OMAHA, Neb. — Team John Shuster’s game plan Sunday night at the U.S. Olympic curling team trials provided it the opportunity to defend its Olympic gold medal.
Team Shuster, which includes McFarland's Matt Hamilton, blanked three of the first five ends and took the lead for good with a two-point end in the sixth and added stolen points in the seventh and eighth ends to defeat Team Korey Dropkin 5-4 at Baxter Arena. The win secured the berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing for Team Shuster.
“As hard as Team Dropkin pushed us this week, if we can come out and play with that type of game planning and that type of intensity when we’re going to be in Beijing, I really think that we’re going to do well,” Shuster said.
Team Shuster posted an 11-2 record over the 13 games at the Olympic trials, including a 9-1 record in round-robin play.
“(Shuster’s) confidence is going to carry over to Chris (Plys), to Matt (Hamilton) to me,” Team Shuster lead John Landsteiner said. “That’s something you have to juggle throughout the entire week. ... To bring that level of confidence and calmness the last two games here was really good for our team.”
Shuster will be headed to his fifth consecutive Olympics and his fourth as the team’s skip. The Beijing Games will be the third Olympics for Landsteiner, the second for Hamilton and the first as a competitor for Plys.
“It’s definitely going to be special to get a chance to go back (to the Olympics) and see what we can do and see if we can’t win another gold,” Shuster said. “I’m sure, now that we’re going back, there’s going to be a little bit of a target that other countries are going to put on us.”
Shuster said that Team Dropkin pushed his team and required it to strategize more than most other teams had.
“I’ve never thought more about how we needed to execute a game plan to counter someone else’s game plan,” he said. “We know exactly the way that they play, and the way they play is pretty relentless. You’re probably never going to get a chance at a big scoring end, and you’re going to have to play a low-scoring game. ... I spent a long time thinking about the best way to counteract the way that they play because they just do it so well.”
Team Dropkin’s third, Joe Polo, took out two of Team Shuster’s stones with his final rock in the sixth end. Plys followed by removing two of Team Dropkin’s stones. After Dropkin’s first shot, Shuster took out two more of Team Dropkin’s stones. Dropkin tried with his final stone to set up a difficult shot for Shuster, but his stone did not curl as much as he wanted.
“I was trying to come in T-line, back-four buried so they would either be forced to make a tough draw for one or see if they had the confidence of making a short runback, making that tough for them so that if they did miss that, there was a potential steal of one or even two on the board," he said.
Shuster’s final shot was a draw into the house for two points for a 3-1 advantage.
“After we got that two, we just had to keep executing,” Shuster said.
Team Shuster followed its two-point sixth by stealing a point in the seventh and eighth ends. Dropkin both times had a shot to get at least one point for the team but could not get the stone to his desired location.
Team Dropkin scored two in the ninth to cut the deficit to 5-3, but Team Shuster limited Team Dropkin to one in the 10th end to secure the win.
“They’re great shot-makers, they’re really good at putting the pressure on, especially when they need to,” Dropkin said about Team Shuster. ”When we had the opportunities to capitalize on some misses, we didn’t always execute.”
Team Shuster moved to 3-0 in finals in events held in Omaha. In addition to winning the Trials in 2017, Team Shuster won the title in the second leg of the Curling World Cup in 2018.