By Guy Scholz | Curling in America 2017-03-30 14:17:33
The 2017 World Men’s Curling Championship (#WMCC2017) in Edmonton was set to feature Team Shuster representing the US of A. The team is made up of skip John Shuster from Chisholm, Minnesota; Tyler George from Duluth, Minnesota; Matt Hamilton from Madison, Wisconsin and lead John Landsteiner – who also lives in Duluth, but is from Mankato, Minnesota. I got to meet Tyler George at a 2016 Grand Slam event in Yorkton, Saskatchewan and got reacquainted in the highly social Lupus Charity ’Spiel in Blaine, Minnesota a few months later. Tyler has been to multiple USA Nationals in both juniors and men’s competition, and won World Junior bronze bronze with the Reverend Andy Rosa from Omaha, Nebraska as his fifth man. I sat down with him for almost 90 minutes a few weeks ago as he was preparing for Edmonton. Tyler is a huge Minnesota Vikings fan, and his hometown was once home to the NFL Duluth Eskimos, Minnesota’s first ever NFL team. The team was led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers, who put the Eskimos on the football map. The Eskimos were featured in a modified parody movie, Leatherheads, starring George Clooney and Renee Zellweger in 2008. In interviewing Tyler he rekindled a scene in Leatherheads and drew a line to what draws him to curling and its razor-thin rule book, i.e. the honor code of the game’s integrity in policing itself: Suds: Tough loss there, Dodge. Hate to end a home stand like that on a technicality. Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly: You ever heard of that rule? Suds: Me? No, I never heard of any rules. Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly: My point exactly. Gol-darn rules are ruining this game. One of the aspects of curling Tyler talked about is the honor code curlers seek to live by. How this creates a culture beyond the game itself. He has grown to appreciate the unique community curling forges with the friendships all over the globe. He hopes, as did Dodge Connelly of the Duluth Eskimos, that the game won’t be taken over by bureaucrats and suits that get caught up in technicalities and rules, and forget about the spirit and culture of the game. He knows his curling history and that the last time Worlds was held in Edmonton (in 2007), Todd Birr and his Mankato, Minnesota team walked away with bronze, also handing eventual champion Glenn Howard of Canada his only defeat of the week. Tyler was hoping history would repeat itself with a podium finish at the home of the CFL Eskimos. And he saw the possible omens lining up. His team won the USA’s first world men’s medal since that 2007 shootout last year, by capturing their own bronze medal in Basel, Switzerland. And, the team’s skipper is from Chisholm, MN, the home of Doc Graham – the one non-fictional character in the fictional baseball movie Field of Dreams. The writer of that movie and book was W.P. Kinsella who was also born in Edmonton. So there you go. Tyler is a pretty positive soul, so knowing these omens were on his team’s side could have helped the serotonin trump the cortisol, aka the positive feel-good chemicals versus the negative fear-based chemicals. Combine the serotonin with execution, and Team USA would be a threat in Edmonton. Tyler pretty much grew up in the Duluth Curling Club along with his 2006 Olympian sister Courtney. His parents, Chris and Tom, ran the club restaurant and lounge. Tyler jokes that the old-timers often mention that his parents put him in a roasting pan to sleep as they attended to their responsibilities. Courtney and Tyler just wrapped up a good USA mixed doubles run, losing in a tiebreaker at the nationals. Tyler enjoys curling with his sister: “I will say it, Courtney is my favorite person to curl with and I have been lucky to have a lot of good teammates over the years. We get along, she knows what makes me tick, what to say, when to say something or not to say something. I know she always has my best interests in mind.” It has been fun to observe this version of Team Shuster come together as a world-class team. This is Tyler’s second full season with John, Matt and John. Their ultimate goal, as it is for many teams, is to make their Olympic Trials and grab that Team USA Olympic berth in South Korea. Winning the bronze at last year’s world’s felt like vindication for all the hard work, sacrifice, and risk this team has committed itself to. Yes, risk… but we’ll get to that soon enough. So what are some of the ingredients that create the chemistry for this team? Comfort Level The team is settled in their roles. Each player enjoys and takes pride in his team position. Tyler has skipped most of his life, but doesn’t mind playing third for John. He has respect for him, his shotmaking and his style of play. He knows that this mix of players creates the kind of team that can medal at a worlds and compete on a consistent basis on the World Curling Tour, where the last two seasons have put them in the top 20. He described his teammates… “John loves to play lead. He is incredible good at judging stones. He comes across as quiet and laid back, but has this fire that burns deep inside. He takes so much pride in what he does. He is fun-loving, lets us do most of the talking on the ice, but he’s one of those people who when he says something, you listen, because he probably sees something we don’t see… or he confirms what needs to be done on the ice. “Matt is part comedian, part cheerleader. If we have a team catalyst that keeps our spirits up, it’s Matt. He has a passion for the game and has honed his craft becoming a world class sweeper along with John. Matt is our energy guy and he seems to know what makes each of us tick without going overboard. He just won the USA mixed doubles with his sister Becca. They lost three of there first four games then got on this incredible roll. It was nice to see someone from our team have success in another event. “John gets the most out of us. He has high expectations which we all do, but he’s so committed to us being consistent, that this rubs off. I always feel we’re going to win with John regardless of who we play. He has no fear and is a big-shot player. That shot he made to win nationals this year in Everett to draw the button to win it all over Todd Birr is a prime example of his nature. You just feel he’ll make it or be pretty close, you always feel you have a chance.” Coachable Like most high level teams today, Team Shuster sees the value of having a coach and sports psychologist on board. Phil Dropkin of Eveleth, MN, located in the famous Minnesota Iron Range, is their coach. The Iron Range is almost more Canadian than Canada; it is the hockey and curling hotbed of the USA. Almost every town or city on the range has a hockey and curling rink. Tyler says the following about Phil: “What I like about Phil is his blunt or straightforward