Fenson, Pottinger rinks advance to Olympic Trials championship curling playoffs
FARGO -- Natalie Nicholson of Bemidji and her teammates on the Allison Pottinger rink will face the Erika Brown rink in a best-of-three series starting at 2:30 p.m. today in the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials at Scheels Arena.
In the men’s division, the Pete Fenson rink also will be playing for the Olympic Trials championship as the team placed second in the double round-robin portion of the tournament. Fenson will face John Shuster in a best-of-three championship series. The series begins at 2:30 p.m. today and the second game will be 2:30 p.m. Saturday. A rubber game, if necessary, will be played at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
The winner of the Olympic Trials in the men’s division will advance to a tournament in Germany in December where seven teams will by vying for the two remaining Olympics qualifying spots. Among the teams that will join the United State champion are France, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Germany.
“Shuster is a very good team and we feel that we are evenly matched,” Fenson said of the playoffs. “We are playing well and we’ve worked hard in practice and in competition to prepare ourselves.”
After Wednesday’s action of the men’s division Fenson had qualified for a playoff tiebreaker with a 5-2 record but a win over Shuster or a loss by the Tyler George rink Thursday afternoon would vault Fenson into the championship series.
As it turned out, Fenson lost to Shuster 4-3 Thursday but George also fell, losing 8-5 to Heath McCormick. That result gave Fenson second place and a berth into the playoff against Shuster which won the round-robin with a 6-2 mark.
“We blanked so many ends of our game that we finished early so we just stayed and watched the end of the other game,” Fenson said. “Heath McCormick and Tyler George are very good rinks and it was a bit of a gift for us (although not a surprise) that McCormick won,” Fenson said.
In Thursday’s final draw of the round-robin, Shuster and Fenson blanked the first four ends and Shuster maintained the hammer. That weapon came in handy in the fifth end when Shuster scored three.
Fenson collected his first marker in the seventh end but Shuster answered with one in the eighth. Fenson finished strong, scoring one in the ninth end and stealing another in the 10th but he could not tally the equalizer.
Shuster’s reward for winning Thursday will be owning the hammer in the first end of the first game and the third game, if it goes the distance.
“Our strategy for the series is simple -- play our best,” Fenson said. “We understand that we have to play as well as we can and make as many shots as we can.
“There will be no secrets between us and John. We know it will come down to who makes the shots. And a break or two along the way would be nice.”
The Pottinger rink secured a berth in the final series Wednesday night when it defeated Courtney George 7-6. In Thursday’s final draw of the double round-robin, Brown defeated Pottinger 5-4 and earned the second spot in the championship series.
Both rinks finished the round-robin with 4-2 records. Ending with 2-4 marks were Cassie Potter of St. Paul and George, also of St. Paul.
The Potter rink is skipped by Cassie Potter who is a Bemidji native. Also on the team is her sister, Jamie Haskell.
Potter ended her Olympic Trials action with a two-game winning streak after slipping past George 7-6 Thursday. That game was even from the outset and Potter snapped a 6-6 tie by using the hammer to score the winner in the 10th end.
Brown also used the final shot to score in the 10th and nip Pottinger 5-4. Pottinger opened a 3-2 cushion after four ends but Brown bounced back with three in the fifth. Pottinger evened the score with a counter in the eighth but Brown tallied the winner in the 10th end.
Despite losing her final game, Pottinger was pleased with the round-robin results and her team’s performance.
“We tried to make it a two-step process this week,” Pottinger said. “One was qualify and make sure we were in that final three and now we’re in there so it’s kind of like reset and start all over.
“We’re pretty excited. We’re ready for it,” Pottinger added.
The winner of the championship playoff will advance to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
U.S. Olympic Curling Trials
Allison Pottinger 4-2, Erika Brown 4-2, Cassie Potter 2-4, Courtney George 2-4
Pottinger 010 200 010 0 - 4
Brown 001 030 000 1 - 5
George 002 011 101 0 - 6
Potter 110 200 020 1 - 7
Championship Series - best of 3
Pottinger vs. Brown, 2:30 p.m.
Pottinger vs. Brown, 7 p.m.
Pottinger vs. Brown, 2 p.m., if necessary
Shuster 6-2, Fenson 5-3, George 4-4, McCormick 4-4, Clark 1-7
Shuster 000 030 010 0 - 4
Fenson 000 000 101 1 - 3
Shuster 7, George 5
McCormick 10, Clark 5
McCormick 8, George 5
Championship Series - best of 3
Fenson vs. Shuster, 2:30 p.m.
Fenson vs. Shuster, 2:30 pm.
Fenson vs. Shuster, 11 a.m., if necessary