The rink of Duluth resident Korey Dropkin took the momentum from the first end and held it throughout, defeating Team Shuster 8-4 in eight ends to win the first match of a best-of-three series in Omaha, Nebraska for the United States berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Dropkin's quartet, which includes Duluth native Joe Polo, Mark Fenner of Bemidji and Thomas Howell of Milwaukee, executed a steal of two points in the first end to take an early lead, then after holding Shuster's rink to a single in the second, used the hammer to score three points in the third.

Shuster's team, including Chris Plys of Duluth, Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wisconsin and John Landsteiner of Duluth, was held to another single in the fourth end but finally grabbed its first good news of the day in the fifth, as Dropkin's last shot couldn't extricate Shuster's stone from being the counting rock, resulting in a steal of one and cutting the lead to 5-3 at the halfway point.

A double takeout from Shuster in the sixth end led to Dropkin intentionally forcing a scoreless, or blank, end to retain last shot. He made the most of it in the seventh end, posting a three for a big 8-3 lead.

Any attempt for a big comeback was stifled when Shuster was held to one in the eighth end, leading the defending Olympic champions to concede the match at that point.

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“I think the big thing was keeping things simple, we know how to play a smart game,” said Dropkin in a release from USA Curling. “John and those guys are really good at playing with a lot of rocks in play. They like to make things complicated and they’re really good shooters, we know that.”

The teams will play again Saturday at 5 p.m. at Baxter Arena, with Dropkin's rink able to earn an Olympic berth with victory, but Shuster's rink lost the opening match of the finals in this format before winning the last two during the 2018 trials.

Cory Christensen reacts to her team's rock placement during the U.S. Olympic Team Curling Trials at Baxter Arena on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. 
Michelle Bishop/For the Duluth News Tribune
Cory Christensen reacts to her team's rock placement during the U.S. Olympic Team Curling Trials at Baxter Arena on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. Michelle Bishop/For the Duluth News Tribune

Peterson team edges Christensen

In the women's match, a double takeout with the last rock of the match allowed Tabitha Peterson's team to defeat Duluth's Cory Christensen 8-7 in the first match of a best-of-three series.

Christensen's rink, including Sarah Anderson of Minneapolis, Vicky Persinger of Fairbanks, Alaska; and Taylor Anderson of Minneapolis, fell behind 3-0 early after Peterson recorded a 2 in the first end and a steal of 1 in the second, but made 3 in the fifth end to lead 5-4 at the halfway point.

Peterson's team responded by scoring three points in the sixth end, marking the last lead change in the contest.

Team Christensen managed only a single in the ninth end, meaning they'd be down a point and without last shot advantage in the final end. After a series of guards followed by peels, Peterson was left with several options to win, and chose to take both opposing stones out for a blank end.

The teams will meet again on Saturday at 8 p.m. Both the men's and women's finals will be nationally televised on NBCSN.

This article was updated at 1:13 a.m. on Nov. 20 with details from the women's match. It was originally posted at 10:37 p.m. on Nov. 19.