Team Shuster win North American duel
China and United States top Group A, with mixed fortunes for Norway and Sweden
Olympic champions Team John Shuster won the big North American battle with Team Jason Gunnlaugson on a busy day of eight men’s matches on Thursday at the Ralston Arena in Omaha.
Shuster bounced back from a flat performance against China on Wednesday to overcome Scotland 8-3 in the morning, then Canada 5-3 in the evening. Those two results put them joint top of Group A alongside China.
Leading 3-1 at the halfway stage, Team Shuster were ahead 4-3 with the hammer going into the final end. The skip’s double take-out with the final stone brought clenched fists from second Matt Hamilton and raucous bell-ringing from the partisan home crowd.
"You get eight teams from all around the world playing for some money and pride, it really is fun," said Shuster. "We’ve got some great ice out there and great playing conditions. It’s fun to have a men’s, women’s and mixed doubles event going on all together so we have that extra camaraderie.”
China’s Team Zou Qiang have also won two of their first three matches, picking up an eye-opening victory over Team Bruce Mouat tonight. The Scots’ frustration was evident as they could not prevent China edging them out 5-3.
In Group B, Team Niklas Edin soundly beat Team Yannick Schwaller 8-2 in the evening session with an error from the Swiss skip in the second end giving Sweden a steal of one and an early 3-0 lead they never looked like relinquishing.
"That steal in the second end was definitely a key moment," Edin said afterwards. "He hung it wide, flashed it, and we went 3-0 up. They probably thought to themselves, 'That's the game gone right there.' It was really heavy for them mentally."
The Swedes continue to suffer with injuries, including second Rasmus Wranaa and Edin himself, whose body was strapped up by various braces and supports. He called his body “a bit of a mess!”
He added: "We're all in better form after the Europeans [in which they finished second] but we still have injuries. We're hanging in there. The key game here is going to be the second one against Ulsrud. We get hammer so that gives us a better chance."
Team Ulsrud, who were previously unbeaten, lost 7-5 to Japan in the evening session. Nevertheless it is the legendary Norwegian rink who still top the group at the halfway stage alongside Team Edin on six points, with Japan and Scotland on three.
All eight men’s teams were also in action in the day’s midday session, in which Team Shuster beat Scotland 8-3. An early steal of three was crucial in settling the Olympic champions.
Second Matt Hamilton reflected: "We kind of got thrown out of our rhythm yesterday. We're very routine-orientated. We didn't get time to prepare properly.
"Today we were all in the right mindset. We were able to do our job and have positive energy about us as we were able to go through our routine. It's kind of like a golfer's pre-shot routine. You've just got to follow your systems you have in place.”
Team Gunnlaugson got off to a great start against China with an early steal for two and went into the fourth-end break with a 4-1 lead. They never lost that tight grip and posted a 6-3 victory.
Gunnlaugson said: “It’s a lot of fun here. I just love the new format and the speed of the game. It’s actually really nice as a skip because your team doesn’t have any time to give you any suggestions. So I just basically go with it and then after they pick me apart!
“I think that when you wear the maple leaf you’re expected to win – at least that’s what everyone at home expects. So it comes to doing your processes as well as you can. It’s a beautiful venue, beautiful event, great organisation so it makes it even easier."
There was a clash of the Scandinavian heavyweights as Team Edin took on long-time rivals Team Ulsrud, with the honours going to the Norwegians 6-3.
Three-time world champions Team Edin did not score more than one point in any end as Ulsrud largely kept them tied down. The Swedes fought back to level up at 3-3 in the fifth end, but Ulsrud pulled clear thereafter and cleared the house in the final end to run Edin out of stones.
Ulsrud said: “We always know it’s going to be tight against Niklas. It’s always down to the last rock. We were lucky enough to have the hammer and start with that and score two in the first end and have the lead from there, but they were chasing us the whole way. It’s tough to get to Beijing, we need to win this. I think this is one step in the right direction.”
The other midday men’s match saw Team Schwaller overcome Japan by 10-4. They followed up a three in the third end with a steal for one; a 6-2 midway advantage that they never looked like relinquishing. Another three in the seventh end saw Japan offer their hands.