P.E.I. skip Cochrane uses whistle to communicate at Tim Hortons Brier

The Canadian Press

KINGSTON, Ont. — You won't hear Prince Edward Island skip Bryan Cochrane bellowing orders to his teammates at the Tim Hortons Brier.

He lets a whistle do the work.

Cochrane, who has a condition called laryngeal papilloma, undergoes surgery about once a year to remove a recurring growth on his vocal cords.

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He has used a whistle on the ice for the last 30 years and has approval from Curling Canada to use it at the national championship.

Cochrane sticks to a basic formula to minimize confusion.

"It's pretty simple," he said Friday. "I blow the whistle, you sweep. I blow it again, you stop."

Other competitors don't seem to mind or notice, Cochrane said, adding the sound tends to blend in with noise from the crowd and other players.

The 62-year-old skip will occasionally use hand signals and wave his arms in the air as needed. He will also use a soft whistle blow to let his teammates know they can stop a hard sweep and just clean the stone's path.

Cochrane has been dealing with vocal cord issues since he was a youngster. He had four surgeries by age six.

"I was pretty lucky I kind of survived it," he said. "And then funnily enough, the condition went away for 21 years, which doesn't happen normally."

Cochrane, who has a soft, gravelly voice, said the condition returned "with a vengeance" when he was 27. A former teacher and principal, Cochrane underwent surgery two or three times a year when he was in the classroom.

Now retired, he has scaled it back to an annual basis. He said he recently underwent surgery for the 41st time. 

"I just had my vocal cords lasered," Cochrane said. "They just take off the growth on my vocal cord and then my vocal cords can vibrate for a while."

Cochrane considered giving up competitive curling after winning the world senior championship last year in Stavanger, Norway with vice-skip Ian MacAulay and second Morgan Currie.

Once they returned home, they sat down over a few drinks to contemplate their on-ice future.

At the time, Curling Canada had added a birthright status option to its residency rules, allowing athletes to represent the province or territory where they were born if they live outside those borders.

The idea of trying to represent P.E.I. at the Brier was appealing. MacAulay (Souris), Currie (Summerside) and lead Mark O'Rourke (Charlottetown) were all born in the province and Cochrane is the import player. 

Playing out of the Cornwall Curling Club, the team swept the provincial A, B and C events to qualify for the Feb. 28-March 8 national championship at the Leon's Centre.

"It's pretty special here and you get to play against the best teams in the world," Cochrane said after the team's practice session. "You get to play on great ice. Lots of fans, lots of support.

"You're only young once, so we figured why not?"

Cochrane, who grew up in Russell, Ont., just southeast of Ottawa, represented Ontario at the 2003 Brier with MacAulay. They finished out of the playoffs at 5-6.

Cochrane also served as a coach/alternate for Ontario's Mark Kean at the 2015 Brier.

He has modest expectations this time around. 

"Let's face it, you're playing against seven or eight of the top teams in the world," he said. "They get to play on this ice surface quite a bit. There's a lot at stake for them. So our goal is to play well. 

"I hope we (can) get to the championship round. But if we don't, I just want to make sure that we're in every game and that we're competitive and are playing the game that we know how to play."

Cochrane opens against Nunavut's Jake Higgs on Saturday night.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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