Eight Ends: Canada's Gushue finishes strong to beat United States for bronze

Canada’s Brad Gushue reacts after winning the bronze medal curling match by beating the United States 8-5 Friday, February 18, 2022 at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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.

First End: Brad Gushue's team delivered a medal for Canada in curling, defeating the United States 8-5 for the men's bronze Friday.

It's the first time Canada has captured bronze in men's curling. From 1998 when curling became a full medal event to 2014, Canada competed in every men's final, claiming gold three times (with Gushue himself at the top of the podium in 2006) and silver twice. The 2018 tournament was the first time the Canadian men's team lost in the semifinals and the squad skipped by Kevin Koe fell to Switzerland for bronze. Canada missed the medal round in Beijing during the mixed doubles and women's tournaments and Gushue ensured the curling contingent wouldn't return home empty-handed for the first time.

Second End: It's not easy to bounce back mentally from a heartbreaking semifinal loss -- Canada fell 5-3 to Sweden -- and then turn around the next day to play for bronze against the reigning Olympic gold medallists, who typically play loose and relaxed like they have nothing to lose. It was a close one with Canada outshooting the United States by a slim three per cent margin: 81 per cent to 78 per cent. Canadian second Brett Gallant shot a team-high 86 per cent and tied American counterpart Matt Hamilton for the game-high, too. The Americans weren't as precise down the stretch as they had been earlier in the game allowing Canada to pull back into the lead late, add some insurance with a steal and run their neighbours to the south out of rocks.

Third End: Canada opened with the hammer and got out on the right foot with a solid first end, capped with Gushue hitting to score a deuce. That strong start carried over into the second as Gushue wrapped his last rock around the guard into the top of the eight-foot circle and forced Shuster to draw for a single point. Just textbook curling of taking two and forcing your opponent to one.

Fourth End: Throw the textbook in the trash as Canada struggled in the middle of the lineup and allowed the U.S. to mirror the scoreboard to tie it 3-3. Gushue faced four counters in the third and had to make a high-pressure tap to score a single, then had to pull off a double takeout in the fourth to cut down the damage as Shuster drew for a tying two points.

Fifth End: Gushue was setting up to blank the fifth, but it didn’t go to plan. Needing to hit and roll out on his last, Gushue’s shooter appeared to pick up something on the ice and stuck around in the house after making contact to count for a single. Again, you could see the difference in demeanour between the two teams during the fifth-end break as Gushue appeared tense and needed to rally his troops while Shuster looked loose.

The momentum of the game was definitely shifting. The missed blank attempt turned out to be costly -- for the short-term at least -- as Gushue had to hit a double takeout in the sixth but rolled under the second stone and Shuster drew for two points to pull ahead 5-4.

Sixth End: The ice crew will mop up during the fifth-end break but you don't typically see them tend to the sheet again during a game unless requested. After Gushue pulled off a double takeout and had his shooter spin up and out to blank the seventh, he called for another mop as his first skip stone appeared to pick. It’s unusual for a second mop-up but both teams agreed to it although Hamilton looked a bit annoyed.

Perhaps that was the turning point as Canada had a strong eighth with two points in their pockets before their last shot. Gushue slightly overcooked it, though, and left the third point on the table but the deuce was enough to jump back into the lead 6-5. Sarcasm on the mop-up being the turning point, the incredible shot to blank the seventh was key for Canada to stay in control and the hammer into an even end.

Seventh End: The Americans appeared to unravel a bit in the final stages and that was enough for Canada to ice the game. Gushue made a fantastic draw with his last stone in the ninth to sit two and Shuster caught just a piece of it with his final rock to give up the double steal and trail by three. A couple of misses from U.S. third Christopher Plys in the 10th end gave Gushue the opportunity to double out the Americans without Shuster even getting a chance to throw either of his skip stones.

Eighth End: Gushue's season is far from over. His team received one of the three wild-card berths for next month's Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta. Although traditionally a play-in game for one spot between the top two teams that competed in provincial playdowns and did not win, due to COVID-19 disruptions, not every association was able to hold playdowns or was forced to postpone. Curling Canada altered the Scotties Tournament of Hearts format to allow three wild-card teams and opted to do the same for the Brier. Team Gushue also has two Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling events to look forward to with the Princess Auto Players' Championship and KIOTI Tractor Champions Cup to wrap up the season and the Olympic quadrennial.

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