John Shuster's redemption tour continues. The American skip, criticized for his performances in the last two Olympics and rejected by his own federation, led the United States to another sensational victory, knocking off three-time defending champion Canada 5-3 in the semifinals of men's curling.
The United States is guaranteed of their best finish ever at an Olympic games when they take on Sweden for the gold medal. The Swedes beat Switzerland 9-3 in the other semifinal. The only curling medal in American history is a bronze in 2006. That will change on Saturday.
Dead even through seven ends
After blanking the first end, Canadian skip Kevin Koe gave his team the lead with a draw into the four-foot circle. Shuster's raise in the third end tied the game at 1-1. After the teams exchanged points, Canada in the fourth end and the United States in the fifth, courtesy of a clutch double takeout by Shuster, the game was tied 2-2 at the halfway point.
Playing conservatively, Koe chose to blank both the sixth and seventh ends to retain the hammer for the eighth and tenth ends and to also set up possible multiple scoring ends. What happened next will go down in American curling history.
Shuster, USA play perfect final three ends to reach gold-medal match
In the eighth end, Shuster's magnificent hit-and-roll set the Americans up for a possible steal, but Koe had one last shot to salvage a point, his draw coming up light, well short of the house and the United States was ahead 4-2.
The ninth end was played very defensively by both teams, but Canada had a chance to even the match, Shuster's latest hit-and-roll not as successful as in the previous end. Koe chose to play a raise to score two, but his shot glanced off of an American rock, only scoring one, the United States still leading 4-3.
Now with the hammer in the tenth and final end, the Americans looked to close out the match. Canada played even more defensively, throwing up several guards to protect their two rocks on the side of the 12-foot area.
The Americans played the peel and tick shots to remove or move the guards around to keep the middle of the house open to set up Shuster for an easy game-winning shot at the end.
Finally giving in, Koe threw his final shot of the semifinal into the house, a hit-and-roll, taking out the American stone and rolling his rock square on the button, but leaving Shuster with a hit-and-stay for the win.
As he would say following the victory, the hit-and-stay "was one of the first times where I think I’ve had that shot sitting in my hand. I was like, this looks like a practice shot that I throw in league, when I’m with my friends and there’s nobody around.
“Let’s enjoy this. I mean, every single skip here would do the same thing. That feeling inside me right there was just something of simplicity.”
The shot was perfect, knocking the Canadian stone out of the house and leaving his in the button to pick up the clinching point, the final score 5-3, sending the United States to unchartered territory.
USA talks victory over Canada, gold match against Sweden
The United States faces a tall task against Sweden as they are the top shooting team in the tournament led by skip Niklas Edin and they have already beaten the Americans in the event, but prior to that, Shuster's team had knocked off Edin's squad four straight times.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure, but I’ve never been in this situation before,” US second Matt Hamilton said. “Any medal is a good medal. We’re just gonna go out there and play our best.
“Sweden is probably the best team in the world. They’re the favorite, but this is the Olympics and anything can happen.”
At 2-4 in round-robin play, things looked bleak for Shuster's team, but he never lost faith in his guys: “Our team has had our backs against the walls plenty of times, but come on, it’s the Olympics. Who is going to give up on hope?”
He added that "this team is the most resilient group of guys i've ever been around".
According to Tyler George, the team's performance against Canada “was heroic. The guys, one through four, just played the game of their lives when it mattered most. That’s what you dream about doing.
"You go out and play a game like we did today, we'd be cheating ourselves if we didn't do it again Saturday".