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Curling Curner: US Men’s Nationals Preview

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Chris Plys at 2015 Nationals

The US Curling Nationals takes place February 9-16 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Wednesday we previewed the women’s teams. I left out some general explanatory info in this preview that was discussed in the Women’s preview, so you may want to check that one out first. Today we will do the same for the men. If you are interested in watching any of the games, tune into the free livestream.

Men’s US Nationals Preview

The ten men’s teams will play each other in a full round robin. The top four teams will advance to the Page playoffs on Friday. The semi-final game is Friday night and the Men’s Final will be on Saturday at 3 pm.

The following is a roster list of each team, their current world ranking from, and the chance that I give them to win Nationals. I have listed them from least likely to win all the way to the current gold medalists.

A curling team plays with four members on the ice at once. Some of these teams have five listed; the role of the fifth player depends on the team. Some fifths act as coaches and emergency backups, others will play full games as subs, and some former professional football players will only see the ice in blowout situations, if at all.

Team Strouse - Rank: N/A - 1%

Sam Strouse (Midland, Mich.)
JP Munich (Oconomowoc, Wis.)
Andrew McDonald (Hudson, Ohio)
Ryan Elwing (Brookfield, Wis.)
Ethan Sampson (Edmore, N.D.)

This Junior team placed third at Junior Nationals, where they are alternatively called Team McDonald and Team Strouse. This may be one of those situations where the Skip is not the fourth thrower and confusion reigns. I believe that Strouse skips the team but throws second stones; if that is the case then calling them Team Strouse is correct. Anyway, if they can win three games I think they would be happy with that.

Team Corbett - Rank: 277 - 1%

Brandon Corbett (Rochester, N.Y.)
Derek Corbett (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Kent Suslavich (Woodbury, Conn.)
Aaron Carlson (East Lansing, Mich.)
Evan Jensen (Medford, Wis.)

The Corbett brothers, playing with a different front end, made it to a tiebreaker at the 2015 Nationals in Kalamazoo. In the Challenge Round, they won four straight games before losing by inches in the final game. They were invited to Nationals due to the spot that opened up from Andrew Stopera’s team winning Junior Nationals. Carlson goes to Michigan State.

Team Birklid - Rank: 144 - 1%

Steve Birklid (Mountlake Terrace, Wash.)
Sam Galey (Seattle)
Matt Birklid (Shoreline, Wash.)
Nick Connolly (Seattle)
Daniel Plys (Duluth, Minn.)

These guys from Seattle won their spot at Nationals by winning the B-Event at the Men’s Challenge Round. They made it to the semi-finals of the St. Paul Let’s Cure Lupus Spiel, which was populated with several teams that are at Nationals. The Birklids on this team are brothers (I think) and the fifth, Daniel Plys is the younger brother of Team Shuster’s Chris Plys.

Note: Many curling tournaments have an A-, B-, and C-Events. Teams start in the A-Event, drop to B-Event if they lose, and drop to C-Event if they lose again. So Birklid winning the B-Event means that they lost one game.

Team Sinnett - Rank: 130 - 1%

Chase Sinnett (Medfield, Mass.)
Trevor Marquardt (Poynette, Wis.)
Jon Harstad (Duluth, Minn.)
Eli Clawson (Clarksville, Md.)

Team Sinnett is one of two USA High Performance Junior teams. They finished fourth at Junior Nationals and qualified through the A-Event in the Challenge Round. Eli is the brother of Hunter Clawson from Team Birr.

Team Brundidge - Rank: 202 - 1%

Jed Brundidge (West St. Paul, Minn.)
Jordan Brown (Elk River, Minn.)
Evan Workin (Fargo, N.D.)
Cameron Rittenour (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

These guys qualified by winning the C-Event over Corbett in a very close game. The bottom five teams are all pretty even; I would be surprised if any of them made it into the playoffs.

Team Dunnam - Rank: 85 - 3%

Scott Dunnam (Dresher, Pa.)
Cody Clouser (Berwyn, Pa.)
Andrew Dunnam (Dresher, Pa.)
Daniel Dudt (Malvern, Pa.)

Team Dunnam is a young team from the Philadelphia area; they qualified due to their ranking on the World Curling Tour. Scott Dunnam and Clouser (with two other guys) finished ninth place at last year’s Nationals. Dudt is a grad student at Princeton. Andrew (brother of Scott) just aged out of Juniors last year. I played in a tournament against these guys; I believe we finished half of the game before we shook.

Note: Curling teams can concede the game if they think it is out of reach. They do this by shaking hands with the other team. It is considered good sportsmanship to shake and not finish the game if there is no realistic chance of coming back, especially during tournaments where there are a lot of games to play. At the non-elite level, it means that the teams can get to the bar earlier, where it is customary that the winning team buys the losing team a beer.

Team Birr - Rank: 115 - 15%

Todd Birr (Ham Lake, Minn.)
Hunter Clawson (Clarksville, Md.)
Greg Johnson (Appleton, Wis.)
Tom O’Connor (Brooklyn Center, Minn.)
Michael Roos (Nashville, Tenn.)

Todd Birr is a veteran of the US Curling scene. He skipped the 2007 National Championship team to a bronze medal at the World Championships. More recently he took Shuster wire at the 2017 Nationals. Their relatively low ranking is due to the fact that they haven’t competed in a lot of events this season.

