CALGARY, Alberta — The 2021 World Men’s Curling Championship will be the first championship of the 2020-21 and will probably be the most unique in recent memory.
The 14 teams from across the world competing are already arriving to prepare for the April 2-11 event in Calgary, which will be held inside a so-called “bubble’’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Men’s National Coach Phill Drobnick and Team Shuster arrived in Calgary late Thursday and will immediately enter the bubble. He and the team will be tested and quarantined for five days before intermingling is allowed. Each person must pass a specified number of negative COVID tests after day five.
For Drobnick and team members John Shuster (skip), Chris Plys (vice-skip), Matt Hamilton,
John Landsteiner, and alternate Colin Hufman, they will be limited to being in their hotel or the arena while in Calgary.
Drobnick called it a “very tight bubble’’ and said he is in favor of the health and safety protocols.
“The World Curling Federation has done a great job creating a safe environment to allow us to compete. I think they’ve done everything they can to ensure safety.’’ If anyone leaves the bubble, they are disqualified from the tournament, he added. The championship will go ahead without spectators inside the venue. Even the curlers’ families won’t be able to attend.
“It’s certainly going to be challenging,’’ Drobnick said, but he and the team are prepared.
A schedule has been developed to make sure everyone has structure. That will include doing workout sessions, team meetings and meals virtually. That will allow them to start to prepare for the championship, he added.
In the first event in 13 months, “the team’s really looking forward to competing’’ against the world’s best, said Drobnick. The February 2020 U.S. National Championships was the last competitive event for Team Shuster.
“We have to adapt really quickly to get into championship mode.’’ That includes assessing what the team did right and what needs to be changed from back then.
As far as adapting quickly, Team Shuster would have typically played 110-130 games for the season to be prepared. This time around, they have had maybe a dozen scrimmages, Drobnick said. A number of the scrimmages were against U.S. National teams to prepare for game situations.
Ice was available for the team in Duluth since December, which allowed for practice most every day. Practice weekends with the entire team started in January and included working on team systems, team dynamics and championship scenarios. A sports psychologist, strength trainer and dietician were also called upon to make sure the guys are ready for peak performance. A lot of time has been put into being mentally prepared, he added.
The Americans will be up against the world’s best starting on April 2. The teams will play in 23 sessions of round-robin play with each side playing 13 games. The top six teams then qualify for the play-off stage. The world title match will be played on April 11.
What makes the world event even more important is the implications on the 2022 Olympics, Drobnick said. When the top six qualify for the playoffs, they also earn their country’s berth into the Olympics, he added.
With 14 teams involved, Team Shuster and Drobnick will be taking it one day at a time and are preparing to compete for the full 10 days.
“The goal is to be competing for a medal on April 10,’’ Drobnick said. “We haven’t played for a gold medal in a number of years at Worlds. It would be nice to get that opportunity.’’
Besides the United States, Canada, Sweden, Scotland and Switzerland continue to be the favorites in curling because they have a lot of experience and are “coming prepared to win a world championship.’’
While Team Shuster is prepared for the COVID-19 protocols, there will be several things to get used to.
At the top of the list is now having their very supportive family members on hand, because they typically follow them around the world.
“This will be something they’ll have to adapt to.’’
The curlers won’t have use of locker rooms in the arena and must go straight to the games and back to the hotel, Drobnick said.
“Masks are required the entire time in the bubble, even after testing,’’ according to the coach, who said the only time the players can take their masks off is when they are on the ice.
Despite the restrictions, Team Shuster is excited to have the chance to curl after 13 months with competitive matches.
“They are happy to have an opportunity to represent their country,’’ Drobnick said.
According to USA Curling, the Team Shuster Round Robin and Broadcast Schedule for the 2021 World Men’s Curling Championship is as follows.
April 2, 3 p.m. vs. China
April 3, 10 a.m. vs. Sweden, Olympic Channel
April 3, 3 p.m. vs. Germany, Olympic Channel
April 4, 10 a.m. vs. Japan, Olympic Channel
April 4, 8 p.m. vs Switzerland
April 5, 10 a.m. vs. Canada, NBCSN
April 5, 8 p.m. vs. Italy
April 6, 10 a.m. vs. RCF
April 7, 10 a.m. vs. Norway
April 7, 3 p.m. vs. Scotland
April 8, 3 p.m. vs. Denmark, Olympic Channel
April 8, 8 p.m. vs. Netherlands, Olympic Channel
April 9, 3 p.m. vs. Korea