Ten years ago, Maura Cockey heard about an open house promoting learning to curl at the Bridgeport-based Nutmeg Curling Club at Wonderland of Ice.
A decade after getting her first taste of throwing rocks and sweeping the ice, Cockey plays an important role in promoting the club at open houses.
Cockey, 52, is the president of the Nutmeg Curling Club.
A friend who grew up in Canada and curled sparked their interest and Maura heard about the open house and was quick to call her husband, Lee, to let him know what they were going to do that coming weekend.
“We decided to go and we’ve been curling ever sense,” Maura said.
The game, which somewhat resembles shuffleboard or bocce on ice, and has a bit of chess strategy to it, is something that many see during the Olympics. There is an opportunity, regardless of experience level and age, to get a taste of the game.
Various leagues are offered for different skill levels, offering a chance for newcomers to the game to get their feet wet in an instructional league, and an experience for seasoned players to play on competitive nights.
The fall season runs from October through December, and the winter campaign picks up in January and continues through March. There are options for curlers to sign up individually, with partners, or as teams, and participants may join part way into a season.
“It definitely has grown a lot,” said Cockey, adding that there are more than 140 members of the club, but noting that the club would also like to increase participation.
Cockey has plenty of off-ice responsibilities, ranging from the involvement in the process of purchasing equipment used at the club to handling the club’s lease.
She is on the ice — one of three sheets at the club — playing the game, some nights along with Lee, 56.
The basic concept of the game is to score points by sliding a 40-pound rock as close to the center of the circle, or house. Teams of four compete against each other generally for two hours at a time. There is a lot of strategy involved as teammates can bump opponent’s rocks, push teammate’s rocks, or try to slide theirs into a place that allows the rock to serve as a guard, protecting well-placed rocks from opposing team’s shots.
Each team has a lead, second, vice and skip. The skip calls the shots from the house, guiding the other players as to how to throw and sweep. Two curlers run alongside the thrown rock and sweep, per the skip’s orders, to help guide the rock.
Maura explains that sweeping subtly melts the ice in front of the rock, thus helping it glide with less friction, and sweeping is also done to help the rock go in a straight line.
“The skip has to adjust on the fly,” she said, noting that depending on how the rock is thrown and the effectiveness of the sweepers. Given the location of rocks around the house, the skip has to determine how to make the best of the situation. “There’s a lot of communication back and forth,” Maura said. “The sweeper’s job is to gauge the speed of the rock and communicate to the skip.”
And to further complicate things, ice conditions change during the course of a game. A spray is applied to the surface, providing what is called “pebbling” or a bumpy texture to the surface, allowing the rock to move better with less friction. The ice wears down and melts a bit during the course of competition.
“You have to be able to make a lot of different shots and you have to be able to read the ice,” said Maura, who is typically a skip or vice. She prefers the role of the vice, who listens to the skip and is second in command, taking over the skip position when it is the skip’s turn to throw the rock.
“Some people are really good at analyzing the shot, anticipating the shot,” she said. “I am not quite there. I’d like to get better at that. You get to a certain point and you kind of plateau unless you’re really serious about practicing.”
In addition to the experience of learning curling and honing skills, the game offers a unique opportunity to get together with others. It is truly a game for all walks of life.
“The social aspect is the best part of curling,” Lee said. “You can sit down after a game and throw back a couple of rounds of drinks with plumbers, bank presidents. Where else can you do that?”
“I think the thing that brought me back was the camaraderie,” Maura said. “After ten years I consider a lot of these people good friends. It’s a great way to meet people.”
What’s more, curling is something people can get involved with as a newcomer later in life.
“There are not a lot of sports you can take up in your forties and be decent at,” Maura said. “Curling is one of those sports.”
There are options for curlers to sign up individually, with partners, or as teams, and options to join part way into a season. For information, visit nutmegcurling.com.