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November 1, 2014

7 Things You Need to Know for 'Battle of the Blades' Season 3

by Bryan Cairns, posted Aug 22nd 2011 3:10PM
'Battle of the Blades' is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of reality competitions. It takes athletes from two sports, figure skating and hockey, and combines them into one surprisingly addictive treat. Premiering Sunday, September 18 on CBC, the series will once again find former NHL players paired with prominent figure skaters to perform choreographed skating routines, with one couple being eliminated every week.

At Etobicoke's Mastercard Centre, recruited hockey stars Cale Hulse, Wade Belak, Curtis Leschyshyn and Brad May, along with figure skating pros Marie-France Dubreuil, Marcy Hinzmann-Harris and Anabelle Langlois, are participating in some on-ice boot camp. It's the first time the hockey players have slipped into figure skates, so it's with mixed (and often hilarious) results. Poor May landed flat on his butt multiple times and Belak took a sudden dive, face first, during a lap around the rink.

Laughing it off, the professionals' humor and determination warmed the chilly building. AOL TV Canada was on-hand to discover seven things 'Blades' fans should know for the third season of 'Battle of the Blades.'

Meet the Gang
The recently announced list of talent is an impressive cast, including hockey player Boyd Devereaux and Bryan Berard, as well as figure skaters Kim Navarro, Tanith Belbin, Elena Berezhnaya, David Pelletier, and Violetta Afanasieva. As the show has matured over the previous two seasons, it's less of a challenge to attract top-notch competitors.

"They're enthusiastic for a few different reasons," reveals executive producer John Brunton. "They know what the show is. The charity these teams end up skating for gets an awful lot of notoriety and exposure on the show. A lot of players want some of that. Building a children's hospital in Saskatchewan is a noble thing, and it really motivated an entire province. The players from season 1 and 2 are our best ambassadors. Without exception, they said it was one of the greatest times of their lives. Some have said it was more enjoyable than part of their hockey careers. It's also incredibly physically challenging."

New Season, New Rules
Oh, did we forget being blindsided with one more addition? In previous years, it's been a male hockey player teamed with a female figure skater. In a game-changing move, Olympic gold medalist and female hockey player Tessa Bonhomme has joined the lineup. Even the guys were unaware of her involvement up until the last minute.

"Well, the nature of these programs is you never want to be predictable," offered Brunton. "Just when the audience thinks they know what's going to happen, we throw them a twist. Every year we come up with something -- people are going to be really excited about the idea. It's consistent with what our show stands for. Fans have been asking us to do this, so one of the things we're doing is responding to their requests. It's good to respect your audience."

"I thought the twist was awesome," agrees Brad May. "I actually follow Tessa on Twitter. Women's hockey has really taken off. I have a 12-year-old daughter and I bought her a pair of figure skates yesterday. It's a great twist, especially for the viewers. She's a famous hockey player, so it's all good."

"It was pretty good," adds Wade Belak. "We were looking at her stats trying to figure out who this player was. It's season 3, so it's nice to have a female hockey player. It's going to be just as hard for her as it is for us."

Is It a Boys Club?
Now that a female hockey player has infiltrated their ranks, does she have an advantage over her male counterparts? Some say yes, others no.

"No, because the girls make it look really easy, but when they're lifted, you have to time it with the man," explains Canadian figure-skating icon Kurt Browning. "If you mistime it, 105 pounds instantly becomes 135 pounds. Have you ever held a 2-year-old while shopping and he wants down? All of a sudden, the 2-year-old is 75 pounds. Right now, I'm as anxious as you are. [Tessa] has to sell the girl power. She has a big challenge ahead."

"The guys in the NHL are really strong and the girls they're skating with are pretty tiny," says Brunton. "To be an Olympic champion on the women's hockey team, you can't be 90 pounds. To get the females up in the air and do some of the tricks will need an incredibly skilled and strong partner. On the flip side, part of this show is a popularity contest and the audience votes for who they fell in love with. Anyone can be a recipient of that and there's a really great chance for that to happen. My guess is she will become a fan favorite."

"This is nothing out of the ordinary," comments Bonhomme. "I grew up playing boy's hockey, so I often found myself around the guys more. Going out there, we are all on an equal playing ground. I want to beat them, and they don't want to be beaten by me. It will be interesting. The female ice skaters have been so good to me and everyone's been so helpful."

Motivation From Within
Everyone involved with 'Battle of the Blades' aren't simply gluttons for punishment or gloryhounds. The players have their own inspirations and incentives, not to mention big hearts.

"What drew me to it is I get to push myself outside of the box and try something new and hopefully teach myself something different about skating," says Bonhomme. "And overall just be a character. I love to be the jokester on my hockey team, pull pranks, and be goofy. I hope this allows me to do all that."

"I'm not sure why," laughs May. "That's honest. Obviously, I had some friends who had done it and all raved about it. They said it was a great experience and you know what? It's a challenge. And you're doing it for charity. That's a draw. To get back in shape is another reason I want to do it. And to do something outside of my comfort zone is good. It's going to be fun. You get immediate feedback because if you do something bad, you feel it."

"The appeal was just trying to do something new and the charity," adds Belak. "The money goes to a great cause. It's a big commitment for a lot of people, but when am I ever going to be able to do this again in my lifetime? That's pretty much it. I'm playing for Toronto Western Hospital's Tourette Clinic. I'm going to raise some money for them. It's one of the biggest Tourette centers in North America and my daughter actually has Tourette, so it will be good to raise some awareness."

Trash Talking
Make no mistake about it: these hockey players are friendly and jokey right now, but just wait until their competitive spirit kicks into overdrive! Since they can't body-check their distinguished competition into the boards, a bit of good-natured ribbing is expected.

"They all laughed at me because I fell down a few times!" smiles May. "I'm sure there will be some of that. Today was an introduction to doing this. We respect each other so much, so we're not going to embarrass one another. I'm sure once we're on the ice a little longer, we'll feel more comfortable, and we'll have some fun. The nice thing about being part of a group or on a team is that banter."

"Well, I was already giving it to Cale Hulse because he went on the ice and looked great," chuckles Belak. "I think he knew about the show back in January and has been practicing!"

Welcome to the 21st Century
Between seasons 1 and 2, there was a bit of fine-tuning with the format and elimination process. This year, the voting method is being tweaked to reflect new technological developments.

"From our perspective, there's a general shift in the way people communicate," explains Brunton. "My phone hardly rings at all anymore, but this blackberry goes non-stop with emails. Online voting is a trend. We'll probably see more emphasis on that this season and less on phone voting."

Broad Appeal
Even Kurt Browning admits that way back in season 1, viewers tuning in were originally expecting some massive skating train wreck. That wasn't the case at all and the show has steadily grown in popularity.

"I just see the couch at home with Mom, Dad, son and daughter," offers Browning. "Everyone has a reason to sit there and watch. They can have a conversation about two sports neither of them wanted to talk about. It's a real neat cross-section of people watching -- truck drivers and the music instructor at school. It's Canadiana. We all go to the rink. I've said that this has brought more people together than Viagra!"

'Battle of the Blades' season 3 premieres on Sunday, September 18 on CBC.

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