In September, Anton Hood, Brett Sargon, and Ben Smith arrived in Calgary from New Zealand. They came to the hotbed of curling hoping to learn and improve their skills in hopes of qualifying to represent their country in the Olympics. The three found jobs and joined curling leagues in Calgary and Airdrie, and moved into an empty apartment in a retirement home.
On a Tuesday night at the Airdrie Curling Club, right before the start of a weekly league game, Team Hood stretches and pulls on their uniforms. They’re younger than almost all of the other players around them. They’ve played in multiple highly competitive tournaments against Olympians like Canada’s Brad Gushue, and they themselves have a good shot to represent their country at the next Winter Olympics.
But the level of competition at the Airdrie Curling Club is no push over.
“I think we’ve all got the same sort of drive when we come here,” said Smith.
“Both of the leagues we play in–one in Airdrie and the other in Calgary–are two of the most competitive club leagues,” said Sargon. “The intensity of the leagues between here and Calgary are pretty similar.”
The Airdrie league is great practice, said Hood.
“[It’s] a low pressure environment…although we put pressure on ourselves.”
Team Hood has been playing together for about four years. Anton Hood and Ben Smith grew up not far from each other, near Naseby in the county’s south.
“Curling has been a part of Naseby’s history since the (local) Gold Rush,” said Hood, the team’s skip. According to Hood, Naseby was also home to the first indoor curling rink in the southern hemisphere.
Contrary to what many might think, curling actually has a rich history in New Zealand. Miners from Scotland brought an outdoor version of the game over with them during the country’s gold rush. There are only 10 sheets of curling ice in the entire country, said Hood, but with each interview and media appearance the team does, the interest in the game increases.
“We’ve heard from people throughout the country that have said, ‘Oh we’ve seen you on the news recently’. I’m not sure [how much] it’s growing, but we’re hoping that it is,” said Hood.
Sargon grew up in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, and learned to curl on an ice hockey rink.
“You get the zamboni over it and cut it as best you can,” said Sargon in a recent interview with The New York Times. (Yes, that's how far their story has spread).
Sargon met Hood and Smith through the small curling community in New Zealand and they quickly formed a team.
Team Hood knew that in order to qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, they would have to immerse themselves with the best. So they came to Calgary.
In the lead up to the first Pan Continental Curling Championships last year, Team Hood spent several weeks training and competing in Calgary, where the tournament was being held. This season, Team Hood decided to stay and play in Canada full time. However, finding short term, affordable accommodations was nearly impossible, said Sargon who arrived in Calgary before the others.
Luckily, a connection they had made in the curling world at last year’s Pan Continental Championships, directed them towards Cassandra Murray, a former competitive curler and retirement living consultant at the Chartwell Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence.
“You probably won’t want to do this, but we do have a couple of spare rooms,” wrote Murray to the team on Facebook Messenger. Soon enough, the 23 year-old Hood, 24 year-old Smith, and the 31 year-old Bargon moved into the Colonel Belcher, where the average age is 84.
New Zealand’s curling program is fairly small and is staffed predominantly with volunteers. Team Hood has had to pay out of their own pocket to stay in Calgary.
“We’re really thankful they give us support where they can, but they’re a volunteer organization,” said Sargon about New Zealand’s curling program. “They just don’t have a lot of funds.”
Living at the Colonel Belcher has saved the team on rent–they only have to pay for some utilities–and to afford other expenses they found jobs in the city.
Hood, originally a carpenter in his native New Zealand, found a job at the Calgary Curling Club and Smith got a job as a plumber.
However, the majority of Team Hood’s time is spent on the ice. Since arriving in September, the team has competed in seven tournaments in Alberta and British Columbia, and they play in two separate leagues, one in Calgary and the other here in Airdrie.
Stuffing themselves in a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan the team bought and named Polly, the New Zealanders shuttled themselves to Airdrie or Okotoks or Beamont to play. The team split the purchase soon after they arrived in Calgary.
Curling has a unique home in the hearts of many Canadian sports fans. It’s a game with a small town feel. This province alone has over 170 local curling clubs, according to Curling Alberta. “Anybody can get into it,” said Sargon on curling’s wide ranging appeal.
Originally only planning on staying at Chartwell Colonel Belcher for four months, the members of Team Hood have been wholly accepted by that community.
“They’ve been amazing,” said Murray. “There is so much life in the building.”
Recently, the team put out a post on their Instagram account looking around for more tournaments to play in.
Practice makes perfect for these Olympic hopefuls, and they’ll continue to practice in their leagues in Calgary and Airdrie and wait for the Worlds in Switzerland.