Battle of the Blades: They're off and skating
Wade Belak will always be a part of the story of Season 3 of Battle of the Blades, but the thing about death is that life always finds a way to carry on and the same is true of this competition.
Genial hosts Ron MacLean and Kurt Browning both acknowledged Wade in this first performance show of the season. Kurt said his loss has extended an "umbrella of togetherness" over this cast like nothing seen in the previous two years, but he also noted, "The competition will endure."
It's too early to tell if there's a Val Bure or Patrice Brisebois among this crew, but we're already seeing some challenging moves from the hockey players.
Monday night, we get to watch the remaining four pairs skate, including Tessa Bonhomme, the show's first female hockey player, with Olympic gold medalist David Pelletier, and returning competitor Russ Courtnall, who's taken on the daunting task of skating with Wade's former partner, Kim Navarro.
Ron explained that no one will be eliminated this week since the fans said they wanted "more time" with the skaters, but votes cast this week will count toward next week's results.
Here's how the performances went on Sunday.
Brad May and Anabelle Langlois: You might remember Anabelle. She's the tough little cookie who had a couple of close calls while skating with Georges Laraque last season. We learned something more personal about this former Canadian pairs champion and Olympian. Growing up, she said, she took responsibility for her three younger siblings because her father was fighting an unspecified disease. She also had to go to work at 16 to pay her own way into competitive skating. We've already met Brad, a.k.a. May Day, a likeable former Buffalo Sabre known for his 1993 series-deciding semifinals goal against the Boston Bruins.
I thought Brad and Anabelle tackled some pretty complex stuff for the first routine of the season, including a split jump from her, an overhead lift, some flips and a dangerous-looking move in which Brad spun Anabelle around holding just one ankle and one wrist. He also jumped right off his skates a few times and everyone should note that he did not fall (unlike in that rehearsal footage we saw last week). On the negative side, Brad still looks a little uncertain at times when he's skating alone and his on-ice connection with Anabelle hasn't completely gelled yet.
Head judge Sandra Bezic praised Brad for his mix of physicality and charisma, the difficulty of the routine and his quick-footedness. "May Day, May Day, May Day! That was fantastic," said resident judge and former NHLer Jeremy Roenick. "You were one of the most passionate guys that I ever played with and it's nice that you bring that passion here, but I think you met your match because Anabelle is much tougher than you after going with Georges last year."
Score: Guest judge Darcy Tucker, 5.4; Sandra, 5.4; Jeremy, 5.4, for a total of 16.2
Cale Hulse and Violetta Afanasieva: These two may have the prize for prettiest couple locked up. Violetta is an extreme ice skating world champion, known for daring routines that combine skating and acrobatics. "I don't think the stuff I do is crazy," Violetta said, "but performing in front of quite a few million people every week, that was quite an experience." It was one she was happy to repeat, saying she jumped up and down when approached to return to Blades. Cale, a former NHL tough guy who played for the Calgary Flames among other teams, is now a stay-at-home dad.
Cale had one of the cleanest skates of all the players and looked the strongest in his overhead lift. He also did one of those moves (wish I could think of the name) where he spun Violetta around holding just her ankle and wrist. I wasn't crazy about the beginning, where he flipped Violetta over his shoulder and under his legs while down on one knee.
"I think you're on the wrong show, Cale. I think Canada's Next Top Model is next month," quipped JR, but he said Cale skated like he played: graceful. "It had a Hollywood feel for me, two good-looking people out there dancing," said Darcy. Sandra praised the challenging choreography but said Cale should work toward "embodying a character" in his routines.
Score: Darcy, 5.5; Sandra, 5.6; Jeremy, 5.5; total, 16.6
Boyd Devereaux and Tanith Belbin: I like Tanith. She seems sassy. This dual citizen won the U.S. its first Olympic silver medal in ice dancing in 2006. She also has a brother who survived surgery for multiple brain tumours not long after. Boyd is a former Maple Leaf who won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002.
Boyd was described as one of the smoothest skaters in the NHL so I expected a little more from this routine technically. There was a pretty nifty flip at the beginning, but Boyd looked like he had a little trouble with the lift and didn't keep Tanith up there very long.
Sandra said he has incredible potential but will have to learn to handle intricate choreography, and work on speed, presentation and unity. Darcy was more impressed. "You don't have to worry about this guy's speed ... he can fly," he said. "You have great feet, Boyd, I want to see you use your feet just like you did when you played hockey," said Jeremy.
Score: Darcy, 5.6; Sandra, 5.3; Jeremy, 5.3; total, 16.2
Bryan Berard and Marie-France Dubreuil: You may remember Marie-France from Season 1 when she skated with Stephane Richer. She took Season 2 off to have a daughter. It would be tough for anybody to forget Bryan, given the 2000 eye injury that almost ended his career when he played for the Leafs. The fact he lost most of the vision in his right eye has given him heightened senses of touch and hearing, which Marie-France says he uses in his skating.
With his size, his shaggy hair and his tattoo sleeves, Bryan's never going to be the most graceful skater on the ice, but he and Marie-France have the best connection so far. The routine looked less flashy than the others until the end, when they threw in a series of lifts and Bryan flipped Marie-France around his neck (JR called that the toughest move of the night), but her elegance and the fact they were really skating together made it stand out.
"I thought I had the tattoo, bad boy, soft-hearted guy downpat, but you rocked it tonight, B," joked Darcy. "As a couple, you looked great tonight. You really work well together." Added Sandra, "Some of our guys already look like figure skaters. Bryan, you are never gonna look like a figure skater and that's what I love about you: you are raw and you're rugged."
Score: Darcy, 5.5; Sandra, 5.5; Jeremy, 5.5; total, 16.5
There's more to come Monday, including two of the most intriguing couples of the season: Tessa and David, and Russ and Kim.
(The photo of Bryan Berard and Marie-France Dubreuil is courtesy of CBC.)