MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Stephanie Lawton often reminds her curling team to breathe.
It's a tip her three teammates took to heart when they played in their first Canadian women's curling championship last year in Sydney, N.S.
Lawton was the only woman on the team with previous Hearts experience.
Her mantra is equally useful at this year's Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., where Robyn Silvernagle is representing the host province.
Silvernagle's vice Lawton brings not only the experience of skipping Saskatchewan to an overall record of 31-20 in the Tournament of Hearts in 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2015.
Lawton also knows what it is to be the host team.
Her last appearance as Saskatchewan's skip was in Moose Jaw five years ago when she went 9-5.
"We definitely lean hard on her for the calmness," Silvernagle said Saturday. "For myself, she'll be like 'just breathe. It's OK. It's just curling.'
"Her experience has come in very handy for us."
Silvernagle opened the Tournament of Hearts with a 6-4 win Saturday over New Brunswick's Andrea Crawford.
Ontario's Rachel Homan, Northern Ontario's Krista McCarveille, Nova Scotia's Mary-Anne Arsenault, B.C.'s Corryn Brown, Alberta's Laura Walker, Manitoba's Kerri Einarson and Erica Curtis of Newfoundland and Labrador joined Saskatchewan at 1-0.
Defending champion Chelsea Carey, the wild-card team skipped by Jennifer Jones, Kerry Galusha of Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island's Suzanne Birt, Nunavut's Lori Eddy, Quebec's Noemie Verreault and Yukon's Hailey Birney joined Crawford at 0-1 after opening day.
Homan stole four points on Jones en route to a 9-6 win in the evening draw. Walker defeated Eddy 8-3, Einarson downed Verreault 9-4 and Curtis beat Birney 6-3.
McCarville rumbled Carey 8-3 in the opening draw. Brown beat Birt 7-5 and Arsenault was an 8-6 winner over Galusha.
Manitoban curlers say the buffalo on their team jackets feels heavy with the weight of expectations.
Saskatchewan's three sheaves can also feel under a microscope when the majority of the building wants you to win.
Amber Holland skipped the last Saskatchewan women's team to claim a national title in 2011.
Provincial curling fervour was further whipped up Saturday.
The teammates of the late Sandra Schmirler, who won Olympic gold in 1998, delivered the ceremonial first stone to her two daughters holding the broom.
Silvernagle expects to face Carey and Nunavut's Lori Eddy in a sea of green Sunday on what is Sask Spirit day at the tournament.
After giving up a steal of two in the eighth end to Crawford, Silvernagle drew a roar from Mosaic Place when she executed a soft tap for two in the ninth.
"We've had a lot of chat just about what it was like being in Sydney versus what it might be like here," Lawton acknowledged.
"It is a completely different atmosphere with so much family and friends and the crowd going wild.
"Definitely we've talked about it and they've asked me some questions, but at the end of the day it comes down to curling and throwing a rock and if the crowd goes wild, OK, you take a deep breath and reset and get ready for the next shot."
Silvernagle, Lawton and front end Jessica Hunkin and Kara Thevenot out of Twin Rivers Curling Club in North Battleford finished third in last year's Hearts.
They lost 9-7 to Ontario's Rachel Homan in the semifinal.
Given the extra attention on them in Moose Jaw, Silvernagle is grateful for the experience.
"That's huge," the 32-year-old said. "Even this game, I felt a lot more calm compared to the first game last year in Sydney.
"Tomorrow's going to be so much fun. It's even better we got that first win, kind of get that little monkey of getting the first one off your back."
Lawton, 39, says she contemplated a move from skip to third even before Silvernagle called her two years ago.
"It's a totally different position for me from skipping where it's high pressure all the time," she explained. "I just go out there and make my shots, but then I can be a support person as well. I love that part.
"I've always liked having that role, but as a skip, it's hard to do. Playing third, it really fits me well."
The afternoon game between Carey and McCarville paused briefly for icemaker Dave Merklinger to inspect what appeared to be spots of leakage from the ceiling onto the ice.
Neither Carey nor McCarville indicated the spots impacted their game.
"There was a little spot, but he came and checked it and then they didn't do anything about it," Carey said. "I don't think it continued to leak."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2020.