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Shuster wins to Force US Trials Showdown

(OMAHA, Nebraska) – From quadruple runbacks to unfortunate rock picks, tonight’s showdown between John Shuster and Heath McCormick had it all as both sides battled in the second playoff game of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling.

Three-time Olympian Shuster led his team to a 9-4 win over McCormick’s side to force a third – and final – playoff game tomorrow night at Baxter Arena to determine the 2018 U.S. Men’s Olympic Curling Team.

Shuster (Superior, Wis.) and teammates Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.), Matt Hamilton (McFarland, Wis.), and John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.) controlled the majority of the match and out-shot McCormick’s team, 96 to 82 percent.

“When Ty has his game going, he’s the best player in the country. Not just the best third in the country, he’s the best player in the country when he’s got his swagger going,” Shuster said about George’s 96 percent shooting output tonight.

McCormick (Sarnia, Ontario) and his team of Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.), Korey Dropkin (Duluth, Minn.), and Tom Howell (Milwaukee, Wis.) won last night’s opening playoff match and the two sides will battle at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in a winner-take-all game.

“They played a really great first and second end and that really was the difference in the game, honestly. We got a little unlucky, I would like to say, a couple times, but we’ll come out firing tomorrow,” McCormick said.

A key miss from Team McCormick in the second allowed Shuster’s team to set up a big end. After a failed takeout attempt, Shuster’s team placed a fifth stone in the rings with the last-rock advantage in hand. McCormick was able to remove three with his first throw but Shuster eventually had a draw into the eight-foot to score three.

The Shuster rink managed the game the rest of the way after setting the tone early.

“The first opportunity we got today we needed to make sure we capitalized on it because yesterday they held us to one in every single end. So, to come out and get a three especially – two would’ve been great – but, three was a bonus. It was actually our first three of the week, which is funny because we are usually a pretty high-scoring team,” said Shuster, a three-time Olympian.

Team Shuster continued to apply pressure in the third end with Plys cleaning things up with a runback quad to empty the house. With the final stone, McCormick was trying to blank the end but his shooter stone didn’t roll all the way out of the rings as they accepted a point. In the fourth end it was McCormick’s time to apply pressure with lots of stones in play. Shuster used his first rock to convert a triple takeout and then drew down to the button to score a point and extend the lead to 4-2.

In the second half of the match, McCormick’s team got into a tight spot and needed to convert a raise double takeout to score two – but only removed one. Shuster’s team was then forced to draw the four-foot to score a single in the seventh end to go up, 5-3.

Shuster cracked the whip in the eighth end with a raise double takeout to leave four of his team’s stones in scoring position. Not to be out-done, McCormick got rid of two rocks, but Shuster’s team still held the control in this end as McCormick had to settle again for a single. The ninth end was shaping up nicely for Shuster’s team to put the game away. An unfortunate rock pick with McCormick’s final stone left Shuster with a draw for four points and the win.

“A crappy time to get a pick like that but whatever. They played really well. The second end was just bad, and we just didn’t play and execute well,” said Plys who was teammates with Shuster at the 2010 Olympic Games. “But after that we maintained our chances and just had a few shots over-roll by an inch and they capitalized on it.”

“That’s the worst part about our sport. That could’ve been someone’s footprint and there were a few footprints around out there. It can happen to either team,” Shuster said about the rock pick. “He still had to make a shot that had to get to a tiny, tiny area. Had he not made it perfectly we still would’ve had something for two or three that would’ve essentially ended the game, too. But we hate seeing that as players. That’s a really bummer of a way to win a curling game. But we’ve all been on both sides of that as players.”

The Jamie Sinclair and Nina Roth rinks will return to the ice at 10 a.m. to determine the 2018 U.S. women’s curling team. Watch live on www.NBCSports.com and then a re-air on NBCSN after live coverage of the men’s final at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Line score, men’s playoff #2:
*Heath McCormick 101 001 010 x – 4
John Shuster 030 100 104 x – 9
*last rock in first end

Playoff TV/webstreaming schedule (all times CT):
Saturday:
10 a.m., women’s playoff #3 (Sinclair v. Roth), live via webstream at www.NBCSports.com
6:30 p.m., men’s playoff #3 (Shuster v. McCormick), live on NBCSN & live online
9:30 p.m., re-air of women’s playoff #3 on NBCSN

USA Curling is hosting the event with Baxter Arena and the Omaha Sports Commission, in partnership with the Aksarben Curling Club and the United States Olympic Committee. The men’s and women’s teams that win the Trials will be named to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.

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