This has been Robyn Silvernagle’s longest curling season ever and she’s totally fine with that because it means one thing: her team is still winning.
The North Battleford-based squad emerged as Saskatchewan’s top team this season cracking the top 10 in the World Curling Tour’s standings, winning their provincial championship and earning the bronze medal at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Silvernagle has been waiting for this moment to break out and it all clicked together in 2018-19 with third Stefanie Lawton, second Jessie Hunkin and lead Kara Thevenot.
“We’ve been knocking on the door for a while and finally got through,” Silvernagle said. “It feels pretty good to be able to do that. It has been a lot of hours practising and going to spiels and just a lot of patience knowing that someday we’ll get there if we just keep fighting for it.”
Silvernagle got a taste of what the elite level was like when the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling first rolled through her hometown for the Meridian Canadian Open two years ago. Although Silvernagle didn’t get to compete in the event that time, she was still heavily involved as a volunteer statistician. Seeing the top curlers and teams hit the ice made her wonder what it would be like to one day actually play in the series.
After enough visualizing, dreaming and putting in the work, that became a reality when the Meridian Canadian Open returned to North Battleford’s Civic Centre this past January. Team Silvernagle received an early sponsor’s exemption spot to compete in the major tournament although as it turned out their strong season on tour with three title wins would have qualified them for entry regardless.
“To be able to play in it this time, it was pretty cool to be the one actually on the ice playing and not just a statistician up in the box,” Silvernagle said. “It was a very neat experience and I don’t know if any Slam for us will ever top that just because it was so special, my first one and it was at home.
“We had so many fans and so much support. It was a pretty incredible feeling.”
The team proved they could hang with the world’s best qualifying for the playoffs through the B Event of the triple knockout preliminary stage with a 3-1 record and reaching the quarterfinals.
“I think for us it was proving that yes we should be there,” Silvernagle said. “We’ve worked really hard this season to get there and proving not just to ourselves — because we knew that we could be there — but everybody else that didn’t really know who we were that yeah we could compete with the best.”
It may seem like Silvernagle came out of nowhere this year but she’s had to endure heartbreak first finishing runner-up in provincial playdowns during the past two years. Things would be different this time with Silvernagle needing two new players and along came former skips Lawton and Hunkin in different roles.
“I think we’ve wanted to be that team for a while and just had some really good competitors there against us and stopping us from being there,” Silvernagle said. “Merging with Stef and us becoming a team, putting together some of the best players in the province together is a good thing for us. We’re excited to be at the top of Saskatchewan right now.”
It almost looked like it was going to be another downer for her though as her team was tied without the hammer in the final end against defending champion Sherry Anderson. Silvernagle set up an ideal steal situation with two stones in the house and the front all guarded up. That forced Anderson to attempt a tricky angle raise on one of her own guards. Anderson’s raised rock went sideways, missed the mark and left Silvernagle’s shot stone untouched.
If you were looking to see the winning skip on the ice for the championship-clinching moment, you wouldn’t have found her. Silvernagle couldn’t bear to watch the last shot and left the ice, seeking refuge in the washroom.
“This would be better if I just don’t watch,” Silvernagle said. “It kind of felt surreal at first just because after the ninth end you’re like we could still steal but then you kind of get the reality of OK we might not win this. You just have to be OK with that. If you’re not in a provincial final, you can never have the opportunity to win it and that’s what we said.
“The last couple years, we had lost those two finals but you learn a lot and you go out there and if you’re not in that final, you’re never going to have a chance to win. We just took a lot away from that and knew that eventually, it would happen.”
Quitting would have been the easy way out and Silvernagle admitted it had crossed her mind.
“It might just be easier to quit but you can’t,” she said. “You get so close you’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing and fighting. You’re never going to get there if you quit.”
Silvernagle didn’t quit, her team fulfilled their dreams of playing in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and finished on the podium with bronze medals dangling around their necks. Her team now closes out their seemingly never-ending season playing in the Humpty’s Champions Cup where they should receive a warm welcome from their home-province crowd at Saskatoon’s Merlis Belsher Place.
“It’ll be so much fun. I know we’re all looking forward to playing in that,” Silvernagle said. “North Battleford was awesome because that was our hometown but Saskatoon that’s where Stef lives and Kara is in Prince Albert, so she’s quite close. It feels like another hometown Slam and it’s your last part of your season, last spiel, so you’re just going to go have a lot of fun.
“I think we’re going to really embrace it and enjoy it. … It’ll be pretty special.”