USA's Team Persinger hitting its stride just as the season is coming to a close at the Champions Cup in Calgary.
By Price Atkinson
CALGARY - Many of the teams at this week's Humpty's Champions Cup are on fumes, ready to run out the clock on an exhausting quadrennial and lengthy Olympic year.
Don't include USA Curling's Team Persinger in that mix of those simply wanting to cross the finish line at the final Grand Slam of the 2017/18 season. They've come to take advantage of playing in their first and only Slam of the season.
"We finished strong at Worlds and we're hoping to carry that over winning five straight before losing to (Brad) Gushue in the playoffs," skip Rich Ruohonen said. "Gushue is back in our bracket again, so we're looking forward to four good games and hopefully making the playoffs again here."
Team Persinger is coming off a top-six finish at the recent World Championship in Las Vegas where they stormed their way into the playoffs, winning their final five games of round-robin play to get in after a 1-6 start.
"I think we played pretty damn well those last six games at Worlds," Ruohonen said. "If we play like that, we have a chance to qualify here. Even though the ice was pretty tough in that last game (a 6-4 loss to Gushue in the quarterfinals), we make that shot in the eighth end, we probably win that game. It just shows we can play with anybody in the world when we're playing well."
It's been a team in flux the second half of the season. Immediately after the U.S. Olympic Trials, team members Colin Hufman, Phil Tilker and Greg Persinger parted ways with longtime skip Brady Clark.
Last season, Ruohonen played with Todd Birr's rink before getting the call in the offseason to play with and pursue an Olympic dream with Heath McCormick's rink as their alternate.
Team McCormick came up short to John Shuster in the best-of-three finals at the Trials, leaving Ruohonen wanting to play. And that's when the opening came with Team Persinger. Having been together for only half a season, things are still fairly new to the foursome in terms of playing together as a unit.
At their first event together after the Trials, Team Persinger ran the table en route to winning the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth, Minnesota, then finished third at the US Open in Blaine two week later. Next up was the U.S. Curling Nationals in Fargo where they lost only one of 11 games en route to the title and bid to the World Championships.
Ruohonen added that while they're still fairly new as a team, it's a little odd to see most of the Canadian teams in flux.
"It is a little bit different for some of the teams," he said. "Even with players and teams moving around, I know they're all friends and that's part of curling. But it is a little strange for sure."
And there looms a big question for the current foursome. Will they be together again next season. Ruohonen said they'd like to continue playing together after a brief yet successful run, but it's too early to know.
Unlike Canada and in most countries, USA Curling operates its High Performance Program, which funds three national teams on the men's and women's side. With the current Olympic cycle over, players are unsure of what the HP Program might look like for another quadrennial.
"I think we all want to play together again. I got told four years ago I was probably too old to be in (the HP Program). So four years later I don't know what my chances are on that and I don't want to hold anyone back either," Ruohonen said chuckling.
"We're gonna talk about it a little bit this weekend and see what everybody's interest is. If three guys get in and I don't because I'm too old, then that's fine. I'm not gonna hold anyone back. My goal is to keep everybody happy. If there's a chance I can do it, I probably will because I enjoy and think I proved I can still play at a pretty high level."
With the Champions Cup officially underway, Team Persinger is off to a great start in the toughest of the three pools. Playing in Pool B that includes Reid Carruthers, Tyler Tardi and Gushue, the one U.S. men's team in Calgary scored a 5-3 comeback win over Brad Jacobs this morning.
Trailing 3-2 after the fifth end, the Americans grabbed a single in the sixth and then stole a pair in the seventh and eighth to knock off the defending champions from Ontario.
Team Persinger returns to the ice tomorrow morning against Tardi at 10:30 a.m. (EST) followed by a 6:00 p.m. (EST) tilt with Carruthers. They close the round robin Friday at 2:00 p.m. (EST) against Gushue.