Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Semi-Charmed Cash Season ends in Eveleth!

Yes, you guessed it! We qualified in Eveleth and made it as far as the Semi-Finals! So close to that elusive finals appearance and win! The last weekend of the "cash" season for us was highlighted by a high quality win over team Fenson (reigning Olympic team) in the Quarter Finals. By quality win I mean that we played well from top to bottom for the whole game and really controlled it from the start. Much like Madison we controlled all but one of our games and played very well as a team. In the Semi-Finals against our friend, and eventual spiel winner Tyler George, we had a one critical miss that put us behind by three points. The ice was pretty tough to generate offense on so come behind victories were few and far between. Certainly dissapointing for us to never have made a finals appearance on the Tour this year, but we have made a ton of progress and feel like we are starting to peak at the right time. To put it into perspective, every team starts the year hoping that they have what it takes to win a National Championships or Olympic trials, but only a few enter January really believing that it can happen. I would count us in that last group!

So now the Trials process begins. This year there are a total of 49 teams entering the "playdown" process. The process can be a bit complicated to explain, but essentially it's this.

The Qualifying Round (QR) - Jan. 7 to 11
In this round 6 Teams Advance from four different sites to the Final Trials, and 10 more teams advance to the Challenge Round.

The Challenge Round (CR) Jan. 28 to Feb 1
The 10 Teams from above compete at one site for the final four spots at the Final Trials

The Final Trials Feb. 21 to 28
The 10 Teams (6 from the QR and 4 from the CR) compete at one site over 9 days. The last team standing at the end of the event will be the next Olympic Team and National Champion.

As I mentioned in an earlier update, our QR is being hosted in Centerville, WI. John has won two National events in Centerville so we feel like it has good karma for us! Our first game is 2:00 PM on Thursday, January 8th. This will be pool play like the Madison event and we will need to finish in the top 3 to guarantee advancement. When we finish 1st, we'll advance to Denver for the final trials. There should be online scoring via the USCA website. For that and more information on the Trials use this link: http://www.usacurl.org/curlingrocks/ and click on "Championships" at the top.

BTW - If any of you are as optimistic as I am you can book your early tickets for the Final Trials in Denver here: http://www.denversports.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128&Itemid=55

I'll send another quick update before we start next week.

I speak for the entire team when I say thanks so much for your support this season!

Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

“Mad Money!”

Just wanted to drop you a note get you all up to date.

Our trip to Madison was quite successful! We went 5 and 1 overall and qualified for the final 8. As you might remember, the format there was pools. We went 4 and 0 in our pool but ended up having to play a “tie breaker” game at 10:40 PM on Saturday to get into that final 8. We finished that tie breaker game at 12:30 and didn’t get to bed until 2:00 AM! The next morning we had to be up at 7:00 AM to be ready for a game at 9:00 AM! Needless to say we were not on top of our game on Sunday morning. It was a close game but we never really got much going. That was the only downside to the weekend. Otherwise we played about as well as we can as a team. We were really firing on all cylinders and controlled the majority of the games. We’re really feeling good about our progress and are very happy to have earned some more cash along the way. It’s a very good sign for us and it feels like the long schedule and hard work are starting to pay off.

To sum up the season so far…..Out of the 7 events so far, we have qualified in 3 with two Quarter-Final appearances and a Semi-Final appearance. Our goal was to qualify in 4 of our 8 scheduled events so we’re just about there. We’re currently ranked 5th in the U.S. on both the Money Earnings list and the Order Of Merit (a complicated points system to track teams). Not too bad for a bunch of kids and an old guy! J

We have one last opportunity to bump up those stats and get that elusive finals appearance this weekend in Eveleth, MN (yes, again, I know..what glamour!). The SuperOne Shootout is a relatively new event on the WCT but features many of the same high caliber U.S. teams that were in St. Paul, Duluth and Madison. The format is bracketed like the others and you should be able to get results here: http://www.worldcurlingtour.com/events.php?eventid=1879&view=Round-Robin

Once we get through this event, it will be time to start preparing for the Olympic Trials process! More to come on that soon!

Until then, keep cheering for us from afar and have a wonderful Holiday Season!

John Benton

Thursday, December 4, 2008

“That’s a Wrap!”

Well, I know have to apologize for not getting this out sooner! I really don’t have a good excuse except to say that I’ve been quite busy the last couple of weeks with work and getting ready for the Holidays. Sorry! (Boy some of you aremore excited about this than us!)

So here is my update from our trip to Canada: Thunder Bay was just as I had remembered it. A good time and very good people. I got to catch up with a few friends and play in a great facility. We ended up 2-3 which was a disappointment to us. We actually played very well and consistently but made a few mistakes by being a bit too aggressive with our strategy and not executing those shots. I would simply call them high “risk/reward” situations and in those situations we just need to be more aware of what NOT to do. The great thing is that the team continues to learn and grow with every game. I cannot tell you how valuable it is to play with teammates with that attitude!

So now it’s time to start wrapping up the last part of the “Cash” season and begin to prepare for playdowns. More on that later. For now you should know that we have two “Cash” events left to compete in. The first is this weekend in Madison, WI. This annual event features most of the top teams in the U.S. much like St. Paul and Duluth. However, the format is a bit different. There will be “pools” of teams that each play a round robin. At the end of the round robins (within each pool) at least 2 teams with winning records will advance to the Championship round on Sunday. To do that we’ll need to have no more than 1 or 2 losses within the pool. It’s a good format because each team is guaranteed to play plenty of games, which is important at this point of the year. Scores and updates should be on-line and can be found at http://www.worldcurlingtour.com/events.php?eventid=1880.

After Madison we head to Eveleth, MN (yes, all of the glamorous places) in two weeks then we’re off for the Holidays. We’ll have individual and team practices set up over that period of time and maybe some scrimmages as well. Once we get into January the Olympic Trials Playdown process will start. I will send another update with the details on that process when we get closer, but I do want to let you know that the first round of Qualifying is January 7-11th at four different locations. We had originally hoped to play in Grand Rapids, MN (the home of Gemini Sport Marketing, our primary sponsor) but weren’t able to make that happen. But we will be playing close to home in Centerville, WI, which is just across the border from Winona, MN. So if you’re interested in seeing part of the Olympic Trials process, please feel free to make plans for that weekend to be in Wisconsin! J

Okay, that’s it. I’m heading out to “Mad Town”! Thanks again for all your well wishes.

Vancouver is just a little over a year away!

John Benton
Team Shuster

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

“Show me the money!”

First of all, let me apologize to those of you who were trying to follow our progress over the weekend. I understand that it was difficult to find our scores and see our progress on the Duluth website. Due to a couple of teams dropping out late, the draw brackets changed significantly and they were unable to get the updates out to the WCT in time for the event. The Duluth webmaster did the best job he could under short notice. We can appreciate your frustration. In the future I’ll try to have a backup plan of keeping you all informed.

So if you hadn’t figured it out yet, we had a pretty good weekend. Once again, we qualified and earned some much needed prize money which will have a nice impact on our budget. We made it to the A qualifying game and lost to the current World Junior Champion, Chris Plys rink. If you remember we played these guys in St. Paul in the A qualifying game and lost. This is not a good trend, but Chris’s team is really playing well right now and they seem to have our number. So our loss to them dropped us to the B bracket semi-finals against the Jeff Currie rink from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Jeff’s team was just a few shots away from making the Brier (Canada’s National Championship) last year. In the curling world the Brier is pretty much the Holy Grail. So we knew we’d have a tough game. For the third time this season we caught a major break at the end of the game and pulled out a win in a game that we probably should not have won! Lady luck seems to be smiling on us. As in the previous times, we knew we had to take advantage of that break. With the win against Currie we advanced to the B Bracket qualifying game against Pete Fenson, the reigning Olympic team. It is worth mentioning that Fenson is John Shuster’s old team so there was a little added incentive for this one. I am happy to report that we played our most complete game of the year as a team. Firing on all cylinders, we controlled the entire match and came away with a win. That set us up in the Championship quarter finals but we’d have to wait to see who we would play on Sunday night. With some time on our hands, we finally got around to getting our team photos done. I have to say that those uniforms are just awesome! J Thanks again to everyone at Gemini!

As it turned out, Jeff Currie went on after losing to us and qualified out of the C Bracket. It’s not often that you play the same team twice in a Spiel, but it can happen. This game was a great match with awesome shots being made on both sides. After regulation play we were tied and played and extra end. Once again we came through with the victory! That win set us up for a semi-final matchup with my old teammates on the Craig Brown team. Craig and team are the current National Champions for the U.S. and had an amazing 32 – 8 record in Spiel appearances last year. This game turned into an offensive battle with lots of stones in play. We had some great opportunities, but just couldn’t capitalize and lost the game 8 – 4. Brown went on to win the event.

My thoughts from the weekend. We made significant progress in a number of areas over the weekend. Team trust and confidence is very high and we are working well as a unit. Now it’s time to clean up a few details and build our identity and style of play as a team. I think we’re right on track. Building on our successes and being quietly determined to improve seem to be the team’s mantras. Hopefully, that equates to even more consistency that we can carry in to the playdowns in January!

So it’s another back to back week for us as we head of to Thunder Bay, Ontario for the Courtesy Freight – NOCT – Superspiel. This event would probably rank a bit higher in strength of field than either St. Paul or Duluth but not quite as high as the events in Portage or Brandon. Another great test for us. We are really looking forward to the trip. I am hoping that they will have online scoring for you, but I cannot guarantee anything. For now you can see the field and draw at this website:

I’ll update as is necessary.

John Benton

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Duluth Update

Well, we're off to a good start again. 2-0 and playing in a qualifying game at 1:00 PM. I found out that the World Curling Tour site is having some issues so you won't see any scores there. Please use the Duluth Curling Club site found here:



Thursday, November 6, 2008

“Oh Canada!”

Whew!!! We made it through 3 back to back weekends alive! Our trip to Portage La Prairie was a successful one. Our record was 2 Wins and 3 Losses. That may not seem that great, but as mentioned previously, we were playing top-notch, world class competition and played very well in all but one of our games. Unfortunately we decided to lay an egg against the reigning Olympic Champion…Brad Gushue. That game was really the only negative from the weekend.

We all came away from the weekend with optimistic views. We’re really working hard on the small stuff now. For those of you not in the know, team dynamics, communication and the use of systems are all critical to success in curling. So we’re really focusing in on those things and are ready to start the second half of the “Cash Season”.

We were also able to spend some time with USCA Athlete Development Director, Ed Lukowich. Ed is a former World Champion and has a wealth of knowledge to share so it was good for the team morale to have him work with us. We all had some things to take away from there to work on.

So we’re off to our next stop on the tour tomorrow. One of my favorite events . . . The Duluth Cash Spiel! Yes, we go to all of the glamorous places! J I really do love Duluth. Anyway, this event has a much more American flavor to it than our last few, but we will see a number of teams from Thunder Bay as well. This is one we should qualify in and have a good chance at winning. Once again, you can follow our progress online at the World Curling Tour website.


Thanks to you all for the support.
Please wish us “Good Curling!”

John Benton

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Here is your week four Team Shuster Update.

The Good the Bad and the Exhausted!

After our successful trip to Brandon, the team was excited and ready to take the ice in St. Paul. We started out very well and won our first 3 games and reached the qualifying game in the A bracket! It looked as if we were poised to qualify in our second event in a row!

Now for the bad. We’re not exactly sure why as of yet, but we ended up losing three straight games. Yikes! We just didn’t play as sharply as we had been. Our front two players just didn’t set things up very well and put undue pressure on our other players to pick things up. For me personally, I have found that hosting an event and playing in it can be an exhausting exercise and I might need to rethink that process.

We were all very disappointed with our finish and have been discussing some cause and effect and how to ensure that we don’t end up in that situation again.

On the very positive side, I think that we have all agreed that this season is a long process for us and it is still very early.

So you’re probably thinking we’ll take some time off now, right? WRONG! We’re heading right back to Manitoba this weekend! This will definitely be our toughest test of the year. The Myers Norris Penny Prairie Classic in Portage La Prairie, MB. This event is by far the deepest field of teams we will see. With a list of players that reads as a who’s who of former World and Olympic champions and players we’ll have our work cut out for us. We’ll need to get back to working together and staying positive to earn our way to the money round here. As usual, you can follow our progress on-line.

Thanks again and wish us luck.

John Benton

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here is your week three Team Shuster Update.

Things with the team are coming together.

After a good first game in Brandon, MB we ran up against former Canadian and World Champion, Jeff Stoughton. A great test for our squad. We really played well and controlled a good part of the game but failed to take advantage of some opportunities and ended up losing 9 to 3. The score is not a very good indication of how we played. We followed that loss with another well played game against Don Nelson which we ended up losing on last rock! Despite the losses the team seemed to be in pretty good shape and had some time to discuss our plans for Saturday’s matches. It was time to tighten things up a bit.

Our 5th man, Jeff Isaacson (Ike) made the trip with us and we decided to rotate him in on Saturday morning. Our game against Brendan Taylor was not quite as sharp as we had hoped but we were able to battle back from a two point deficit in the final end to force an extra end where we caught a break when Mr. Taylor missed his last shot giving us the victory.

As a team we decided that we needed to take full advantage of that break and put a few good games together. We proceeded to play our two best games of the year so far against Manitoba veteran Dave Bohemer and Scottish transplant Willie Lyburn! Things just started to click and I could tell that a little more time on the ice was the key to the team putting our shaky start in Ottawa behind us!

By winning those two games we qualified to the quarterfinal bracket of the event! This is significant for two reasons. Number one, we accomplished our first team goal of the year by “Qualifying” in one of our first 4 events. Number two, we earned some serious cash by advancing to that level, which takes a little pressure off of our pocket books! J Unfortunately our run ended there as we came out a little flat on Monday and lost our game to Alan Lyburn (Willies older brother). Nevertheless, we are all in good spirits to have seen some moderate success early in the season. You can see our results here.

So what’s next? Many of you already know that this weekend is the St. Paul Cash Spiel, which I happen to host as well as play in! This is another 32 team WCT event with good money up for grabs for the teams that advance to the final 8 in the Championships. Please stop by or check us out online at http://www.stpaulcashspiel.org/.

I hope to get some photos (in our very popular Gemini uniforms!) this weekend to send along with my next update.

As always, thanks to our sponsors.

Wish us luck.
John Benton

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hello again. Here’s your Team Shuster update.

We had a bit of a rocky (excuse the pun) start in Ottawa. We played well, but had some early season mistakes which led us to a 1 and 3 record. However, we gained some valuable insight on our team dynamics and were able to come out of it with some positive goals for the season.

Upon our return we went to work and set up practice time and started working toward some of those goals.

So tomorrow begins our second event weekend in Brandon, MB where we can put that work to the test! This is a tougher field of teams than we saw in Ottawa so we’ll have to get our A game going right away. If you’re interested in following our progress, you can find Team Shuster in the Manitoba Lotteries Curling Classic on the World Curling Tour Website: http://www.worldcurlingtour.com/events.php?task=Event&eventid=1954

Again, wish us luck and thanks for the support!

John Benton

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Team Shuster Starts their run to Vancouver tomorrow!

Family and friends,

Yes, it’s already curling time! It seems like we get started sooner every year!

As many of you already know, this is a very important year for US Curling since the Olympic Trials are in February!

I am starting up with a new team this year. The Skip (Captain for you curling neophytes) is John Shuster who was a member of the Bronze Medal team from the 2006 Games and the winner of the 2007 World University Games. The other players beside myself have a wealth of experience as well. I am very excited about our chances. This will be the year!

One huge bonus is the fact that we have signed a number of sponsors to help us defray some costs this year. First and foremost is Gemini Sport Marketing who is supplying us with apparel. Many thanks to Brad and his staff for working so hard to get us outfitted. We look forward to representing them well.

We have a very busy competition schedule of eight events before the Trials process so my schedule from now until March is pretty well booked! Our fist event starts tomorrow in Ottawa, Ontario. You can follow our progress this weekend here: http://www.ontariocurlingtour.com/events.php?eventid=1872&view=Round-Robin

As always, I want to thank you all for the continued support. And a special thanks to my wife, Carrie, for her commitment to this dream of mine!

I’ll periodically send updates throughout the season.

Please wish us luck.