SARANAC LAKE — Team USA’s men’s curling team made it to the final match of the World University Games, but fell to Great Britain 1-5 on Saturday.
Great Britain took home the gold medal, dominating on the ice, while Team USA walked away with silver.
The crowd — packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the new bleachers at the Saranac Lake Civic Center — was electric during the match, with large and vocal showings from both countries and a lot of flag-flying. The supporters of each team traded chants of “Let’s go GB, let’s go” and “USA, USA” between ends.
During play, quiet reigned over the packed rink as players lined up their shots. The only sound was the stone sliding across the ice.
The shouting started with the curlers bellowing “HARD, HARD! CURL!” Their energy swept up into the audience, with the noise from the crowd rising as the stone grew close, exploding when it landed well.
At least one family had allegiances to both teams — the Prescotts from Potsdam. Carla Prescott, from Great Britain, is married to Jimmy, an American soldier she met while he was stationed in South Korea. As the celebration raged on after the match, the couple lowered their kids — Cooper, 7, and Lily, 6 — onto the ice to pose with the winning GB players and the Union Jack flag.
“It’s nice to be surrounded by so many other Brits,” Carla said as the Britons sang victory songs.
Great Britain Lead Blair Haswell said he didn’t think the USA crowd’s energy could be matched on home turf, so he thanked the “GB Troops” for turning out in force that night. Haswell, said he hails from a “wee town in the southwest” of Scotland. In fact, most of the team is from Scotland.
USA Third Luc Violette said his team’s first end was really good. Great Britain had an opportunity to score two points but the U.S. held them to one.
“Our objective was to hold them to one point but then in the second end, when they stole two, we kind of lost it right there,” Violette said. “It’s tough to be down three or more.”
When the U.S. got on the board in the fourth end, the crowd erupted. But the British lead made for too big of a deficit for them to stage a revolution against such a competitive team. Great Britain put two more points on the board in the sixth and seventh ends to seal the final score.
Great Britain Skip James Craik said they had been looking forward to this all season and it meant a lot to him to win gold. Craik comes from a curling family. His father, Gordon Craik, curls, as did his grandfather, Bobby. His grandfather died right before he left for the games, making the competition a challenging one.
“James had to deal with that all week. He flew over the day after,” Gordon said. “He was (James’) biggest fan.”
So he said the gold medal win was an “emotional ending” for both of them.
Bobby is the reigning world outdoor champion, Gordon said. He won the last World Curling Outdoor Grand Match Championship — also known as the Bonspiel — back in 1979. This is like the World Series, he said, where it’s only really Scottish teams playing. But he said 1979 marked the last Grand Match, potentially ever. The Lake of Menteith, where the match is held, has not had a hard enough freeze to hold another since then.
Great Britain Coach Iain Watt in the past 12 months the Great Britain team has now earned two gold medals. His son, Mark, is the third on the team. In May, they took goals at the 2022 World Junior Curling Championships in Sweden.
“Absolutely brilliant for them,” Iain said.
“They came with quite a target on their back,” Gordon said. “Folks knew them, and people raised their games to them, so they had to play well.”
Great Britain Second Angus Bryce said they felt confident coming into the tournament, but took it “game-by-game.” Leading early in the final was a big boost for them.
“It’s obviously good to get to an early lead because we have the upper hand. They were always chasing and having to do whatever they can to get points on the board,” Bryce said. “Scoring first in a game is really important.”
Even with the lead, they were still nervous coming back from the half-time break.
“In the second half we were definitely wondering ‘Are these guys going to come out and shut the absolute lights out?’” Haswell said. “We weren’t too worried but at the same time we were very, very worried … if you get what I mean.”
He said his team was filled with “bloody brilliant curlers.”
“We’re all really good friends,” Bryce said. “We work really hard at communication.”
“Curling is all about communicating during the game,” USA Second Ben Richardson said. “We talk about how the ice is acting, how fast it is. How their shots are doing.”
This was their first season curling in this group together, so Violette said it took lots of communication, reflection and purposeful practice.
Richardson said they had a mid-week “dip” where they lost two games. They fought to get back and beating Canada on Wednesday gave them momentum. Richardson said he wasn’t sure they would make it, so their semi-final win against Switzerland was a highlight of the competition.
Violette said that semi-final was “unforgettable.”
“That game was the best two hours of my life and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity,” Violette said.
USA Skip Daniel Casper said the whole experience was one of coolest time of his life.
“Even during the final there, we knew it was pretty much over in the last few rocks so we just tried to enjoy it and take it in as much as we could,” Casper said.
Violette has competed at a high level before, usually as the “away team” with a packed crowd rooting against them.
“It was just so cool to be able to be that home team,” he said.
“It wasn’t an easy road by any means. We had to work pretty hard. So it was really rewarding to get to the final,” Richardson said. “It means a lot. I mean, it’s what we work for. We’ve dedicated our whole lives to this so to get to this competition and get to the final, it means our hard work has paid off.
“It sucks to lose the final, but it just makes you more motivated to keep working so the next time you get to a game like this you come out on top,” he added.
Casper said his dad got him into the sport and he got hooked. But he never anticipated playing at this level and was grateful for the opportunity to do so with such a tight team.
When the Great Britain team was asked how they were going to celebrate Saturday night, all of them leaned into the microphone to declare in unison: “No comment.”