NAPANEE -- Bryan Cochrane is whistling while he works at returning to the Brier.
The Rideau Curling Club skip, who has a throat condition that prevents him from barking instructions, uses a whistle and sharp short tweets to direct front-end brushers Colin Dow and John Steski.
The tweets have been right on this week for Cochrane, who has a shot at finishing second in the round-robin at the Tankard behind favourite Glenn Howard of Coldwater.
The whistle became a necessity for Cochrane more than 25 years ago after he was diagnosed with a form of laryngitis.
"It's like little warts on my vocal cords," said Cochrane, who improved to 7-1 with two wins Thursday -- 8-3 over Chris Gardner of Arnprior and 9-4 over Jay Young of Brantford, clinching a spot in the four-team playoffs. Howard leads with a 9-0 record.
To try to correct the throat problem, Cochrane had four operations when he was four years old. The issue cleared up for 23 years before it made a surprising return and threatened to cost Cochrane his voice permanently.
As a result, he has to go for regular surgery.
"It has been a real pain in the neck. I had my 34th surgery in August," Cochrane said. "It's no fun."
A principal at Russell High School, the 52-year-old would not have been able to continue curling unless he found a way to direct his brushers. The Ontario Curling Association cleared him to use the whistle and when he went to the Brier in 2003, he got the green light from the Canadian Curling Association.
"I don't try to over-blow it," Cochrane said. "Just little tweets here and there."
Cochrane, who almost advanced to his first Ontario men's final in 1982 when he was attending teachers college at Queen's University, said he almost walked away from curling after another operation 10 years ago.
In 2003, when he got to the Brier, he came away with a renewed zest to keep playing.
"It gave me a new lease on my curling life," Cochrane said. "I took a step back and saw the enthusiasm in the crowd, the people coming from all across Canada, people standing in line to get your autograph. It is a real special event.
"I wish everyone could get the chance to get to go play in the Brier. It was really neat and something I'm glad I had a chance to do."
The Cochrane rink has experience on its side. Third Rich Moffatt skipped in the 1999 Brier. He has been outstanding this week for Cochrane.
"Rich had the experience that brings out the quality shots," Cochrane said.
"This is our third year together and we're sort of on the same page. He has good ideas. He's a good third who supports the skip."
A good example came in the fifth end of the win over Gardner. When Cochrane put down the broom on an in-turn draw, Moffatt gave a little hand motion from the far hack. Cochrane then gave his third inches more ice and Moffatt made a perfect draw.
"I'm going to put the broom down, but he knows I want to hear from him, too," Cochrane said. "We are playing aggressively enough that when someone makes a mistake, we can pounce on it."