If a 42-year-old Zamboni driver and kidney transplant recipient can become the oldest goalie to win his NHL regular-season debut, can a 62-year-old whistle-blowing, senior-division curler who has had 41 surgeries on his vocal cords capture the Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championship and energize Canadians again?
Bryan Cochrane at the PEI Tankard (PEICurling.com photo)
Carolina Hurricanes emergency backup goaltender David Ayres came out of nowhere to become an instant media hit when he stymied and embarrassed the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday.
Bryan Cochrane, one of the oldest skips in Brier history, is looking to perform a similar magical feat against the likes of Brad Jacobs, Brad Gushue, Kevin Koe and John Epping, while playing for a new province in only his second Brier and his first in 17 years.
“I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying it’s like the Zamboni driver, but we didn’t expect to be at the Brier,” said Cochrane, who won the Canadian senior title in 2016 and 2019, and finished on the world senior championship podium in 2019 (gold) and 2017 (silver). “We’re looked on as a senior team, but I’m optimistic it will go well and be a fun experience.
It has been 17 years since Cochrane last appeared in the Brier. The first was in 2003, when he finished with a 5-6 record for Ontario and received Curling Canada permission to use an official’s whistle to tell his sweepers when to go or stop. He’ll do the same this time, since he has laryngeal papilloma, which affects the strength of his voice.
But when he plays his first game Saturday night in Kingston, he’ll be an Islander, wearing the green of Prince Edward Island.
The idea of playing in another Brier for a province outside of Ontario was a far-fetched one beyond Cochrane’s imagination. Even after his rink of Ian MacAulay, Morgan Currie and Ken Sullivan won the 2019 world men’s senior title, Cochrane seriously considered pulling back from competitive curling.
But when Curling Canada changed its residency rules for curlers last spring, the notion of staying in the game grabbed hold of Cochrane for at least one more year.
Players can now use birthright to compete for the province or territory where they were born, even if they live elsewhere in Canada. MacAulay and Currie are both P.E.I. natives and asked Cochrane to join them.
Teams also can carry one free agent, a player from outside the province. In this case, that would be Cochrane, who was born in Winchester, Ont.
“It was funny. After we won the world seniors, we said what’s next. Then (Curling Canada) made a policy change, implementing birthright,” said Currie, who came close to making his first Brier in 1985 by reaching the P.E.I. Tankard semifinals. “Instantly, we were excited.”
Cochrane, MacAulay, 55, and Currie, 55, talked and joked about trying to qualify for the Brier by winning the P.E.I. Tankard (provincial championship). Then someone asked the serious question: Should we do this? They wholeheartedly agreed to chase their ultimate dream.