Young Yanks in final

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:46 AM ET

PAISLEY, Scotland -- At the tender age of 23, Cassie Johnson has already proven herself to be one of the coolest customers in women's curling. The American skip and her teammates, from Bemidji, Minn., are just one victory away from winning the world women's curling championship after they upset previously undefeated Sweden 6-5 in yesterday's 1-vs-2 Page playoff game.

And Johnson, who looks like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store but plays like a veteran with ice in her veins, has every reason to believe this is just the beginning of a brilliant career.

"I'm so proud of this team," said Johnson, who stole a point in the 10th end to upend Sweden's Anette Norberg. "We've got something really good going, and hopefully we'll carry it into the Olympics."

That's the thing about this team. They are young and confident and handle themselves with tremendous class.

And they almost don't realize what they are accomplishing.

Up to this point, all they've been thinking about are the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, where they will represent the United States.

"This still means a ton," said American lead Maureen Brunt, whose team is competing in the world championship for the first time after placing third in the U.S. twice previously. "This is amazing. But we are working to get curling built up in the USA, definitely, and it's getting better.

"To be doing this well gives us confidence and gives our country confidence for next year for the Olympics."

So while it appears this team was using the worlds as little more than a glorified practice session for their real goal -- the Olympics -- perhaps that has helped take off some of the pressure that comes with playing in a global championship.

"I am surprised by our success," said Johnson, who curls with her sister Jamie at third and Jessica Schultz at second. "We had a great week at the Olympic trials, but coming into this we had never played against these top teams before. I never thought the day would come so soon that I would be playing these teams, much less be beating them.

"To be playing in the gold-medal game is really incredible."

The Americans will face Sweden again in the world final. Sweden beat Norway's Dordi Nordby 10-4 in the semifinal last night to reach the gold-medal game, while Norway settled for bronze.

It would be impossible to count the Americans as anything but favourites after they went 10-1 in the round robin and became the only team here to beat Sweden in yesterday's crucial playoff game.

"It's amazing," said Johnson, who won the world junior championship in 2002 with almost exactly the same team (Schultz replaced Katie Beck). "First time being here, I can't believe we're in the finals. There's just no pressure."

The U.S. never led yesterday's 1-vs-2 game until the final rock, when Norberg's draw to the four-foot was heavy. That seemed to be fine with the American skip, who relished the chance to play for the steal in the 10th end.

"I really wanted to go all out in that last end, because I know we have a lot of success with stealing," Johnson said. "I felt pretty confident that last end."

It's that kind of fearless attitude that should put the fear into the rest of the curling world.


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