Canada-Russia skaters faceoff on CBC-TV series ‘Battle of the Blades’

TORONTO – An international flavour to “Battle of the Blades” sets the stage for a potential Canada-Russia final, with skating superstar Ekaterina Gordeeva and former NHLer Valeri Bure among the favourites going into this weekend’s first performance episode.

Host Ron MacLean said the addition of Gordeeva, Bure, and acrobatic figure skater Violetta Afanasieva—who’s paired with former NHL tough guy and CBC broadcaster P.J. Stock—will make for an exciting second season full of surprises.

“Gordeeva is probably the greatest pair skater of all time so it’d be like having Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr as part of our show (with defending champ) Jamie Sale … and Ekaterina Gordeeva,” MacLean said Monday from the show’s studio, noting expectations are high for the Gordeeva-Bure partnership.

“They’ve known each other certainly since school days and they have the physiques … so they are early favourites and capable of some big things.”

This season’s first live performance episode airs Sunday, when eight new teams of former hockey heroes and figure skating champs will be made to learn weekly dance routines and woo the support of television viewers.

In addition to the Russian phenoms, the elimination-style competition will feature two U.S. imports—figure skater Kyoko Ina, paired with former St. Louis Blues enforcer and broadcaster Kelly Chase, and former NHL all-star Jeremy Roenick, who was announced as a judge on Monday.

Roenick said the show approached him to be a competitor, but he refused.

“I don’t like skating anymore,” said Roenick, who started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks and played with the San Jose Sharks last year.

“It’s just not for me anymore. And probably with the injuries that I’ve had through my knees and my shoulders I think lifting and doing all the stuff that they need to do would be very, very difficult for me.”

The brash straight-talker joins previous judge Sandra Bezic and hosts MacLean and Kurt Browning. A rotating celebrity judge will add a third voice to the panel.

Reigning champ Sale, who will be paired with former Calgary Flames favourite Theo Fleury, called Gordeeva “the best figure skater, ever” but insisted rivalries were being put aside for the campy show, in which beefy hockey players are encouraged to display a little on-ice flair.

Still, Fleury admitted to some pre-show jitters—he says he joined a girls’ figure skating club before this summer’s boot camp in order to get a jump on the other competitors.

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“I did some edge classes in Calgary for about a month before Jamie and I actually hooked up,” said Fleury, who most recently made headlines with decades-old abuse allegations against former junior hockey coach Graham James, which are currently under investigation.

“I have a bunch of 10-year-old little girls in Calgary to thank.”

Gordeeva and Bure said they were confident in their prospects. Gordeeva noted she appeared on a similar show in Russia in which celebrities were paired with former champs a la 2006’s shortlived, “Skating With Celebrities.”

Bure said they have a definite edge.

“Quite honestly she’s the best skater of all time,” said Bure. “She’s done the show before in Russia, she’s got experience … we have an advantage.”

Meanwhile, Roenick admitted that he could face a challenge being objective, acknowledging that he’s had run-ins with a few of the guys on the ice.

“Kelly Chase beat me up. Theo punched me in the head a bunch of times, slough-footed me a bunch of times, slashed me a bunch of times, yelled at me a bunch of times. I’m sure I’ve run into P.J. a few times, (former Habs tough-guy) Georges Laraque I won’t go near, ever, in that aspect,” said Roenick, nevertheless insisting he’ll be “raw” but fair in his assessments

“I’m going to love watching Kelly Chase be graceful, watch Georges Laraque have some agility. These things just aren’t in the cards, they have to find a way to do it.”

With three Russian skaters joining the second season, executive producer John Brunton said a Russian version of “Battle of the Blades”in the future is possible.

“We’re really hoping that Katia will bring some attention to that,” Brunton said.

“We’re in negotiations with the Russians right now to do the show in Russia, as well as Sweden and Finland and a number of other hockey countries. Hopefully we’ll have something to announce in the very near future. We’d love to see the show in Russia.”

Other skating teams include: Laraque and Anabelle Langlois, Shae-Lynne Bourne and Patrice Brisebois, Isabelle Brasseur and Todd Warriner, and Christine Hough-Sweeney and Russ Courtnall.

The winning duo gets a $100,000 donation to a charity of their choice. Each eliminated couple receives a $25,000 donation to the charity of their choice.

After Sunday’s live performance, a live results show is set for Monday.