nature, he doesn’t mince words, but you also know he is simply trying to get the most out of us. That is so, the Iron Range. He really knows what buttons to push. He knows that chemistry matters, and understands that each player is motivated differently. If we need energy, He targets Matt, because he knows Matt will translate that over to us and how to make it happen. For me as an example, I don’t get very rah-rah, but Phil knows how to get me going. Phil knows the game and is a helpful resource in so many ways. He gets us to take ownership of keeping the chemistry strong. “Our sports psychologist is Carly Anderson from the Twin Cities. She isn’t a curler but she works with high performance athletes with the United Sates Olympic Committee. I like her style. If we aren’t fully invested or as invested as we probably should be, she gets that, and she’ll challenge us. She isn’t afraid to tell us what we need to hear, especially from a mental perspective or team perspective. We value her honesty and she is so positive and tries to give us aids to keep us focused. She’ll email us a lot to check in, or simply to bring pithy motivational messages.” Consistency Yes, you always hear it’s hard work, because nothing of significance ever happens without hard work or high commitment. Tyler’s take on this is insightful: “So often if you do something once or accomplish something big – once, like a good week at a Grand Slam. It is so easy to fool yourself into thinking you have arrived. Nothing could be further from the truth. Repetition in creating the right attitude or mind set, along with the necessary work to put in with practise. This never changes. What helped the team become successful must always be worked on, and emphasized constantly. I think our team gets this. We have learned you have to put the time in – constantly”. Tyler talked a lot about being on the ice, facing the best competition you can. Having your mind in the right frame of mind; looking for as many edges as a team can. As Kevin Martin often said, “When you reach a high level of consistency, you won’t always win the big events and big games, but over time you’ll win your share.” Team Shuster is getting rewarded more more and more for the commitment and time they are putting in to gain that consistency. Risk This past season Team Shuster was chasing the USA points leader Team McCormick. Winning the Nationals has not been a guarantee for representing the USA at Worlds like it used to be. There is a whole performance points system based on teams hitting the WCT circuit. The team made a commitment when they joined forces to enter as many tour events as they could muster. The goal was to get into Grand Slams and to face to best of the best as much as possible. Tyler acknowledged this could be a risk at a few different levels – financial, time et cetera – and to their win/loss record possibly not being good enough. But he feels this risk they took is paying off. The teams has qualified for Grand Slams but has also qualified in the playoff rounds in many of those Slams over the last two seasons. As such, the team has embraced the risk/rewards of their schedule: “It goes against human nature to a certain degree that you want to be successful and sometimes, or more often than not, you shy away from playing the best of the best. We made a commitment to go for it. We want to play the Edins, the Koes, the Jacobs’, the Gushues, the McEwens, and others at their calibre. We have lost our share of games to these teams but we have also started to win some and hold our own on a consistent basis. You get battle tested and gain a ton of confidence. We feel we can play with any team.” It’s the old adage that losing or being tested reveals your strengths and weaknesses, and what needs to be worked on. From a strategic perspective, facing all the top teams is a valuable experience in tweaking their own game, and knowing what to expect in facing these world-class foursomes. One of the side benefits of committing to the circuit is developing relationships with players from around the world – like former world champion Pat Simmons, who was recently announced as skip-slash-father figure for a gang of young curlers out of Winnipeg. Pat agreed to fill in for Team Shuster at last year’s Player’s Championship in Toronto. Pat said he’d play whatever position they wanted him to. Tyler says: “We learned a lot observing and playing with Pat. For me, it was all the little things he does that maybe you take for granted or don’t do all the time. Pat is so aware of those little things that can make a huge difference. Pre-shot routine, cleaning the ice paths, never leaving a moving rock, keeping morale up around the team. His high focus was incredible. In many ways we knew all these things and practised them, but you see a world champion in action and it drives those points home at such a deeper level. He doesn’t cut any corners or make excuses. You don’t get the feeling that Pat thinks he has arrived, he still focuses on those fundamentals and maybe even more because he knows you can’t cut corners, at all. It was an absolute pleasure to curl with him.” Artist and/or Technician Tyler talked about the various styles of deliveries we curling fans observe. He has learned over the years that it’s all about making shots, not how one looks in his or her delivery. He strives for technical perfection, but fully understands that each person has their own quirks, hitches, personalities, body types and so on. He says he’s more of an artist in his approach than a technician. Let me qualify: Tyler has a wonderful delivery, but he understands the sport is primarily about touch, and feel, and release. He observes: “You have the mechanically perfect. Or they seem perfect. Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Brad Gushue as examples who are almost textbook in their deliveries. I see myself more as an artist than a technician. I strive to be steady on the broom with line, release and touch. But, Martin, Howard, and Gushue are also artists with their incredible touch and feel. I just want to make shots and don’t care about how I look.” Tyler truly gave enough fodder for three or four articles. He talked about his curling heroes, like Al Hackner, who is a family friend, and how he could sit down with Al for hours and talk curling. He talked about the positive influence Andy Rosa had on him as a teenager, even though he is only a couple of years older than Tyler. This young fellow is very engaging and has an obvious passion for his favorite sport. He was excited Edmonton, knowing the city is one of the world’s hot spots for curling. He was thinking he might buy a Gretzky jersey to win over the locals. The man from the city that once had an NFL team called the Eskimos simply couldn’t wait to curl in the city that has embraced their Eskimos.
Published by Curling News. View All Articles.