U.S. men knock off Canada for first-ever chance at curling gold

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — It was a good day for the United States, and a bad day for Canada. Just hours after the U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada in an overtime shootout to win a gold medal, the U.S. men’s curling team knocked off their brethren from the north in a semifinal match, 5-3, for the right to play Sweden for a gold medal.

Regardless of how Saturday’s final plays out, this is the most successful men’s curling team in U.S. Olympic history. In the 20 years since curling was reintroduced to the Olympics, no American team has placed higher than bronze, and that only once, in 2006.

But make no mistake — this is a U.S. team on a mission, a team that’s rebounded from near-elimination to fight its way through the semifinals. As of Sunday, they were 2-4, apparently headed for a quick exit. Five days and four straight victories later, they’re getting ready for hardware.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever played a better game than we’ve played today,” Tyler George said.

The United States defeated Canada, the three-time defending gold medalists, by surviving the equivalent of a pitcher’s duel, Canada holding onto the hammer — the final stone — for the sixth and seventh ends. But the U.S. flipped the table over in the 8th end, taking two points to snare a 4-2 lead. Canada had no choice but to surrender the hammer — done when a team scores — in the ninth end, winning a mere one point.

United States team jubilates after defeating Canada during the men’s curling semi-final match at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. United States won. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

But that left the United States with the final shot of the match, and after a tense back-and-forth battle of attrition, the U.S. was left with one stone to knock out one last Canadian stone. All team skip John Shuster had to do was slide it right down the middle. It was a free throw. A four-foot putt. A 25-yard field goal. Routine, but so, so easy to miss.

He didn’t miss. Shuster’s final stone knocked the Canadians out of gold medal contention, and the U.S. celebrated.

“I think that was one of the first times I’ve ever had a hit and stay where I said, ‘I do this in practice every day’ … I have a hit and stay in the center of the ice to play for Olympic gold,” Shuster said.

“I don’t know if I’m going to sleep tonight,” John Landsteiner said. “I think we’re going to play better, because there’s no pressure [of], ‘What if we get fourth?'”

The gold medal match is set for Saturday at 3:35 p.m. Korean Time. That’s 1:35 in the morning on the East Coast, so get your coffee ready. You’re not going to want to miss this one.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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