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Canada's skip Kevin Koe, right, and his teammates acknowledge cheers from the crowd after beating Denmark at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.Aaron Favila

Marc Kennedy calls the Olympic semifinal the toughest game in curling.

Win and you've got a medal and are playing for an upgrade. Lose and you could go home from the bronze-medal game empty-handed.

Canada's Kevin Koe meets John Shuster of the United States in a men's semifinal Thursday in Pyeongchang. In the other semifinal, Sweden's Niklas Edin awaited the winner of a tiebreaker between Britain and Switzerland for his opponent.

Koe's third Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert know the mental hurdle a semifinal, having played one in 2010 with Kevin Martin.

"I think it's the toughest game in curling," Kennedy said. "I think it was even tougher in Vancouver because we were going in undefeated. We were playing a team that was 5-4.

"In the back of your mind, you feel you should have a bigger advantage than just last rock, right? We played a bit tentative and scared in Vancouver and it almost bit us."

They survived and went onto win gold, which is the same fate the Koe team from Calgary hopes for in 2018.

Koe, Kennedy, second Brent Laing and Hebert finished second in the preliminary round at 6-3 behind Sweden (7-2) to secure one of four semifinal berths.

The Canadians opened with four straight wins only to drop three in a row, including a 9-7 decision to Shuster.

They recovered and capped the round robin with comfortable 8-3 victory Wednesday over Denmark's Rasmus Stjerne, which was same team they beat for the 2016 world title.

"Feels great obviously," Koe said. "It was a bit of an up-and-down week and a couple days ago we were worried about maybe being in playoff trouble."

Up six points at the fifth-end break, Hebert took a breather and alternate Scott Pfeifer went in to play two ends before the Danes shook hands.

If Canada is to win an Olympic gold in team curling here, it's up to Koe. Rachel Homan's team from Ottawa was eliminated from women's contention with a fifth loss Wednesday.

John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes claimed gold in mixed doubles last week.

The U.S., Britain's Kyle Smith and Switzerland's Peter de Cruz tied for fourth in the men's field at 5-4, but Shuster ranked higher having beaten both in the round robin.

Unlike the Canadian and world curling championships, in which the Page playoff gives the top two seeds a second playoff life and thus two routes to the final, Olympic gold requires winning a semifinal.

"It's a nerve-wracking game," Hebert said. "You know that if you win that game, you're guaranteed an Olympic medal.

"We obviously wanted to contribute to the big Team Canada here and get on that podium somewhere."

Canada has hammer to start Thursday's game as the higher-seeded team.

"It's definitely an advantage to have in today's game if you can get up early and start smashing," Hebert said. "We obviously have the atomic bombs on the back end, self-proclaimed, Marc and Kevin."

Skipping the U.S. at his third Winter Olympics, Shuster said the Canadian men could feel the pressure in the playoffs with Homan eliminated.

"I think maybe," Shuster said. "They probably are going to be feeling it a little bit."

Kennedy isn't expecting any nerves like 2010.

"I think we're going to approach this one a little bit different based on how this week went," the third said.

"We're happy to be in that game, we're excited and I don't think we're going to play with any fear. We're just going to go out and do what we do and hope it's enough."

A Russian medalist is suspected of doping at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, which could thwart Russia's attempts to emerge from a drug-cheating scandal