HIBBING — John Shuster has won on the World stage, the National stage and the local stage.
Shuster added another notch to his belt Sunday when he and his Olympic team of Chris Plys, Colin Hufman and John Landsteiner, captured the main-event title at the 66th annual Last Chance International Bonspiel.
Shuster beat Stone Pony, skipped by Tom Scott, 5-1 Saturday at the Hibbing Memorial Arena.
It may not be on the same level as the Olympics, the Worlds or the Nationals, but it was a big win nonetheless.
“It’s always special to play here, and you know how hard it is to win here,” Shuster said. “You have to win games, and you never know what the teams or the ice are going to give you.
“We had our full team here, and I’ve never done it like that before. It was a great weekend. It’s special, for sure.”
For Scott, who played with Dave Johnson, Joe Gabardi and Derek Gabardi, it was the second time he has finished second. The last time, 2019, before COVID hit.
“It was a lot of fun to play them,” Scott said. “They’re the best team in the country. It was a good game for a while. We started out a little slow in the first end in giving up that steal of two.
“I have some regrets about a couple of shots I called late in the end. Other than that, we had some chances, just a couple of misses here and there.”
Shuster got to the finals with a one-point, extra-end victory over the Ty Dilello Rink on Saturday, then he beat Team Drews in the semifinals, so his route to the finals wasn’t easy.
“There wasn’t a lot of luck in that (the Dilello) game, honestly,” Shuster said. “Both teams made a ton of shots. They’re one of the top few teams in Manitoba, so we knew it was going to be a tough game before it started.
“We made just enough shots to give ourselves the hammer in the extra end, and we were able to pull it out. Team Drews, they have two or three guys from Winnipeg. They're competitive players, too. We had a great game with them.”
In the finals, Shuster lost the flip and started first.
When the end ended, Shuster had a steal of two to take the early lead.
“You lose the flip and to get on the scoreboard first, especially when the ice is a little straight, is always huge,” Shuster said. “It puts the pressure on them. They came close to getting three back in the second end.
“Those guys, they had chances for multiples during the game. We tried to make their shots as tough as possible.”
Giving up two wasn’t ideal, but Scott knew it was going to be an uphill climb after that.
“If you give up a steal of two in the first end, especially against a team that’s as good as them, it’s hard to come back from,” Scott said. “We dug ourselves a hole, which we didn’t want to do.
“Our game plan was to keep it as open as we could, keep it low scoring, try to stay with them and maybe have a shot at the end. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that with the way the first end started.”
Scott could only get one back in the second, then the third end was blanked as Shuster kept the hammer in end four.
As that end played out, it looked like Shuster might get multiple points, but Scott made a nice draw into a pocket of Shuster rocks to lay one.
Shuster then had to draw for one to take a 3-1 lead.
“Tom made a great shot,” Shuster said. “I made a good one on my first, a thin hit-and-roll double, then he made a great freeze in there to make me have a tough shot for one.
“Our theme for the weekend was to make the other teams, especially the other skips, throw as tough of shots as possible. That was one where Tom made a great shot there. I had to make a tough one for one there.”
Things got worse for Scott in the fifth and sixth ends as Shuster was able to steal one in both of those ends to take that 5-1 lead.
“When you’re already down and you start giving up steals, it becomes exponentially harder trying to get yourself back in the game,” Scott said. “We kept grinding. We hung in there, but when you get down three or four to those guys, it’s game, set, match.
“Those guys are so good, they’re going to make any shot they call. If you get into a draw game with them, those guys and start junking it up, chances are they’re going to crack you for a big one. That’s what I was afraid of. I thought that if we could avoid that, maybe we could hang with them.”
Scott would get one in the seventh end, but he was never able to get anything set up for a multiple end.
“We knew going into the game when you play a team like that, you’re not waiting for them to miss a shot because they’re not going to,” Scott said. “They missed a couple, but that was it.
“You have to make your own luck, make your own shots. We didn’t do all that good of a job, unfortunately. We had some close ones, but not quite enough.”
In the eighth end, Shuster played a takeout game until Scott ran out of rocks.
“We’re trying to not allow for too many opportunities for other teams to get multiple scores,” Shuster said. “We only gave up one two-ender all weekend. We were playing conservatively, not letting any big numbers get on the board. We didn’t put any big numbers on the board either.”
Scott, who has won two Last Chance Bonspiels, couldn’t have been more proud of how his team played throughout the whole weekend.
“It’s been back-to-back years now that we’ve made it,” Scott said. “The four of us only curl together in this. We play against each other, so we know how each other throws. This is the only time in the entire year that we actually play together.
“It’s cool that we can make it that far. Those guys are so fun to play with. They shoot so well in front of me that it actually puts pressure on me to make my shots because they’re making all of theirs.”
As for Shuster, they came into the spiel with hardly any practice after returning home from Beijing.
“We had great weight control on our draws all weekend,” Shuster said. “We didn’t miss too many by a lot. We made a lot of shots. It was slightly unexpected because we’re all such huge practicers.
“The fact that we didn’t practice at all coming in here, the guys played great. I was telling Chris during that game that I was impressed with the level of play that we brought here after not throwing any rocks for the last month.”
House of Paine would go on to win the Second Event; OH-10 won the Third Event; and Sormunen won the Fourth Event.