(STEVENS POINT, Wis.) – Experience matters. Three-time Olympian John Shuster has been here before and his experience paid off as the first draw of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling came to a close this afternoon at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb.
Shuster (Superior, Wis.) and his team of Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.), Matt Hamilton (McFarland, Wis.), John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.), and Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.) defeated Brady Clark’s team, 7-6, as the men’s double round robin began today.
Team Shuster positioned a second stone into the four-foot to put the winning rock in play in the final end. Clark (Lynnwood, Wash.) and teammates Greg Persinger (Fairbanks, Alaska), Colin Hufman (St. Paul, Minn.), and Philip Tilker (Seattle) tried to place Clark’s last rock of the game in between the two Shuster rocks but came up inches short.
“Sometimes the first game is a little bit about survival, and that’s definitely what that was,” Shuster said. “Being down 5-2 to those guys – as good as they are – it wasn’t looking good there for awhile but a big steal in the eighth helped out.”
Shuster’s team cut into Clark’s three-point lead in the seventh end when they scored two points. A key steal in the eighth when Clark’s final stone was light gave the Shuster rink a point to tie the game. Clark countered with a nice draw in the ninth to regain the lead before allowing Shuster’s team to set up the winning deuce.
“That went about how most first games go – both teams trying to figure out the ice and getting a feel for the conditions,” said George. “We were both a little sloppy, but that’s kind of what you expect in the first game of a competition so you try to find a way to win in whatever way you can.”
Heath McCormick’s rink earned an 8-3 victory over Craig Brown’s team to start the competition on a winning note as well.
“It was a nice game. We struggled a bit in the first end but bounced back and played really nicely for most of the game,” said McCormick, who is competing in his second U.S. Olympic Trials. “We got a few breaks from them with some unfortunate things that happened with them but, overall, we played really nice.”
Brown’s team was the first to score when they stole a point in the opening end. McCormick (Sarnia, Ontario) and teammates Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.), Korey Dropkin (Duluth, Minn.), and Tom Howell (Milwaukee, Wis.) answered back with three points in the second end to take control of the game. After holding the Brown rink to a single point in the third, the McCormick foursome added to their total over the next two ends to extend the lead to 5-2. Brown’s team struggled to gain more than a single in the sixth and when McCormick’s side scored a deuce, they offered the handshake to end the match after seven ends.
“We hadn’t been getting the results we had been looking for in tournaments – we weren’t finishing things off the last few weeks. We’ve been playing well but would run into some teams that would knock us out of tournaments,” said Plys, who was a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team. “We just kept on focusing on what we’ve been doing the last several weeks and throwing the rock the same knowing that the work we’ve put in up to this would pay off.”
Three games will take place at 7 tonight, including the first round of the women’s competition.
The round robin continues through Wednesday night. If needed, tiebreakers will take place on Thursday morning. The playoffs, a best two-out-of-three series, will begin on Friday and continue through Nov. 18, if needed. The five men’s teams will play a double round robin while the women will have a triple round robin. The top two men’s and women’s teams will then advance to the finals.
A link to the live webstream of the round robin can be found at www.NBCSports.com. Game scores will be posted online after each draw at www.usacurl.org. Standings and stats also will be available.
USA Curling is hosting the event with Baxter Arena and the Omaha Sports Commission, in partnership with the Aksarben Curling Club and the United States Olympic Committee. The men’s and women’s teams that win the Trials will be named to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.