The Ford World men’s curling championship round-robin preliminary wound up not with a whimper but with a 24-karat bang. Canada’s Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg, the undefeated leader throughout, slipped a last-rock draw to the four-foot through the centre ring Thursday night, yielding Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud the theft of a 7-6 victory, Norway’s fifth straight with its back to the wall. Stoughton had chosen the draw option, facing two Norwegian counters.
The loss was no big deal for the Canadian skip, who already had first place and a berth in the Page One-Two playoff locked up. But the win for Norway was immense. In fact, it kept the Olympic silver-medal-winning team in the competition.
A loss and Norway would have been out, providing France’s Thomas Dufour maintained his last-round 9-7 victory over Pete Fenson of the U.S.
The results of the late draw left Norway and France, both 7-and-4 on the week, headed into a sudden-death tiebreaker Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
The winner was ticketed for a sudden-death date with Sweden’s Niklas Edin in the Page Three-Four playoff Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Edin, idle Thursday night, also finished 7-4 but claimed third place on the basis of the draw-shot challenge, a series of throws to the button prior to each round-robin game.
Stoughton, meanwhile, plays Scotland’s Tom Brewster in the One-Two playoff Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner advances directly to the final on Sunday at 5 p.m. The loser will be in the semi-final Saturday at 5 against the Three-Four survivor.
Everybody else in the starting field fell by the wayside Thursday.
“All we care about now is the One-Two playoff game,” said Stoughton, who shared nine ways in an $18,000-and-change 50-50 draw made during the final round. “It was a great bonus,” he chuckled. “And we couldn’t be in a better position. We had a good game. There were a lot of great shots made. We have no concerns, no worries, a huge game against Scotland coming up.”
Stoughton shrugged when asked about his final shot against Norway after controlling the game throughout.
“I just threw it heavy,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Just heavy on my draw, that’s all. I was trying to get out there a little bit more. The ice was the fastest we’ve played on all week.”
The loss failed to close the door on Norway, the second favourite heading into the championship.
“I guess we’ll find out on Sunday, or if we happen to lose we’ll find out on Saturday what it means,” said Stoughton. “I don’t know because we’re not playing him but we’re not thinking of anybody else but Scotland right now.”
Ulsrud and his team, which hung in tenaciously but chased Canada after yielding a deuce in the second end, said these sudden-death wins are something new for his unit.
“My lead (Håvard Vad Petersson) says, this is the David Murdoch way,” said the Norwegian skip. “Slip in the back door and win the whole thing.
“When it comes down to a draw full four-foot to win, you’re thinking you don’t have a good chance. But the ice was a bit faster out there. I guess we were just lucky. We were wearing the lucky pants.
“For sure we have a good thing going. Basically, if you end up in a tiebreaker you’re not happy, but I’m loving a tiebreaker right now.”
Ulsrud needs three wins in order to get another crack at Stoughton if Canada rolls straight to the final.
“The first time I played Canadian teams I was almost intimidated,” he said. “I was not playing my usual game. We were close a couple of times in Slams and then we beat a couple of teams and you learn it’s possible to beat them and have games like we did tonight.
“France beat us in the round robin so I think it won’t be tough to pump up the boys for the game. They’re pumped now. They want to play. The last couple of days, we’re getting used to having the pressure on.
“I don’t believe in signs, I only believe in pants. We won’t be changing anything.”
Norway tied the match with deuces twice and then stole a tying point in the eighth. Stoughton blanked the ninth to keep hammer in the last end.
Dufour, meanwhile, controlled his match with the U.S. (3-8) but gave up three in the ninth end to enable Fenson to square the account coming home. Last rocker Tony Angiboust executed a pair of clutch kills to win it.
“We try now to get ready for the next one and vanish everything in the head,” said Dufour with a smile. “We knew it would be difficult but it came down to the last stone in the last end and that’s all about curling, eh?”
The win matches France’s most for a world championship. One more and the team will be the nation’s best ever.
“It would be nice,” said Dufour. “A good record. It doesn’t mean a lot but the way we played and the win we had and the fact we are in the tiebreaker means a lot. We’ve been looking to this for seven years. This is our second time to the tiebreakers and I hope it works out better than the first time. It would be very nice if someone was paying attention back home in France.”
Dufour lost to Peja Lindholm of Sweden in a 2007 tiebreaker at Edmonton.
Switzerland’s Christof Schwaller drew the button to defeat Korea’s Dong Keun Lee 7-6 and Jiri Snitil (5-6) of the Czech Republic kept Denmark’s winless streak intact with a 6-5 win.
The Swiss and idle Germany finished 6-5, China was 4-7, Korea 2-9 and Tommy Stjerne’s old boys from Copenhagen lost 11 straight.