Canada face Norway in final after day of high drama in Suzhou
Team Koe made to sweat by gritty Scots while Norway profit from Eden error
Canada’s Team Koe will play Norway’s Team Walstad in the Curling World Cup men’s final after an extraordinary conclusion to Saturday’s group stage.
Going into day four, the Canadians were big favourites to seal their place in Sunday’s showpiece, but a 3-1 defeat to Scotland in the early-morning session kickstarted an unorthodox chain of events which was to delay their eventual passage by over 10 hours.
The Scots’ victory featured five blank ends and all came down to the last stone, which skip Kevin Koe needed to draw to the button. It was too heavy though, and that meant Canada and Scotland, at that stage, were tied at 12 points apiece atop Group B.
Team Koe then beat Japan 12-4 in the day’s third session and – to mitigate against a Scotland win in the evening session forcing a shootout - each Canadian player was then asked to do a four-stone nearest-the-button shootout, with the best three stones measured and an average distance of 15.3cm calculated.
If Team Mouat were to beat Switzerland’s Team De Cruz in the final session, they would have also done a four-stone shootout to try to beat the Canadians’ measure and earn a place in the final.
It was not to be for the Scots though, but it was extremely close! Going into the final end locked at 5-5, a Mouat draw for one didn’t curl quite enough and Switzerland’s 6-5 win ensured Team Koe’s place in the final. Second Bobby Lammie slapped his brush to the ice in frustration.
“I thought I threw that last stone pretty good but it just didn't curl up enough for me. It's very frustrating," said Mouat.
After the win over Japan, when Koe’s fate was still unknown, he said: “We've done draw-offs before but it's kind of weird to go 5-1 and having a shootout for your life. A bit of pressure on us never hurts and we did pretty good.
“Whatever happens, we've still had a good week. We've gone 5-1, beaten some good teams and that's just the way the format is. All in all, for our first games together as a team it's been a very successful week.”
Canada’s opponents in the final will be Norway after a dramatic first end in the morning session set them on their way to a 10-3 victory over Sweden, for whom this has not been an easy week.
Before today, Niklas Edin’s rink had suffered injury and an unprecedented three group-stage defeats, but conceding five in the first end against Norway due to running out of time was yet another setback.
“It's new for everyone, this thinking time per end, especially for someone as experienced as Niklas,” said Norwegian skip Steffen Walstad. “It's pure luck. I wouldn't expect the game to be so lop-sided if we were still playing the old system. It’s not been their week. I expect them to come back a lot stronger. I’m always happy to be able to beat them but it would be fun to beat them fair and square, not on some technicality.
“The time rules does take some getting used to. Personally I like it, it brings a little more tension into every end. It's also fun to watch. Sometimes we have to play shots we're not comfortable playing. It puts more pressure on strategising and thinking ahead. You have to think ahead much more now.”
Team Edin did at least end their week on a positive note by beating China 6-4 in the ensuing dead rubber.
That earlier Norway win meant the United States’ Team Ruohonen had to beat China within eight ends to keep alive their hopes of reaching the final. They failed to do so by around an inch!
Going into a hugely tense final end with the hammer but 4-3 down, Greg Persinger tried to make a split for the two points they needed, but was just too light and China’s counter to the side of the house earned them a point and a 5-3 victory.
A win for the States there would have made their third-session clash with Norway a straight shootout to reach the final, but as it was it turned into little more than an exhibition, with Norway’s place in Sunday’s showpiece already sealed. For the record, Norway won it 9-3 to make their final tally in Group A a dominant 15 points.