Eight Ends: Switzerland stymies Canada to hand Gushue first loss at Olympics

Canada's Brad Gushue, throws a rock, during the men's curling match against Switzerland, at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Beijing. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Eight Ends is your daily one-stop shop for all things curling with news, notes, insight and analysis through the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing with neither burnt rocks nor burnt toast.

First End: Canada’s Brad Gushue hit his first roadblock of the men’s curling tournament in Beijing losing 5-3 Friday to Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz. Team Gushue still played pretty well outshooting de Cruz’s crew 88 per cent to 81 per cent. Canada is also first overall averaging 87.8 per cent after three games. The stats don’t always tell the whole story though as Canada just missed the wrong ones at the wrong times.

The L is a bit of a cause for concern with the standings expected to be a logjam and de Cruz, who won bronze four years ago defeating Canada’s Kevin Koe, predicted in the mix. Both Canada and Switzerland now hold 2-1 records and Gushue will need to cruise past de Cruz by other means in order to avoid a tiebreaker situation. In case you missed it during mixed doubles, there are no tiebreaker games with head-to-head the first deciding factor followed by average draw-to-the-button shootout scores.

Second End: The key moment came relatively early into the match. Gushue held the hammer in the second end trailing by one and was looking to score a deuce. The 2006 Olympic champion had to make a tricky hit as landing on the nose wouldn’t have been enough to outcount de Cruz’s other rock. That forced Gushue to have to make a hit with a light roll, and hope the shooter would get caught by another rock and lose momentum. The kinetic energy transfer didn’t go to plan as the shooter kept pinballing and took out Gushue’s rock at the back of the house. Remember de Cruz’s aforementioned other rock? Yeah, it was left untouched to count for a steal. Instead of being up 2-1, Gushue was down 2-0 and not once held the lead in the game.

Third End: Gushue has started with the hammer just once through three games, which is a dangerous way to go about your business but not the end of the world if you can come out strong and either force your opponent to a single — as was the case in this game — or manage a steal. Where not having the hammer to start does matter is at the end of the week when your draw-to-the-button shootout scores are tallied and determined as a secondary tiebreaker if head-to-head results are even between multiple teams.

Switzerland's vice-skip Benoit Schwarz, fist bumps his opponent, Canada's Brett Gallant, after winning the men's curling match, at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Beijing. (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Fourth End: How about Schwarz? Don’t say we didn’t warn you as we noted in Thursday's Eight Ends that Schwarz could be the difference-maker.

Schwarz avoided a bad start for Switzerland by hitting against three counters in the first to score one point. Even though it wasn’t exactly how they called it, Schwarz made a nifty around-the-horn double in the fourth that had the turn tables with Gushue now facing three and forced to a single.

Schwarz can also throw a mean heater with a 4.7-second (from hog line to hog line) triple takeout in the sixth that bailed his team out of trouble. Although he had only thrown one draw shot prior to the eighth, his rock hit the brakes just in time to count at the back of the four-foot circle. Schwarz's last shot in the ninth was also key to the steal that put Switzerland ahead by two points heading into the final frame.

If you think it’s unconventional for de Cruz to skip while throwing second, when you have someone like Schwarz available you want to give him that last brick.

Fifth End: Up next for Gushue — a potential preview of the gold-medal game? Considering how often we heard that phrase during the mixed doubles and ended up with Italy vs. Norway, a game nobody predicted, we probably should retire that line. Having said that, there’s a “Big 3” in the men's field and two of those teams clash Saturday with Gushue taking on Sweden’s Niklas Edin at 1:05 a.m. ET. Gushue holds an all-time 21-7 win-loss record against Edin including a four-game winning streak, according to CurlingZone. Gushue beat Edin in the world championship final in 2017 while Edin took the rematch the following year. There’s a good chance we could see a golden rubber match next week.

Edin is undefeated at 3-0 so far and threw the first perfect game of the men's tournament tossing 100 per cent during a 9-3 win over Italy.

Sixth End: Jennifer Jones’ Goldberg-esque winning streak in Olympic play came to an end Friday with an 8-5 loss to Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa. Jones, who went undefeated en route to gold in 2014, now holds a 12-1 record on Olympic ice.

Stolen points were the difference here. Jones opened with the hammer but gave up a steal to start in the first frame. Down 3-2 after three ends, Jones conceded back-to-back single points to trail by three at the break. The reigning Olympic bronze medallist Fujisawa, who threw a perfect 100 per cent in the first half, was able to match Jones through the back half of the game as they alternated deuces in six and seven followed by singles in eight and nine.

Third Kaitlyn Lawes, who won Olympic gold with Jones in 2014 and with John Morris in mixed doubles in 2018, shot 69 per cent with Jones firing at a 66 per cent pace, far lower than their Japanese counterparts of third Chinami Yoshida (78 per cent) and skip Fujisawa (who finished at 88 per cent).

Canada’s skip Jennifer Jones, right, Jocelyn Peterman, and Kaitlyn Lawes, left, watch a shot during preliminary round curling action against Japan Friday, February 11, 2022 at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Seventh End: The past two Olympic gold medallists clash Saturday morning local time (Friday 8:05 p.m. ET) with Jones taking on Sweden's Anna Hasselborg. The reigning champion Hasselborg (1-1) beat Japan 8-5 to start and was thumped 8-2 in seven ends to Great Britain’s Eve Muirhead. Hasselborg had a bye for the lone women’s draw Friday and that’s a long time to stew over a bad loss. Sweden tops the team percentages averaging 85.0 per cent with lead Sofia Mabergs, second Agnes Knochenhauer and third Sara McManus all tops at their respective positions while Hasselborg herself is last among skips. She’ll want to come out strong and put that disappointing loss behind her, which could be bad news for Canada.

Jones holds an 11-8 all-time win-loss record against Hasselborg, according to CurlingZone. Hasselborg has won their past five games including their most recent meeting at the Masters in the fall.

Eighth End: Bettors may be interested in a Canada over Sweden parlay but it’ll be extremely difficult to pull off this double takeout.

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