Battle of the Blades: Stars on ice
Battle of the Blades saved the best for last during its first week of performances.
A star was born, a hero wrenched our hearts and a couple of contenders made their mark on Monday night, when four more couples took to the ice on what would normally be an elimination night.
Tessa Bonhomme's debut had to be the most anticipated of this season.
As the first female hockey player on the reality show, she must have been under enormous pressure to prove herself, I would think.
But being an Olympian and all, I guess she thrives under pressure. It certainly looked that way Monday when she skated a triumphant routine with fellow Olympian David Pelletier that brought the highest marks so far.
And that was just one of the highlights of the night.
We also got our first look at Kim Navarro, formerly Wade Belak's partner, and Russ Courtnall, the Season 2 alumnus who took his place after Wade's sudden death.
This appears to be a deeply personal undertaking for Russ. He wiped away tears as he talked about the suicide of his own father when he was a boy. Wade's death was an apparent suicide, although his parents are disputing that conclusion.
"You know, the pain never goes away," said Russ. "As a child, you lose somebody so important to you. As you grow up, you miss not only that person but the times where you really need them. I think of his kids, I just think of his family and I know that pain and agony they're going through."
Russ and Kim brought the crowd to their feet and a lot of people to tears skating to Nickelback's "Hero," which Russ said meant even more to him than last year since Wade's "kids and myself have lost our heroes."
The skate was clean, almost lyrical and tender at the beginning, with a couple of lifts, a death spiral and Russ spinning Kim by her hands, suspended in air.
Head judge Sandra Bezic fought tears as she told Russ "two weeks ago, when you stepped in, in a moment you lifted our spirits....
"You are an inspiration, you are a role model, as a son, as a father and as a friend and, on behalf of all Canadians, from the bottom of my heart, thank you."
Guest judge Darcy Tucker lightened the mood a little, saying Russ had been one of his heroes when he grew up in Alberta, not only for his hockey playing but for his hair.
"I just wish everybody in this arena and Canada, Russ, knew you like we knew you," said Jeremy Roenick, and he said he was proud of both Russ and Kim for what they're doing for Wade's family.
They ended up with the highest score up till that point in the competition: 16.7 (5.6 from Sandra and Darcy, 5.5 from Jeremy).
Russ and Kim definitely have the sentimental vote sewn up. The next pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Curtis Leschyshyn, showed the makings of contenders.
Curtis is a Stanley Cup winner with the Colorado Avalanche. Elena is a Russian figure skating legend who suffered a potentially career-ending injury when her head was sliced by her partner's blade in 1996. She went on to skate again, eventually winning Olympic silver and gold, the latter shared with Canadians David Pelletier and Jamie Sale at the 2002 Games.
Curtis and Elena had a very smooth skate and Curtis looks to be one of the strongest men on the ice: when he lifted Elena he held her up there for a while. The routine wasn't as heavy on tricks as some of the others, but the skating was solid.
Sandra pointed out that Curtis did a difficult "three-turn, side-step, back-turn crossover, one of the hardest things for a hockey player to pick up."
"The two of you are the purists in this competition and you will break technical boundaries as we progress through the weeks," she added.
Jeremy said Curtis was the most comfortable on figure skates of any of the players he'd yet seen.
He and Elena scored 16.4: 5.5 from Darcy and Jeremy, and 5.4 from Sandra.
Next up was a couple who could give Cale Hulse and Violetta Afanasieva a run in the beauty sweepstakes: brunettes Marcy Hinzmann-Harris and Todd Simpson.
Marcy is a U.S. pairs silver and bronze medallist turned adagio skater. Todd is a former Calgary Flames captain.
Todd wasn't the most graceful of the men, but he was energetic and charismatic, and seemed to have no trouble flipping Marcy around or holding her over his head.
"Todd, I have no idea why they didn't cast you in Blades of Glory, because you are the original Chazz Michael Michaels," Sandra said. "Todd and Marcy, you explode off the screen, you are filled with charm."
Darcy and Jeremy both recalled hockey encounters with Todd. Noting that Todd had been the cause of some of his game suspensions, Darcy said he wanted to keep him on Blades as long as possible: "I know you'll toepick before the end of this thing. I'm gonna laugh my rear end off."
JR said it was "nice to see your teeth smiling, having fun, instead of gritting your teeth, trying to knock mine out all the time."
Todd and Marcy scored 16.5 (5.5 all around).
Finally, it was the moment I think most of us have been waiting for: Tessa Bonhomme and David Pelletier's turn to skate.
It turns out Olympic gold medallist Tessa is not only competitive as heck, she's funny, too.
"I thought they were going to get me somebody good, they got me David instead," she quipped about her partner and fellow gold medallist. She's also come up with her own names for figure skating moves, including the "kickeroo," "the Stanley Cup lift" and the "neck hold crotch grab."
She came out swinging on Monday, though, both exchanging faux blows with David as part of the routine (to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") and pulling off the challenging tricks, including a death spiral, an overhead lift, being swung around by her ankle and wrist, and lifted and spun horizontally at David's waist.
The routine was a big hit with both the audience and the judges, with a standing ovation and the competition's highest score, 17.0 (5.7 from Darcy and Sandra, and 5.6 from JR).
"These boys in this competition ought to be very, very nervous right now, because you came out like a bulldog and you were just absolutely on it, the smile, the presence, absolutely fantastic," said Jeremy.
"That performance was unbelievable. Holy smokes, it was phenomenal," enthused Darcy.
"I expected you to be good, but I did not expect that level of performance and comfort already out there," said Sandra. "And folks, the forward inside death spiral, David did not do that, you did, Tessa. That's something women take years to learn. You're just like a rock."
I don't know about you, but I think we've got ourselves a really interesting competition this season.
All eight pairs skate again next Sunday (at 8 p.m. on CBC) and then next Monday, one pair will be eliminated in a skate-off after viewer votes and judges scores from this week and next week are tallied.
I plan to be at the show in person Sunday, which means I should have some video to share on Sunday night.
(The photo of Russ Courtnall and Kim Navarro is courtesy of CBC and Insight Productions.)