American Shuster wins Nufloors curling championship

American John Shuster celebrated his 40th birthday in lucrative style with a $20,000 gift from the Nufloors Penticton Curling Classic, Monday. It was however, a birthday present that took the Duluth, Minn. skip and his three teammates five days of hard work to get. And it all came down to the last rock in the eighth and final end of the championship for his opponent Matt Dunstone of Winnipeg, who missed his shot and conceded the 7-5 decision. “It was just a flat out battle, it was a shot here and a shot there,” said Shuster at the end of the 30-team, $100,000 event at the Penticton Curling Club. The two rinks were deadlocked at four apiece after five ends before Shuster and his team of third Christopher Plys, second Matt Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner went ahead for good. Colin Hugman is the team alternate. The champions snuck into the final round with a 6-5 tiebreaker over Hayato Sato’s rink from Japan in one semifinal. In the other semi-final, Dunstone’s rink knocked off the defending World and Nufloors champions, Team Niklas Edin rink of Sweden, the No. 2 ranked team in the world. Edin’s foursome was forced to play the tournament without their skip, who was out with a knee surgery. Team Dunstone pocketed $15,000 in prize money in the Players Tour competition which in its six years has become one of the premier events in the world and not just for its top payout figure. “This is obviously a curling town, the number of people out for every single draw whether it’s an 8:30 in the morning draw or a 7 p.m. draw, the stands are always full. When players come off the (ice) sheet whether it’s win or lose they give us all very warm, welcoming applause,” said Shuster a two-time Olympic medalist, including winning America’s first gold in the sport in 2018. “We played here, we loved it here, we had a good time, we had a good connection with the fans and hopefully we’ll come back every year.” This was the team’s sophomore season at the Classic, passing up a chance at the Calgary Pan Continental Curling Championships to come here. Team Dustone Tweeted afterwards, “We didn’t get the breaks, & @TeamShuster played a good game. Congrats to them and a big thx to the Nufloors Penticton Curling Classic for a great event." According to PCC manager and chief ice maker Chris Jones when he and his wife and bonspiel chair Cathy Jones first started the bonspiel with only a line of credit, they knew they needed a lot of prize money, but decided to add a personal touch to keep teams coming back. “These players get welcome bags, they get stuff here they don’t even see at the Brier (Canada’s men’s championships) and at the other national events,” said Chris. “They say they get treated better here than at those events.”

Both Chris and Cathy credit the great support from their sponsors, fans and the many volunteers who come together to make it all possible. “These sponsors who are in the ice (advertising) get zero return on their investment, it’s just community building for them,” said Chris, who credits his wife’s sales skills for the bulk of success. Added Cathy, “You talk to all the teams out there on the ice and they all rank this No. 1 in the world ranging from hospitality to everything else, there’s not a beat missing. “Our sponsors see the value of building the community and the City of Penticton, especially in the off season and that’s why the support from the sponsors has been so awesome.” Part of that money is also used as a pay-per-win incentive which provides $200 team prize money for round-robin victories leading up to the playoffs. “This year’s event has been awesome, a few sleepless nights, but just awesome,” said Cathy. For the first time there was live streaming on all the ice sheets via Sportsnet NOW and she’s expecting last year’s 350,000 hits to increase significantly with this year’s added coverage. The next event at the PCC is the Ladies Bonspiel Nov. 25-27.

Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald