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Team Shuster's imperfect performance enough to get U.S. past Korea in men's curling

Matt Hamilton (USA) throws a stone as John Landsteiner (USA) sweeps during men's curling round robin play in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Gangneung Curling Centre. (Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Rachel Blount

Minneapolis Star Tribune

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- At the end of his new team's first season, John Shuster experienced something he'd never felt before. The veteran curler, who had played in three Olympics and won multiple U.S. championships, knew he had found a foursome that had only begun to show what it could achieve.

"It didn't feel like the end of something that year," Shuster said. "It felt like the beginning of something."

Wednesday, Team Shuster started its first Olympics with an 11-7 victory over Korea. It opened the men's tournament at the Pyeongchang Games with a bold fashion choice: white pants, to go with mostly white shirts with red and blue accents. Choosing a color associated with fresh starts reflected their mission to change U.S. curling's Olympic fortunes, and Wednesday's win at Gangneung Curling Centre put them on the right path.

Shuster, a Duluth, Minn.-area resident, skipped a team that also includes Tyler George and John Landsteiner of Duluth to an imperfect but successful start. It used several high-scoring ends to build an early lead and hung on in an arena full of Korean fans.

"It wasn't the best we could put out there, but it was very solid," Shuster said. "We executed the basic shots, and when we got misses and half-shots from the other team, we capitalized. It was a good way to go out and get our feet under us."

Shuster became the first American man to make four Olympic curling teams when his foursome won the Olympic trials in November. By that time, it had already been to three world championships -- winning bronze in 2016 and finishing in the top five each time -- and won a pair of U.S. titles. The ultimate goal has been the Olympics, where Shuster is looking for a better finish than his ninth place in 2014 and 10th in 2010.

The group came to Pyeongchang in the midst of a strong international season. It has played a much tougher schedule than Shuster's past Olympic teams, facing -- and often beating -- other countries' Olympic teams in major tournaments. Team Shuster also paced itself carefully, avoiding the packed schedule that left it drained before it even arrived at the 2014 Winter Games.

"We're in a great spot," Shuster said. "We have a team that's accomplished, hungry and prepared. That puts us in a great place to have a great performance."

Most of the seats were filled by home-country fans for the opening session at 9 a.m. Korea time. A large American cheering section _ including Shuster's sons, Luke, 4, and Logan, 2 -- sat together in the lower concourse, armed with giant photos of the players and lots of flags.

A miss by Korean skip Kim Chang-Min helped stake the U.S. to a 2-0 lead in the first end. The Americans gave it right back in the second with an error of their own that allowed Korea to tie it. Some good shooting by the U.S. led to three points in the third end, and that 5-3 lead expanded to 8-3 when a Shuster draw scored three in the fifth.

But curling games can take sharp, unexpected turns, as the U.S. was reminded in the sixth. On each of his shots, Shuster tried to clear two Korean stones and got only one. That opened a path for Korea to score three, cutting the margin to 8-6. The Americans quickly righted the ship, as Shuster's deft touch and precision knocked Korea's shot rock out through a tight space and gave the U.S. two points and a 10-6 advantage.

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