In partnership with CBC's Battle of the Blades
As it gets closer to showtime, the competitors on the sixth season of Battle of the Blades have been busy getting to know their new skating partners and practicing their moves.
Olympic figure skater and last year’s winner Kaitlyn Weaver is paired up with Bryan Bickell, a former professional hockey player who played for the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes. As with any new experience, the journey has come with a learning curve and a fall or two during practice.
"I'm definitely hitting the ice in a lot of different ways," jokes Bryan.
Kaitlyn, however, has nothing but praise for her partner’s positive attitude and ability.
"Bryan is extraordinarily limitless in skates. [He's] doing everything we're throwing at him, which is incredible."
Six-time French pairs champion and world figure skating medallist Vanessa James is also back for another season, this time with Akim Aliu, who made his NHL debut in 2012 with the Calgary Flames. The duo has been hard at work preparing for their first performance and Vanessa is similarly impressed by her partner's figure-skating skills.
"We did a double-flip throw in the first week. It wasn't perfect, but the consistency and the detail that he takes in and works with is amazing," shares Vanessa.
Both teams will be competing for charities that are close to the players' hearts, with the winner receiving a $100,000 donation to the charity of their choice. For Bryan, it’s The Bickell Foundation in support of the MS Society of Canada. Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016 and retiring from hockey the following year, Bryan has dedicated his time to giving back and raising awareness.
"We want to provide retreats and provide families the opportunity to spend time not thinking about the disease," he shares.
Meanwhile, Akim is competing for the Time to Dream Foundation, which strives to make youth sports like hockey more diverse, inclusive, affordable and accessible for all.
"From playing in the NHL and all my accolades on the ice, it's my biggest accomplishment as a human being. It's near and dear to me because it's something I went through as a kid—not being able to do some of the things I wanted to do because my family couldn’t afford to do them. Sports is an avenue that teaches you so much about who you are. I just want to give kids that opportunity through sports to turn their life into something positive."
The players will perform without a live audience this season, a departure for both the hockey players and figure skaters.
"A crowd can be intimidating when you’re waiting backstage behind the curtains, but a crowd can also bring you to such great heights," says Kaitlyn. "[It] will be very special even without a crowd. They're going to see it even if they're not with us in the building."