(OMAHA, Nebraska) – John Shuster set the tone early in the game that he was not going to be denied a fourth trip to the Olympic Winter Games.
Shuster (Superior, Wis.) and teammates Tyler George (Duluth, Minn.), Matt Hamilton (McFarland, Wis.), John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.), and Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.) secured a 7-5 victory tonight over Heath McCormick’s team as the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials came to a close at Baxter Arena. The team is coached by Phill Drobnick (Eveleth, Minn.).
“This team is a special team. I just have no other words except that I’m really proud of the way they handled themselves,” said Shuster, 35. “We lost that first game and dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. The resiliency that these guys showed was great. We had to get a quick start and hang on for dear life – because those guys gave us everything they had.”
Shuster, George, Hamilton, and Landsteiner, who was Shuster’s teammate at the 2014 Olympic Games, will be nominated to the United States Olympic Committee as Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang. The alternates for both the men’s and the women’s teams will be announced within 10 days per the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling procedures.
Shuster was part of the historical bronze-medal finish in Italy at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and has skipped Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. He becomes the first U.S. male curler to make it to a fourth Olympic Games.
“This one actually feels a lot more like the first one because it’s a long journey with a common group. The last two Olympics that I went, our teams kind of came together the last year. This group, basically from the time the last Olympic cycle ended, we came together and did it all together as a team. That makes this one extra special and also extra exciting to get there because I think it’s the most prepared team I’ve been a part of heading to the Olympics.”
McCormick (Sarnia, Ontario) and teammates Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.), Korey Dropkin (Duluth, Minn.), and Tom Howell (Milwaukee, Wis.) won the first game in the best-of-three series on Friday night but lost the next two.
“It’s a disappointing week. We came here knowing we were very capable of doing this. We had the right attitude all week. We stayed positive, fought back a couple of times when we needed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done. Even in yesterday’s game, an inch here or an inch there and we could’ve stolen three of those ends and finished it yesterday,” McCormick said.
“I am extremely proud of our team, but that’s a heck of a curling team we just won a best-of-three series against,” Shuster said.
Team Shuster started strong with a takeout to score three points out of the gates. McCormick’s team was under pressure in the second end and answered when they converted an in-off double takeout to score two points. McCormick had an end-saving raise double takeout to hold Shuster to a single in the third end. Shuster’s team then went on defense and forced McCormick to draw for a single point in the fourth end.
It was McCormick’s time to apply pressure and Shuster was staring down five yellow stones when he threw his final rock of the fifth end to score. Team McCormick was working toward a deuce in the sixth end until McCormick’s first skip stone rolled out after the takeout. That allowed Shuster to remove the other stone and the end was blanked.
McCormick would be denied a chance for a deuce again in the seventh after Shuster made a great double takeout to force his opponent to make a hit to score one. Shuster’s team would be held to a single in the eighth when their attempt to split a second stone into scoring position wasn’t close enough.
In in the ninth end, McCormick’s team had to fight to score a single as they faced three Shuster rocks in the rings with the last stone. The 10th end was kept tidy with the front end making the necessary shots to give Shuster an open takeout for the win.
“I’ve had a few heartbreaks that have stung and made it hard to bounce back sometime,” said George, who lost the 2010 Olympic Trials final to Shuster. “It’s just still hitting. It’s just been such a long road and I’m so happy I get to share it with my family, the team and all my loved ones. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so fulfilled in my life.”
“This was always the ultimate goal and we knew we were capable of reaching it,” said George, whose younger sister, Courtney was a member of the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team. “I think we’re going to go in confident. We’ve played in the last three worlds and finished top five. We’re the only team in the world that’s done that. We’ve beaten a couple of the last world champions that will be there. We know the competition so it’s going to be nothing new for us except the venue and, obviously, a bigger venue. I honestly think this was the biggest hurdle with regard to the pressure and getting there because we’re it felt like it was our spot – we just had to claim it. We’ve been the top team for the last three years.”
Hamilton and Polo are both also qualified to compete in the upcoming 2018 U.S. Olympic Mixed Doubles Team Trials. In addition, Nina Roth, Tabitha Peterson and Becca Hamilton of the women’s Olympic team are qualified for the Mixed Doubles Trials. The Hamilton siblings become the first brother-sister combination to compete at the same Olympic Winter Games.
The 2018 Olympic Winter Games will take place Feb. 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea. Curling was first contested as an Olympic sport in 1924 but not again until 1998. The U.S. has won one Olympic medal during that time – bronze in 2006.