Team Shuster competes at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling on Nov. 17, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s pure coincidence that John Shuster’s final shot of double round robin play at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling resulted in a score of five, the same score that boosted his team to the gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
But it’s certainly an indicator of how well Shuster and company are playing, as is their 9-1 record and No. 1 seed heading into the finals. But all four finalists go into the weekend with some momentum as each team capped the round robin with a win on Thursday at Baxter Arena.
Team Shuster — also including Chris Plys, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner — had already locked up the top seed going into the final day of double round robin play and finished in style by beating Team Brundidge 11-4. They’ll face Team Dropkin, who could have faced a tiebreaker with Team Ruohonen had they lost their final round robin match, but instead prevailed 6-3 over Team Dunnam. The women’s bracket also locked into place Thursday morning when Cory Christensen clinched the second seed behind Team Peterson. Team Christensen went on to beat Rhyme 10-6 in the final draw of the day while Team Peterson beat Team Strouse 14-5.
For Shuster, who has won nearly everything there is to win in this sport, it was satisfying for his team to play its best when the lights are brightest.
“Obviously we had a great round robin,” he said afterward. “To come here and go 9-1 against this field in the round robin gives us lots of confidence going into the final series.”
Team Shuster’s opponent is a familiar one. Like Shuster, Plys and Landsteiner, Korey Dropkin and third Joe Polo also hail from Duluth, Minnesota, and the teams know each other well. The teams split their round robin matchups with Shuster winning 8-7 in an extra end on Monday and Dropkin winning 6-1 on Wednesday.
“It’s fun, we practice next to those guys almost every day,” Shuster said. “The other part about it is even last year, as our team was prepping for worlds, they came and did what they could do to scrimmage against us to also get us into a place where we could go and qualify for that Olympic (quota) spot. It’s obviously a pretty big rivalry.”
Team Dropkin had a win-and-in scenario facing them on Thursday as they held a one-game lead over the team skipped by Rich Ruohonen. Team Dropkin lost its first match of the tournament to Team Dunnam, but Thursday was a different story as Dropkin — and teammates Polo, Mark Fenner and Thomas Howell — never trailed in winning 6-3. For Dropkin, it was a symbol of how his team has rebounded from an up-and-down round robin to be playing their best going into the finals.