Updated at 18:41 on April 6, 2006, EST.
LOWELL, Mass. (CP) – Canada nailed down a playoff spot at world men’s curling championship Thursday by beating the 2006 Olympic silver medallists.
Jean-Michel Menard’s team from Quebec City held off a charge by Markku Uusipaavalniemi’s foursome from Finland to win 6-4 and ensure Canada will be one of four countries in Friday’s Page playoff. Uusipaavalniemi’s team lost in the Olympic curling final to Canada’s Brad Gushue on Feb. 24 in Turin, Italy.
“It’s always great to be able to defeat a team that won a silver medal at the Torino Olympics,” Menard said.
Canada (7-3) had one game remaining in the round robin against Pete Fenson of the U.S., but the Canadians couldn’t finish lower than third. Menard wanted the victory over the Americans, also 7-3, to gain second place.
David Murdoch’s team from Scotland, which lost the Olympic bronze medal game to Fenson, was 8-2 and would finish first regardless of the outcome of its last game against Ireland.
In Friday’s Page playoff games, the winner of the game between the top two seeds advances to Sunday’s final (TV, 12:30 ET) while the loser drops down to Saturday’s semifinal (TV, 1 p.m. ET) to face the winner of a sudden-death game between the third and fourth seeds.
So the reward for a top-two finish in the round robin is a second life in the playoffs, and the higher-seeded teams also start playoff games with last-rock advantage.
Canada couldn’t catch the Scots after losing to them in the round robin, but wins in the preliminary round over Norway (7-4) and Sweden (6-4 with a game remaining) meant the Canadians would finish higher than both countries in the event of a tie.
The Page playoff has been used at Canadian championships since 1995, but the World Curling Federation adopted that format just last year for the world championship.
Prior to 2005, the first and fourth seeds met in one semifinal and the second and third seeds met in the other with the losers of those games playing for bronze. The losing team in Saturday’s semifinal now receives the bronze.
Finland helped Canada’s cause with a 7-5 win over the U.S. in the morning, but the loss to Canada knocked the Finns out of contention at 6-5.
Uusipaavalniemi (pronounced OO’-see-pah-vohl-NAY’-me) sat out the first three games of the round robin because of an injured right wrist and his team opened 1-2 without him. The Finnish skip re-joined the lineup, but threw third stones instead of his customary fourth stones.
“Most certainly it affected the games in which I was playing,” Uusipaavalniemi said of his wrist. “We lost one game to Japan which I don’t think we should have.”
He said he intended to continue competing internationally with an eye to returning to the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010.
Uusipaavalniemi wasn’t able to throw the big weight he normally does, but vice Kalle Kiiskinen demonstrated he could throw heat substituting in at fourth stones.
He spilled four Canadian stones in the fifth end with a run-back takeout to get his team out of major trouble.
Canada led 5-2 heading into the ninth end, but as Menard said earlier in the week, a three-point lead never seems to be enough for his team, which includes third Francois Roberge, second Eric Sylvain and lead Maxime Elmaleh.
The Canadians have made leading after the fifth or sixth ends, but leaving the door open for the opposition to get back in the game a habit this week.
The Finns had an opportunity to score three in the ninth and tie the game, but they only took two. Kiiskinen attempted to play a split, in which he taps a stone in front of the house in and also rolls his shooter in for another point, but his shooter didn’t roll far enough.
Both countries had stones around the button in the 10th, but Canada was closer with two of them. Kiiskinen was unable to get Finland a piece of the button with an attempted raise, so Menard didn’t have to throw his final stone.
“Another tight game. That’s our trademark I guess,” Menard said. “We made a few mistakes here and there. Fortunately we were able to get a couple from them and keep the game close as usual.”
In the eighth end, Kiiskinen’s attempt to tap out Canada’s shot stone ticked a guard out front to, giving Canada a 5-2 lead after a steal of one.
Menard made a double takeout with his final shot of the seventh to prevent the Finns from scoring two, so Finland opted to blank the seventh.
Canada blanked the fifth end to retain last-rock advantage and Menard drew for a single point and a 4-2 lead in the sixth.
Kiiskinen wanted to blank the fourth by peeling a Canadian stone away, but his shooter hung around in the rings to force Finland to take one point.
Menard buried a draw behind cover in the third end and Finland really had no shot to get at it. Menard drew in again to score two points and a 3-1 lead.
It was a tense moment for Canada in the second end Finland had a chance to hit and stay for two points and the lead.
Kiiskinen’s shooter rolled to the back of the rings with help from Roberge’s hard sweeping. A measurement was required to determine which country had second shot and the decision went to Canada. The Finns were held to a point and the score was tied 1-1.
The Canadian Press, 2006
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