Blades of Glory: Hit CBC reality show competition 'Battle of the Blades' skates into season six with a seriously impressive line-up

By Mishal Cazmi

In partnership with CBC's Battle of the Blades

CBC's beloved reality show competition Battle of the Blades returns to television screens on Oct. 15 in a two-hour premiere. The distinctly Canadian competition has thrilled audiences since it first aired in 2009, bringing together world-class athletes from figure skating and ice hockey in a live figure skating showdown. Each season, the athletes show off their best moves while competing for a title and the chance to win $100,000 for their respective charities.

This year's competition soars to new heights with eight teams, which for the first time in the history of the show include three women's hockey players and as such, three male figure skaters. The show welcomes back last year's winner and Canadian Olympic figure skater Kaitlyn Weaver, who will be skating with former pro hockey player Bryan Bickell.

Houston, Texas-born Kaitlyn Weaver moved to Kitchener, Ont. at age 17 to train with Andrew Poje. She's the co-founder of Skate to Great, which gives Canadian children the chance to get on the ice regardless of economic or physical circumstances. Bowmanville, Ont.-born Bryan Bickell is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2016, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Photo: © CBC

Legendary sports broadcaster Ron MacLean returns as host, while Canadian figure skating icon Kurt Browning takes the reins as the Elite Battle Expert, guiding a weekly masterclass and throwdown challenges designed to test the hockey players as they prepare to compete. The panel of judges includes Olympic champion Scott Moir, Canadian ice hockey player and Olympic champion Natalie Spooner (who was the runner-up last year with partner Andrew Poje), and internationally renowned Canadian figure skater Elladj Baldé.

Natalie Spooner (left) finished second in season 5 with partner Andrew Poje. She'll be a judge during season 6. Ron MacLean is returning as host again this year, with an additional host yet to be announced. Photos: © CBC

In light of COVID-19, the show will look a little different this time around, but will carry the same unwavering energy and enthusiasm into the new season. Instead of touring fan-filled rinks, the teams will stay put in one location. The show is tackling the challenge with a bigger and better set, along with a virtual audience that will join in from across the country and have a front row seat to all the action on the ice.

Lethbridge, Alta.-born Kris Versteeg is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks. Carlotta Edwards grew up in Queen Charlotte on Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. She started touring with Disney on Ice at 17 years old. Photo: © CBC

As they gear up for season six, Hello! Canada caught up with Ron MacLean and Natalie Spooner to reflect on seasons past and take a look at the exciting journey ahead.

Ron, how does it feel to be returning as a host of Battle of the Blades?
Figure skating's a leap of faith. I recall thinking this will never work. There's no way hockey players will conquer the picks, or allow themselves the vulnerability required to emote… I was wrong. This show is such a surprise and a remarkable collaboration. I'm excited to share its example of teamwork and ethos of inclusion, especially in these challenging times.

Russian-born Canadian Violetta Afansieva is a mother of one, and has appeared in every season of Battle of the Blades to date. LaSale, Que.-born Anthony Stewart was raised in Toronto and spent his career playing in the NHL for American teams. He's the current hockey analyst for Rogers Media. Photo: © CBC

Natalie, what is it like coming back as a judge instead of a participant?
Totally different, but I'm just as excited. It'll be different to be on the other side of it. I'm used to competing, being athletic and being in the zone all the time with hockey. Now I'll be judging other people on how they're figure skating, which is definitely not my sport. But I have been through the process and what I can hopefully bring is being able to relate to the hockey players who are going through a lot of the same things that I went through last year.

Ottawa-born, Winnipeg-raised Jennifer Botterill is a mother of three and a four-time Olympic medallist. Winnipeg-born Eric Radford is a three-time Olympic medallist with Meagan Duhamel, who is now a competitor on the show as well, and a two-time world champion in pairs. Photo: © CBC

What do you think has drawn so many people to the show?
Ron: They say surprise is the key to the entertainment and hospitality industries. The first hotel to place a chocolate on the nightstand reached its customers in ways that the competition did not. Our show is like the greatest hotel room – a great view, a little escape, and a surprise or two.

