The Canadian wheelchair curling team will get a chance to defend its gold medal in Sochi, defeating China 5-4 in a very tense semifinal match on Saturday.
Skip Jim Armstrong and his rink of Ina Forrest, Dennis Thiessen and Sonja Gaudet will play Russia in the gold medal game later Saturday (streaming live at cbc.ca/paralympics, 7:30 a.m. ET). The Russians walloped Great Britain 13-4 in the other semifinal match.
Thiessen and Forrest led the way for Canada during the game – both making crucial pressure shots that set up some major scoring situations for the Canadians. Thiessen finished with 75 per cent accuracy, while Forrest was at 73 per cent, first and second-best in the match.
Though Armstrong struggled, the Canadian skip came through when needed most, making a crucial takeout with his last stone in the seventh end to score a double and put Canada up 5-3 heading into the final end.
He made another massive shot there too with his last stone, navigating his throw through a wall of guards to nail a tap at the back of the house, preventing China from having a shot at a triple and the win.
Instead, Chinese skip Haitao Wang had a shot at a double to force an extra end, but his attempted takeout flashed across the Canadian stone, taking both out and giving China only one point, and Canada was onto the gold medal game.
"It was close,” Armstrong said. “I struggled in the entire game. But the team played well and fortunately the draws on this weren't overly critical. But we were still in control, actually in the entire game.
"As long as I didn't have to throw a draw, we were going to be ok," he joked.
The Canadians will look to win their third straight gold medal in the sport. Gaudet – the opening ceremony flag-bearer – is the only curler to have played on the 2006 and 2010 teams. Canada is also the only country that has won gold in wheelchair curling, as it made its debut in 2006.
China will play Great Britain in the bronze medal match, also on Saturday.
Clash of champions
The gold medal game sets up a clash between the last two world champions in the sport. Canada is the current title holder, winning in 2013, while Russia won the crown in 2012. Canada beat Russia in the round-robin 5-4 in a very close match.
"I don't think you could script it any better,” Armstrong said. “I truly believe we're the best two teams in the round robin. I think it would be a shame for the sport if Russia wasn't in the final."
Canada went up 1-0 in the opening end of the semifinal, and then stole another in the second when China skip Wang couldn’t pull off a hit and stick with his final stone.
China got on the board in the third, scoring one, and in the fourth Canada had a great chance to score a double thanks to a fantastic raise by Thiessen. But two excellent shots by Wang prevented Armstrong from getting a clean shot at two, so Canada settled for one and a 3-1 lead.
An Armstrong miss in the fifth set up a possible double for China, but Wang missed another takeout and had to settle for one point and a 3-2 Canadian lead.
China stole a point in the sixth to tie the game 3-3 when Armstrong couldn’t pull off a hit and stick for one, his final shot just rolling far enough to allow the steal.
(With files from the Paralympic News Service)