For the first time since curling returned to the Olympics in 1998, Canada will not be playing in the gold medal game. And for the first time, the U.S. will.
It's tough to beat the same team twice in one week. It's even tougher when that team is a Canadian team that has won back-to-back-to-back Olympic gold medals and is the defending World Champions.
Don't tell that to John Shuster.
Shuster and his USA men's curling team has continued to make the difficult seem easy. After starting round robin play 2-4 with just slim chance of reaching the tournament semifinals, they simply won three straight games against three of the best teams in the tournament - including Canada - to take the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
Then, they made it look easy again.
The U.S. and the neighbors to the North battled through eight ends of tie curling before Shuster's squad finally broke through in the eighth end on the way to a 5-3 victory.
Shuster seemingly had the upper hand on all strategy in the second half of play. Canada purposefully blanked both the sixth and seventh ends to keep hammer in the eighth, but was unable to do anything with it. Shuster came away with a huge takeout, landing two in the four-foot on his final shot. Canadian skip Kevin Koe's final shot came up way short of the house, giving the U.S. the two point steal and their first lead of the day.
"We really try to develop a field of play," Shuster told reporters after the game. "Our team motto is basicaly when we get half shots and misses we capitalize and that's something we did today."
The two teams traded single points early to go into the midpoint break tied 2-2.
The eighth was the only stolen end for either team in the game, but proved to be the difference maker.
Shuster again put pressure on Koe in the ninth, and Koe again folded. Canada had one red stone alone on the four foot, with no other stones in play. Shuster sent his final throw and landed it just in front of that red stone to put pressure on Koe.
Koe's hammer throw took out that U.S. stone, but was too hard and went left the house, forcing Canada to settle for just one point and 4-3 deficit. The strategy meant Canada would go into the final end down one and needing to steal a point with the U.S. hammer.
Shuster just needed to complete an easy hit-and-stay for the victory, and again, he made it look easy.
"I think that was one of the first times I've ever had a hit and stay where I said 'I do this in practice every day... I have a hit and stay in the center of the ice to play for Olympic gold," he said.
The win means history for the American team that won just four games combined in the last two Olympics, both skipped by Shuster. The only other time Team USA has played for a medal was in 2006 when they won bronze. Shuster was the lead on that team. Now, he along with teammates John Landsteiner, Matt Hamilton and Tyler George will get to play for history.
“It’s unbelievable. I don’t know if I am going to sleep tonight," Landsteiner said to reporters after the game. "I think we are going to play even better, because there’s no pressure of ‘what if we get fourth?’ ‘what if we walk away with nothing?’ With that pressure gone and the desire to get gold over the silver – I’m excited for what that game is going to be like.”
Shuster's redemption tour will now conclude early Saturday morning at 1:35 a.m. EST when they take on Sweden.
"This was the next step for us, but the final step will come in a couple days," Shuster said.
It was never really close in the other semifinal game. Sweden scored two in the first end, and another four in the third on the way to rolling to a 9-3 victory over Switzerland.
Sweden purposefully blanked the third end, and it paid off. Niklas Edin's team lied three stones all on a diagonal line just before the final stones. Switzerland's Benoit Schwarz landed his hammer on the button, but Edin had an easy takeout to take an early 6-2 lead.
Sweden added two more in the sixth after Schwarz missed a takeout attempt and left one Swedish stone biting on the top of house. Edin had another takeout, and a measurement showed that biting stone was just closer than another Swiss stone.
Sweden stole another in the seventh to essentially put the game away for good. Switzerland scored one in the eighth, but the six point deficit was too much to overcome, forcing Schwarz and his team to concede.
Switzerland had already played once earlier in the day when they defeated Great Britain 9-5 in a tiebreak game for a spot in the semifinals.
Sweden had a 90 percent shot success rate as a team in the game, including 95 percent by Edin and 97 percent by second thrower Rasmus Wranaa. Edin's team was the No. 1 seed in the semis after going 7-2 in round robin play. The win is a nice bounce back for the team after going 1-2 in their final three games.
Switzerland will now play Canada in the bronze medal game early Friday morning at 1:35 a.m. EST.