The last time John Shuster, Tyler George, John Landsteiner and Matt Hamilton were on the ice at the World Men’s Curling Championship, the guys took home a bronze medal.
That 2016 medal was the first in the event for an American team since 2007.
Now Team Shuster is looking for a repeat performance when it heads to Edmonton, Alberta, for the 2017 World Men’s Curling Championship on April 1-9.
This will be the third year in a row Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner will team up to compete at worlds. Joe Polo is the alternate this year.
“Anytime you get on the podium, it gives you a lot of confidence for the next time around, too,” George said. “I know this is a team that we kind of took the next step three years in a row. We finished fifth in 2015, and we just kind of took the next rung up the ladder.”
Just missing out on the finals last year makes Team Shuster hungrier heading into this year. The Americans — who went 9-4 at worlds in 2016 — fell in a semifinal to Denmark, which finished runner-up to Canada for the gold medal.
“We were an eyelash away from getting into the final last year,” George said. “We kind of struggled in the semi and kind of learned some things from being in some tough spots in the playoffs. If we get another medal around our neck of any kind, that would be great, but the ultimate goal is to always get gold.”
This year marks Shuster’s seventh shot at winning a gold at worlds. The Americans have only won gold four times in the 59 years of the event, with the most recent being in 1978. Last year was the first time Shuster captured a medal at worlds.
“We’re going to go there and play well right from the start, because the field is extremely deep at this year’s worlds,” said Shuster, who’s competed in three Olympic Winter Games, the last two as Team USA’s skip. “We have to make shots, the important ones, and make the easy one, and a break along the way never hurts.”
Experience on the big stage is certainly on the Americans’ side. Along with Shuster’s worlds and Olympic trips in the last 15 years, George will compete for the fourth time, and Landsteiner and Hamilton will both be going for the third time. This is Polo’s sixth worlds.
That experience is huge, they say, but knowing each other’s games so well having competed together at worlds the previous two years is the team’s biggest asset.
“Being our third year together as a team definitely has got us to a point where the things that we do on the ice now get really, really fine-tuned,” said Shuster, who earned the country’s only Olympic medal on Team Pete Fenson in 2006. “Just that comfort level with everybody, and you also have the trust factor that you build up when you’re playing with a group of guys for that length of time.”
The guys have confidence in one another, and there’s a comfort knowing each other’s styles and what each athlete offers the rink.
“We all know our roles on this team,” George said. “We talk about that all the time with our sports psychologist, and when we have our meetings before the event, too, we kind of preach, ‘Do your job. Know what your role is.’ We have a checklist that we have from our training camp last summer where everybody knows, ‘OK this is what your job is. This is what you do. What does your team need from you?’ We kind of keep checking back into that, too. So whenever we feel like we’re getting a little off course, then we have those checklists to go back to.”
Team Shuster has enjoyed a strong season but went through some turbulence early on with a couple of injuries. George missed about three weeks in October due to tendinitis in his knee. He’s never had to miss time due to an injury, so it was difficult for him to have to sit on the sideline.
“It ended up being the best thing for me,” George said. “I’m feeling healthier and better than I have in the last probably three years because of that break.”
Team Shuster is clicking as a whole entering worlds. The rink went 11-0 to win the U.S. championships last month in Everett, Washington.
“Our performance at nationals this year was every bit as good or better than the performance we put together when we won our bronze at worlds last year,” Shuster said. “We didn’t give up any big ends and we scored some big ends. From a metrics standpoint, our performance at this year’s nationals gives us a ton of confidence heading forward.”
George agrees with Shuster that the rink is playing very well rink now at the perfect time.
“We feel like we’re peaking, but we still feel like we have another gear ahead of us, too,” George said. “I think we’re right about at the same level that we were last year going into worlds. I have high hopes for us. I think mentally we’re in a better spot than we were last year. Physically and prep-wise, I think we’re pretty close to where we were.”