The culmination of 22 years of curling successes and failures led Penny Barker to this moment: the last rock of the 2017 Viterra Scotties Women’s Provincial final. Sitting in the hack with her two sweepers out in front, Barker stared down the long, centre sheet of ice at her third, Deanna Doig, visualizing her next move. It was a shot she had thrown thousands of times before, but never for a provincial title.
Barker’s team was already counting one red stone—the tying point in the tenth end. More confident in her hitting ability than her draw weight, the 31-year-old decided to play a hit for four and the win.
One final thought ran through the Moose Jaw native’s mind, before taking a deep breath and kicking out of the hack: “Relax Penny. It will be fine, just throw the rock.”
Once the sweepers, lead Danielle Sicinski, 34, and second Lorraine Schneider, 23, took over, they knew the shot was going to be close.
“As soon as she let go of the rock I knew that she was close for weight, she was close for line and good things were going to happen,” recalled Sicinski, who has curled with Barker for the past eight years.
One hit, four raised brooms and several shrieks of excitement and applause from inside the Horizon Credit Union Centre in Melville signaled Barker’s 10-7 win over North Battleford’s Robyn Silvernagle. The Moose Jaw Ford Curling Centre foursome, who was seeded seventh at the beginning of the tournament, had just booked their tickets to the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont.—a first-time feat for all members of the team.
“It’s amazing—after all these years it worked. All the practices worked,” laughed Barker, who has competed in four previous provincial Scotties, but never reached the playoffs. “You realize that your dreams have come true and it’s just such an amazing feeling.”
This year, Barker, Doig and Sicinski added Schneider to their rink. While juggling work, family life and school, the team was only able to compete in two bonspiels before participating in the provincial qualifier, which proved not to be a problem.
“We’re relaxed. We’re confident,” said Sicinski, after the team’s first practice since provincials. “Some of those playoff games we made a comeback and I think that’s just our personality.”
Team Barker joins the likes of Saskatchewan curling icons Stefanie Lawton, Amber Holland and the late Sandra Schmirler, as they traded in their white and teal regular-league jackets for the coveted green and white.
Although Team Saskatchewan hasn’t reached the Scotties’ podium since 2011, when Holland’s rink won gold, Barker’s team has their sights set high.
“Anything is possible,” said Sicinski. “We gave ourselves permission to win the Scotties provincials this year. I think we should give ourselves permission to excel at the Scotties nationals.”
Barker’s provincial win broke a long-lasting drought, as her team is the first Moose Jaw rink to represent Saskatchewan since Cindy Ricci (née Street) in 1999.
“I’m really proud to bring another title to Moose Jaw,” said Barker. “It’s been a long time coming and I’m hoping to get it a few more times over my career.”
In preparation for nationals, the enthusiastic foursome is working alongside five-time Scotties coach Merv Fonger and their fifth player, Amber Holland, to draw from their experience. But not even the team’s lack of time at nationals can waver their confidence.
“I don’t see the fact that we haven’t been there as being any advantage or disadvantage,” said Barker. “I think it’s just a fact.”
Barker isn’t the only team making their first Scotties appearance. All four members of Team New Brunswick are debuting at this year’s championship. Missing from the mix are big hitters like Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Alberta’s Val Sweeting, who failed to qualify. Rachel Homan, two-time Scotties champion, and Chelsea Carey, defending Scotties champion, are the only teams at this year’s championship to ever have claimed the national title, blowing the competition wide open.
“There are no guarantees in this game, but if you make your shots and you make good decisions you’ve got a good chance of doing something,” said Fonger, who has coached Barker on and off for the past 18 years. “They’re good throwers. They’re focused. They’re goal-setters and they go after what they want.”
“Every year Saskatchewan has a really good chance at being on the podium and winning. The fact that we have that opportunity this year is pretty exciting,” said Barker. “I’m just excited to get out there and curl!”
The Scotties Tournament of Hearts will take place Feb. 18 – 26. The winner will go on to represent Canada at the 2017 CPT World Women’s Curling Championship in Beijing, China.