Fifth Michael Roos was an offensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans from 2005-2014. He is part of Jared Allen’s team that has been practicing and competing with the goal of making a run at the 2022 Olympics. Don’t expect to see Roos on the ice much unless there are in a blowout; I believe he is mostly there to watch and learn from Team Birr.

Team Fenner - Rank: 26 - 15%

Mark Fenner (Bemidji, Minn.)
Tom Howell (Milwaukee, Wis.)
Korey Dropkin (Duluth, Minn.)
Alex Fenson (Bemidji, Minn.)

Team Fenner is one of three USA High Performance teams. These guys played Juniors together a few years ago with Dropkin as the skip; they won silver at the 2016 World Junior Championships. Now Fenner is the skip calling the shots, but he throws second stones while Dropkin throws fourth.

Dropkin and Howell played with Heath McCormick and Chris Plys the past couple of seasons; they were one game away from playing in the Olympics. Howell’s sister is competing as part of Team Dubberstein. Fenson’s father Pete was the skip of the 2006 bronze medal winning team; he is now a Team USA coach.

Team Fenner, along with Birr, Shuster, and Ruohonen are big favorites to get to the playoffs. It would be a pretty big upset if more than one of these teams don’t make it to the final four.

Team Ruohonen - Rank: 23 - 22%

Rich Ruohonen (Brooklyn Park, Minn.)
Greg Persinger (Fairbanks, Alaska)
Colin Hufman (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Phil Tilker (Seattle)
Jared Allen (Nashville, Tenn.)

After a disappointing performance at the Olympic Trials Persinger, Hufman, and Tilker parted ways with their Skip Brady Clark. They picked up Rich Ruohonen, a veteran curler who had most recently been the alternate for Heath McCormick’s team, to skip and throw third rocks. At last year’s Nationals, Ruohonen and Co. defeated Heath McCormick’s team in the finals.

After that strong performance, they were made one of the HP teams for the 2018-19 season. They have performed pretty well this season, with a quarterfinal appearance at a Grand Slam event and a win at the smaller Curl Mesabi Classic. They also defeated Guyana and Brazil at the Americas Challenge.

You may remember Ruohonen from when he heckled Blake Griffin at a T-Wolves game. To be clear, he wasn’t the one who got kicked out for heckling, but he was one of the main hecklers.

Fifth Jared Allen will probably be the most famous person at Nationals, even though the Olympic gold medalists will be there. Allen is a former All-Pro NFL player who has formed a team of ex-pros to start curling competitive. Michael Roos is one of his teammates, along with Marc Bulger and Keith Bullock. Do not expect to see Allen much out on the ice; he will only play in a blowout situation.

Note: The Americas Challenge is a World Qualification event. There are two spots for North and South American teams in the World Championships. The top ranked team, which is Canada, is automatically in the field for Worlds. The second ranked team, USA, is in unless another country wants to challenge them for the spot. In the past, Brazil has participated in this event. This year Guyana came up with a team to challenge as well. Ruohonen’s team dispatched of both South American teams quite easily.

Note #2: The Skip, who stands in the house and calls the shots, traditionally delivers the final stones for their team. And also traditionally, the team is named after the skip. Last season, they confusingly called this team Team Persinger, even though Ruohonen was the skip. This year it has been changed to the more correct Team Ruohonen.

Team Shuster - Rank: 14 - 40%

John Shuster (Superior, Wis.)
Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.)
Matt Hamilton (McFarland, Wis.)
John Landsteiner (Duluth, Minn.)

The reigning Olympic Gold Medalists are the favorites to win Nationals. They did not compete at Nationals last year, as they were too tired from going around the country and celebrating their win. Vice Tyler George retired (for now) after last season; he has been replaced by Chris Plys.

Plys has never won a National Championship, but has won the silver medal three times and the bronze once. He won the Junior World Championships in 2008 with Matt Hamilton.

Team Shuster has had a decent season so far; they made the quarterfinals in both Grand Slam events they have played in, including the prestigious Canadian Beef Masters. Their best result this season was a Curling World Cup title, where they beat Nicolas Edin’s Swedish team in a rematch of the Olympic Finals. The highlights of that match can be seen here. You can also watch this Canadian girl named Katrina interview Shuster from that event on her YouTube show. She asks some very important questions, such as, “Hamburgers or pizza?”

Games to Watch

The games can be streamed at the USA Curling website. There is one feature game per draw that is streamed, but the announcers give updates and scores for the other games. The entire schedule is on a pdf that can be found on this page. Here are some of the more interesting games:

  • Saturday, February 9 at 7 pm: Birr vs Ruohonen
  • Sunday, February 10 at 4 pm: Strouse vs Corbett
  • Monday, February 11 at 7 pm: Shsuter vs Ruohonen
  • Tuesday, February 12 at 2 pm: Fenner vs Dunnam
  • Friday, February 15 at 1 pm: Page playoffs - 1 vs 2 and 3 vs 4
  • Friday, February 15 at 7 pm: Semifinals - Loser (1 vs 2) vs Winner (3 vs 4)
  • Saturday, February 16 at 11 am: Finals


Who is going to win Men’s Nationals?

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17 votes total Vote Now