TORONTO – Hockey hero Claude Lemieux drew swoons for a cheeky butt wiggle while NHL bruiser Tie Domi got the crowd cheering with his best Mick Jagger impression Sunday as beefy athletes traded their hockey sticks for sequined outfits and sexy female partners on the CBC TV elimination-style series, “Battle of the Blades.”
The new reality show debuted with Domi, Craig Simpson and six of their former hockey cohorts managing to avoid any ugly spills while flinging their seasoned partners across the rink, over their shoulders and between their legs in pursuit of viewer votes that could crown them coolest on ice.
The unconventional contest also cast the NHL’rs in a whole new light, with Domi sashaying in a satiny black shirt to the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and former Canadiens player Stephane Richer offering up a stiff attempt at air guitar to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” for the classic rock-themed episode.
“I was really impressed by the guys and their figure skates, the guys who tried the toe picks, I thought that was really impressive,” said skating fan Marie Sawa, one of 3,000 fans who managed to score tickets to the live taping.
“They made us laugh, but they were good,” added her friend, Amy Ouellette, a former figure skater.
“They were pretty impressive, they had a bunch of different elements, the speed and lifts and technical skills, I thought it was really good.”
Lemieux and Olympic skater Shae-Lynn Bourne set the stage with a campy tour of the ice that saw the four-time Stanley Cup winner wiggle his butt for the audience and sway his hips to “Bad To the Bone”, drawing early laughs from an enthusiastic audience.
“I hope we don’t have to see that again,” judge Dick Button said to Lemieux in response to the saucy showmanship, later conceding that their performance “was sensational.”
Guest judge and former goalie Kelly Hrudey conceded that the tough guy managed to pull out some style on the ice.
“I hated you and hated playing against you but I kind of love you now,” Hrudey said.
Each performance ended with comments and scores from the experts – most hovering in the 5.6 range for the debut episode – but the numbers are meant to be a guideline for the audience only. Viewers at home have ultimate say over who gets to skate another day through votes cast by phone, text or online.
The skaters left standing will make a $100,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
Co-hosts Ron MacLean and Kurt Browning said skaters that make it to next week will be performing to the music of Frank Sinatra and competing for the favourable comments of celebrity judge Don Cherry, of “Hockey Night In Canada.”
The slick spectacle unfolded under the historic rafters of Maple Leaf Gardens, a legendary NHL venue brought to life Sunday for the televised event. Essentially mothballed following the 1998-1999 hockey season, the downtown building was outfitted with a temporary rink and a “Battle of the Blades” sign at one end of the venue that mimicked the art deco style of the building.
While there was plenty of glitz, there were some near disasters, too, with a shaky final lift by former New Jersey Devil Ken Daneyko of Jodeyne Higgins threatening to crumble.
But Olympic bronze medallist Isabelle Brasseur and Glenn Anderson drew some of the biggest cheers and highest scores for a death spiral to “Takin’ Care of Business” while Barbara Underhill and Ron Duguay – both in hockey skates – earned a standing ovation for their speed to Joe Cocker’s “Unchain My Heart.”
“Believe it or not this is my own wardrobe,” Duguay quipped afterwards in reference to his flowing silvery blouse, open at the neck.
“Battle of the Blades” airs its results episode Monday.