John Shuster

John Shuster’s rink dominates to win U.S. Olympic Curling Trials

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Curling games can take more than three hours. John Shuster‘s rink finished off Pete Fenson‘s rink in under 90 minutes at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday.

Fenson conceded the third game in a best-of-three championship series after falling behind 11-1 after four of 10 regulation ends in Fargo, N.D., shaking hands with Shuster to end it early.

Shuster’s rink will now head to an international Olympic qualifier in December with hopes of earning the U.S. and his rink a spot in Sochi.

How surprising was the blowout?

“A little bit, but we decided today that we weren’t going to let these guys get comfortable on the ice,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “We were going to come after them right away and see if we couldn’t conjure up something big and get a big lead.”

Shuster had scored five points in the third end to take a commanding 7-1 lead, and then four more in the fourth to take an all-but-insurmountable edge not even halfway through.

It was a stunning one-sided game after the first two between the rinks were tied after regulation on Friday and Saturday and went 11 ends. Shuster won the opener 9-8. Fenson forced a third game with a 5-4 win Saturday.

It’s notable that Fenson rallied from 8-3 down after seven ends on Friday. He must have believed that a 10-point deficit with three more ends to make it up than Friday was too much.

“At that point in the game, it wasn’t all that difficult,” Fenson said, according to USA Today. “We were so far behind that was really no catching up anyway.”

Shuster won the trials, but his rink is not guaranteed an Olympic berth.

The next step is what’s called the Olympic Qualification Event from Dec. 10-15 in Füssen, Germany, because the U.S. did not qualify for Sochi via results at the last two World Championships.

The top two from the Olympic Qualification Event will earn the final spots at the Olympics.

The U.S. is favored to take one of those two spots given it’s the highest-ranked nation in the Olympic Qualification Event field (eighth overall) and has qualified into every Olympic curling tournament since the sport returned to the Games in 1998.

Shuster called it a “B qualifier.”

“We’ve played against pretty much all the teams that are there, and we’ve had a lot of success against them,” Shuster said. “We’re going to celebrate this tonight, but go back to work, like they say, tomorrow.”

Fenson, 45, skipped the U.S. rink that won bronze at the 2006 Olympics. Shuster was also on that rink and then led his own rink to the 2010 Olympics, where he was briefly benched after a poor start.

Shuster, 31, is the manager of Pickwick Restaurant & Pub in Duluth, Minn. His vice skip is Jeff Isaacson, 30, a science teacher from Gilbert, Minn., who was also on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that was knocked out in round-robin play.

The last two members of the team will be Olympic rookies, should they qualify. Second Jared Zezel, 22, is a Bemidji State student and a relative of the late NHL player Peter Zezel.

Lead John Landsteiner, 23, is an engineer from Duluth.

“There’s not a weak spot on our team,” Shuster said. “Every single one of these guys is one of the best in the world at each position, respectively.”

All-Star team of U.S. curling wins women’s trials

Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90