Natalie: Everyone in Canada loves hockey, but when you mix that with figure skating, which Canada also loves, it’s such a great dynamic. It shows an appreciation for those two sports coming together.

Moosomin, Sask.-born Jessica Campbell is a three-year member of team SASK and has played for the Calgary Inferno. Scarborough, Ont.-born Asher Hill is a former national team member and current coach and choreographer. He's also the co-host of CBC Sports' YouTube series That Figure Skating Show. Photo: © CBC

What are you most looking forward to this season?
Ron: This season comes with COVID-19 challenges. We have established eight four-person teams. Each team consists of two skaters, a coach and a choreographer. They are isolated, and that means the coaches and choreographers are not helping any skaters beyond their own pair. I think that will actually ratchet up the competition, and when I see the names of the coaches and choreographers, I am truly blown away. No team has an edge, each team has stunning support. The absolute greatest influencers in the sport are mentoring our skaters.

Natalie: Seeing how good the hockey players can get. I know some of them and they’re already good to start. After the end of seven weeks, they’re going to look like real figure skaters!

Polish-Canadian hockey player Wojtek Wolski represented Canada at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He's also played for the Brampton Battalion and several American NHL teams. Sudbury, Ont.-born Meagan Duhamel currently lives in St-Leonard, Que. She's a new mom to Zoey, who turns one year old on Oct. 25. Like Eric Radford, she's a three-time Olympic medallist. Photo: © CBC

Is there anyone you're particularly excited to see hit the ice?
Ron: As a hockey person, I always enjoy the mix of power forwards versus skilled offensive players. That translates to some teams that will be great at lifts and throws and some that will have big speed and agility.

Natalie: I have some old teammates on there. Jess Campbell is now a power skating coach. It'll be really cool to see her on her edges and how well she can pick up figure skating. Meghan Agosta and Jenn Botterill are two players I looked up to. I got to train with Kris Versteeg for a while out in Whitby.

Windsor, Ont. native Meghan Agosta is a four-time Olympic medallist and has played for the Montreal Stars. Andrew Poje is from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. and is a retired Canadian ice dancing champion (with partner and now competitor, Kaitlyn Weaver). Photo: © CBC

It's been a strange and uncertain time for Canadians this past year. What do you hope the show will give them?
Ron: Obviously with the pandemic, one's appreciation of workers on the front lines is inexpressible, but we will offer up our little demonstration of togetherness at work as our thank you.

Natalie: A lot of hope, laughter and fun. People are craving sports. After the Stanley Cup, there will be no more hockey. Maybe this show will give them a glimpse into the lives of hockey players. And for people who miss figure skating, they can watch from the comfort of their homes and hopefully it brings a smile to their faces.

Scarborough, Ont.-born Vanessa James is a six-time French pairs champion and world figure skating medallist. Akim Aliu was born in Nigeria and raised in the Ukraine and considers himself a Ukrainian-Canadian. He made his NHL debut in 2012 with the Calgary Flames. Photo: © CBC

If you could give the new pairs one piece of advice as they get ready to hit the ice, what would it be?
Ron: You are free. Powerful, both mentally and physically. You've chosen to honour your gifts. You are sharing the best of you, with a partner from another sport, with a charity, and with a viewer. Know that everyone appreciates it and is cheering for you to have fun. Be great.

Natalie: To have fun. The days are long and if you're not having fun or not having fun with your partner, it can be a daunting process. Be open to whatever is thrown at you. Sometimes the moves I got, I never thought I'd be able to do, but I was able to do them in the end.

READY FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP?

Take a seat in the front row
For the first time ever, superfans can enjoy a virtual audience experience from the comfort of their home via video conference. For more details on how to join in on the action, visit cbc.ca/battleoftheblades.

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