OMAHA — More often than not, Korey Dropkin makes the kind of shot he faced in the sixth end of Saturday's Olympic trials. But the situation the Duluth curler faced in Game 2 of the finals wasn't exactly routine.
Holding a 2-1 lead over Team John Shuster, Dropkin chose to try a shot that could have scored as many as five points, putting his team in command with an Olympic berth on the line. "We saw an opportunity to win the game right there,'' he said. "So we took it.''
Dropkin, who had been nearly flawless in the finals, wasn't able to convert — and that was all the opening Shuster needed to surge to a 7-3 victory at Baxter Arena. The teams will play a deciding Game 3 on Sunday, with the winner representing the U.S. in men's curling at the Beijing Winter Games in February.
After an 8-4 loss in Friday's Game 1, Team Shuster played with more patience and guile in Game 2. Dropkin's miss in the sixth end allowed Shuster to steal two points and take the lead for the first time in the finals. As his team's accuracy sharpened, it forced Team Dropkin into more difficult shots.
None was bigger than the final shot of the sixth end. Shuster's team had two stones in scoring position, and Dropkin had four rocks lurking farther out in the house. On Dropkin's attempt to take out the two Shuster stones, his release was slightly askew, and he ended up knocking out one of his own and leaving Shuster's untouched.
Shuster estimated Dropkin's shot was off by about half an inch. Team Dropkin pulled into a 3-3 tie in the seventh end, but Shuster scored two in the ninth and stole two more in the 10th to maintain his hopes of making a fifth consecutive Olympic team.
"He had a shot to essentially send their team to the Olympics,'' said Shuster, who skipped the U.S. to the Olympic gold medal in 2018. "It was there to score four or five. We took that momentum and we ran with it.
"(Sunday), it's winner goes (to the Olympics), loser goes home. They're a great curling team. It should be a great battle.''
During the round-robin portion of the trials, Shuster's team handled every opponent except Dropkin. Team Shuster won the first matchup 8-7 in an extra end, then took its only loss of the round robin in the rematch as Team Dropkin roared to a 6-1 victory. Dropkin was equally dominant in Game 1 of the finals.
His team again forced Shuster to chase on Saturday. Team Dropkin took a 2-0 lead in the second end and looked like it might extend the margin in the third, but Shuster made his first big shot of the match with a triple takeout. Team Shuster got on the board with a single point in the fourth end and grew stronger as the game progressed.
Shuster has quite a track record in Game 3 at the Olympic trials. His team won three-game series in the 2014 and 2018 trials to get to the Olympics; in 2018, it rallied from a Game 1 loss to beat a team that included Dropkin and current teammate Tom Howell.
Dropkin said that loss fueled his determination to return to the trials finals. Sunday, he hopes to write a different outcome.
"That helped build our hunger to win,'' he said. "We're here. And we want it.''