GANGNEUNG, South Korea — After throwing his first shot of the eighth end, John Shuster began walking up the ice and slipped. The skip managed to avoid a spill, but that near-fall underscored how treacherous the ice was for the U.S. men’s curling team Sunday.
The day started with an 8-2 loss to Japan, conceded by the Americans after seven ends. It ended in similar fashion, as Shuster’s team fell 8-5 to Norway and conceded after nine ends. That left the Americans (2-4) in a three-way tie for seventh place in the 10-team tournament, with only three round-robin games remaining to try and secure a playoff berth.
Shuster, a Duluth, Minn.-area resident, is trying to get the U.S. to the Olympic playoff round for the first time since its bronze-medal finish in 2006. The path for him and his teammates, Tyler George and John Landsteiner of Duluth and Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis., got much rougher when the curling stones were sanded before Sunday’s evening games. That changed the way the rocks moved along the ice, and the Norwegians adjusted better than the Americans.
Team Shuster shot 73 percent in the loss to Norway, its worst showing of the tournament. It is shooting 79 percent as a team over the first six games of the round robin, putting it at the bottom of the 10-team field.
“They textured the rocks just prior to the game,” U.S. coach Phill Drobnick said. “They did that to ensure that the ice is really good at the end of the week, and the rocks still continue to curl at the end of the week. They did it for the mixed doubles as well.
“It was just different out there for us. But it was the same for both teams. It’s disappointing; we’re not where we want to be, but we’ve got to keep battling.”
The U.S. had Saturday off after going 2-2 in its first four games. It was overwhelmed by Japan in Sunday’s morning session, dropping its record to 2-3 when it could not get a good feel for the ice. Shuster struggled mightily throughout the game, shooting only 54 percent; through six games, he is shooting 73 percent, last among the 10 Olympic skips.
Shuster missed on a double takeout attempt in the first end, as his stone slid out of the house to give Japan an open draw for two points. Japan shot a red-hot 91 percent for the game, and the U.S. conceded after seven ends.
That increased the stakes in Sunday night’s game against Norway, one of three teams tied with the U.S. for fifth place going into the evening session. Both teams had trouble gauging the ice, often throwing shots that were too heavy, too light or off the mark.
“We knew the ice was going to be different, because the icemakers decided to do something different,” said Shuster, who added he has never seen rocks sanded in the middle of a tournament before. “You saw a lot of very routine missed shots out there by both teams. It really changed the way you had to throw the rock.”
While Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud and his teammates eventually figured out how the ice was playing, Team Shuster could not. In the fifth end, with the score tied at 3, Shuster made a stellar double takeout to set up the U.S. for three points. But his last shot overcurled badly, sailing right through the house to leave the Americans with only one point and a 4-3 lead.
Ulsrud’s last-rock finesse in the sixth end scored three to vault his team into the lead for good. Norway stole single points in the next two ends, and when Shuster could not convert a double takeout in the ninth, he conceded.
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