A Week of Ups and Downs for Team USA

USA's Team Persinger (Photo by Steve Seixeiro, World Curling Federation) lost 6-4 to Canada in the Quarterfinals to end their week at the World Men's Curling Championship in Las Vegas.

By Price Atkinson

LAS VEGAS - The incredible thrill ride is over for Team USA at the World Men's Curling Championship.

After finding itself 1-6 in round-robin play, Team Persinger rallied to win five-straight games and punch an improbable spot in the playoffs. Team Canada ended the Americans hot streak and eliminated Team USA with a 6-4 win in the 3v6 quarterfinal game this morning.

"It was a rollercoaster," lead Phil Tilker said referring to their up-and-down week. "We got off to a good first game and ran into a few speed bumps along the way. We played some great games, got way down and almost out of it. Then came back thrilled to be here and now another heartbreaker."

Team Persinger lost its first-four games of round robin play all on steals in the final end. Outside of a 7-2 loss to Sweden, they battled the other four playoffs teams to the bitter end.

"We could have easily been 10-2, maybe even 11-1. We played every team that's in the playoffs to the end," skip Rich Ruohonen said. "You got your money worth with us."

"But we proved we could play and unfortunately if we had won more earlier in the week we'd put ourselves in better position because we'd be starting with the hammer. It's tough to turn the hammer around against a team like Gushue. We've got nothing to be ashamed about and everybody knows we can play with anybody in the world."

That they did including a 6-5 win over Team Gushue on Thursday night in the round robin. However, Team Canada was determined not to allow Team USA to score a fourth-straight win over them in international play.

Canada picked up one in the first end and stole another in the second end. After trading singles in the fourth and sixth end, fourth Greg Persinger made a fantastic shot to stick it for the game's first deuce.

"It was a game of two halves. We came out a hair flat maybe in the first five and gave up that steal of one in the second, second Colin Hufman said. "We went into the fifth end break and Phill (Drobnick) came out and said you guys need to bring everything in the second half. We came out and threw double centers in the sixth and force one immediately, score two in seven and they did not look comfortable."

The eighth end proved to be the pivotal point in the game. Trying to get a steal, Persinger threw up a center guard on his first rock instead of hitting. His freeze on his last rock left Gushue a critical deuce to essentially seal the game with a 5-3 lead.

"We were just a shot away," Tilker said referring to the eighth end. "Greg had that freeze in eight and got off it a little bit. With the different ice conditions, I think we needed to clean it and it caught and grabbed. Greg threw it too well not to make that shot. We get in there and steal, we're up one and that's a big difference.

"If we get that steal in eight, we win the game 100 percent of the time in my opinion," Hufman added. "It all comes down to that. This is one of those games where you did not want to have the last shot to draw in a tie game."

Hufman was referencing the difficult ice conditions Saturday morning, which was significant frost all over sheet B. It played havoc on both teams but seemed to have a bigger effect on Team USA's game.

"They were playing normal weight plus hits and we were trying to play our touch game and it was like soup out there," Ruohonen said. "You couldn't play the control weight hits. Sometimes they'd carve and sometimes they wouldn't depending on if you had just been down that path.

"I'm not blaming the ice. They were throwing eight and half, nine second hits and we were trying to play our finesse game. I rolled out on a couple and that hurt."

Despite coming up short of their goal to make the medal round, Team Persinger proved a lot of doubters wrong. Primarily, those who thought USA's Olympic gold medalist Team Shuster should've been playing instead.

Shuster and his team opted not to play USA Curling Nationals in Fargo in order to embark on a length media tour to increase curling's visibility and other obvious reasons. Sitting out the Nationals meant they were ineliegible for the World Championship.

"We've got nothing to be ashamed about and everybody knows we can play with anybody in the world," Ruohonen said.

Hufman echoed Ruohonen and said USA Curling has raised the bar when it comes to playing on the world level the last few months.

"We wanted to represent obviously for ourselves and our families but also our fellow competitors in the States," Hufman said. "One thing I always take with me in whenever I come to one of these is events is I always respect everyone else we play against so much. And us having a good performance paints all of the competitors and our country in a good light. I think we have more depth than people think and us fighting back I think showed that we belong here."

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