CBC’s Battle of the Blades has confirmed two things. First and foremost, hockey players, even retired ones, attract huge audiences. Secondly, figure skaters are underrated when it comes to appreciating this country’s sporting heroes.
“It’s getting more competitive than I ever envisioned,” said Paul Martini, a former World pairs champion who’s instructing the puck studs in the finer points of skating. “It’s like teaching kids to walk. The things we normally do are not normal for these guys.”
On opening night 1.95 million Canadians tuned in to watch the likes of Bob Probert, Tie Domi and Claude Lemieux execute lifts and spirals.
It was both startling and riveting.
But so were the performances of the females who, let’s face it, made the guys look good. In particular Barb Underhill, the 46-year-old who partnered with Martini to win the World title a quarter of a century ago. This time she skated alongside a flashy forward, 52-year-old Ron Duguay. They formed the oldest duo by far, but they were just plain spectacular.
She in tight leather pants and hockey skates — his trademark Bon Jovi hair flowed. Underhill and Duguay made every move at high speed and with flair.
“This is who I am and it’s such a huge part of me,” said Underhill, who hadn’t performed since 1998 in an exhibition at Maple Leaf Gardens, now the icy field of play for Battle of the Blades
“When I stopped skating, the light went out and I couldn’t find anything to replace it,” she reflected. “Now I’m getting this second chance to do what I love.”
When beginning to prepare, Barb Underhill pulled out her little skating dress then tossed it aside. She had been working with the Ontario Hockey League Guelph Storm and the Anaheim Ducks teaching power skating. Hockey boots and blades seemed to make sense for her on-ice revival.
Until her routine with Ron Duguay, her children had not witnessed her in competition. “When I saw my 14-year-old son’s face I thought he was going to burst with pride,” Underhill enthused. “It was like reliving my great years.”
Well worth the effort.
The hockey players may get most of the attention but Barb Underhill’s performance went beyond being amusing and entertaining; it was inspiring.