By Rueben Villagracia

John Shuster is hopeful the old saying of “third time’s a charm” rings true as he ventures to Canada once again. The U.S. Olympic skip will line up at third for Craig Brown this weekend when they open play today against Thunder Bay’s Greg Kawahara at the Courtesy Freights Superspiel West at the Port Arthur Curling Club.
Brown’s foursome is one of 28 rinks from Northern Ontario, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin taking part in the triple-knockout event with a total purse of $17,200. “We’ve been going up there and the (Thunder Bay curlers) have been playing in our ’spiels for years since I was in my teens,” Shuster said from his home in Duluth on Thursday. “Definitely I have a lot of friends in Thunder Bay.”

Shuster’s last two business trips up north did not produce desired results. His Olympic men’s team went 2-7 in Vancouver, good for last place. Last month his new-look squad, which includes Greg Johnson and Derrick Casper on the front end, went 0-3 at a World Curling Tour stop in Brooks, Alta. Among those losses were to reigning Brier champion Kevin Koe and Manitoba’s Kevin Park, two skips ranked in the world’s top 20.
“They were good games,” said Shuster. “With a new team you’re always trying to figure out how everything works and meshes. That’s where we are right now.”

Thunder Bay should continue that feeling-out process, Shuster said. U.S. rinks earn more qualifying points towards their national playdowns the better they perform in Canadian-based events where the competition is deemed much tougher.
It wasn’t uncommon when Shuster’s Olympic squad went their separate ways. Shuster has been a part of four U.S. national championship teams and played lead for Pete Fenson’s bronze medal winners at the 2006 Olympic Games.“The curling community in the U.S. is not that large,” said Shuster, 28, who’s a restaurant manager when he’s not throwing and sweeping rocks. “You always end up playing with someone you know. Your rivals are some of your best friends.”
Also today, Duluth’s Tyler George will face Thunder Bay’s Krista McCarville in a battle of the men’s and women’s winners at last week’s Duluth Cashspiel. McCarville, the two-time defending Ontario women’s champion, has held her own against the men. She defeated Cody Johnston on Wednesday to pick up her third-straight victory in city men’s major league play.
George, who lost to Shuster in the final of the U.S. Olympic Trials last year, also won the major cashspiel in St. Paul, Minn., this season.
“He’s probably the hottest curler heading in here,” said Superspiel co-organizer Pat Berezowski. The top finishing men’s team from Northern Ontario will earn a trip to the Northern Ontario championship to be held here in February. Thunder Bay’s Mike Assad, Bryan Burgess, Joe Scharf and Matt Dumontelle of Sudbury will earn first-round byes in the A flight. The rankings are based on past performances at last year’s provincial tournament.

Defending Northern Ontario champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie elected to skip this weekend and compete at Superspiel East, Dec. 3-5 in his hometown for a Northerns berth, said Berezowski. Daily admission is $5. Prizes will be drawn and the band Night Train will perform on Saturday night. The quarter-finals will be held Sunday night with the semifinals and final set for Monday.

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