a fabulous job the last two days in throwing last bricks," Drobnick said. "We're just going to run with it. He's not feeling pressure right now. He came out there on that last shot today (with the attitude) that this was my shot to get the win, and he did."
Plys agreed that Smith delivered in the clutch.
"(Smith) played super-solid," Plys said. "I hope he gets the credit he deserves."
Team USA opened a 4-1 lead in the fourth end when Sweden (3-2) left a stone short and Smith took advantage for two points. But Sweden turned the tables after Smith went too deep with his final stone in the seventh end. Sweden scored three times to lead 6-5.
Sweden executed a triple takeout with the sixth stone of the eighth end and Smith elected not to take a single point, opting to retain the hammer. That paid off in the ninth when USA scored twice.
Team USA needed to sweat out a measurement in the 10th end after Sweden skip Niklas Edin curled the final stone of regulation into the four-foot circle for the tying point.
The USA curlers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the measurement went their way and were smiling again at the end of the 11th end.
"We kind of dug ourselves a hole," second Jeff Isaacson said. "Now, it's kind of just go out and have fun."
The best Team USA can hope for is to finish 5-4 in qualifying play and force a playoff for the final medal round spot. It plays Great Britain Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.