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'Battle of the Blades' heads to Sweden while Canuck version getting tweaked

TORONTO - The stage is set for retired Toronto Maple Leafs star Mats Sundin to join "Battle of the Blades." Now it's just a matter of convincing the longtime NHLer to take part.

The show's executive producer John Brunton says the massively popular CBC-TV series, which begins shooting a second season in Toronto this summer, is bound for Sweden after inking its first deal to bring the Canadian format overseas.

"There's tons of great superstar hockey players in Sweden, even going back to our Maple Leaf Borje Salming," Brunton says of possible Swede contestants.

"Would we love to get Mats Sundin involved in our project in Sweden in some capacity, whether it's as a judge, or a skater, or in some way, shape or form? That would be a home run for us."

But it's early going yet.

Brunton says the deal with Swedish distributor Sparks Network was finalized last week, and prospects for a Swedish "Battle" have yet to be determined.

However, he says the Swedish format would follow Canada's lead from last year, when former NHLers including Tie Domi, Claude Lemieux and Bob Probert were turned into unlikely sequined sensations by pairing them with champion ice dancers in weekly competitions.

Former Edmonton Oiler Craig Simpson and figure skater Jamie Sale won the inaugural competition, which featured "Hockey Night In Canada"'s Ron MacLean and former skating champ Kurt Browning as hosts.

Swedish defenceman Alex Edler predicted the show could have legs in hockey-crazy Sweden.

"I think it will be good. There's a lot of those shows ... 'Dancing with the Stars' or whatever it's called," Edler said during a Vancouver Canucks practice.

"I think they'll (Swedish TV audiences) enjoy it if they get some good hockey players on there."

Whether he would consider such a move himself was another matter.

"That's hopefully far down the road," said Edler.

Brunton said the Swedish format could vary by featuring an international roster - such as players from the Russian Hockey League - and hinted that a global touch is something that could also be in store for the next Canadian version.

"We may have some international hockey players and figure skaters involved in our cast," said Brunton, who expected to begin shooting in June but would reveal no names.

"We've been approached by some international superstars that really like the project and so we're looking at: Should we consider a star that emerged out of the Olympics on the figure skating surface or a famous international Russian hockey player paired up with a Canadian figure skater?"

Created and produced in Toronto by Insight Production Company Ltd., the first season of "Battle of the Blades" generated franchise inquiries from around the world, says Brunton, whose company is also behind local spinoffs "Canadian Idol," "Deal Or No Deal Canada," and "Project Runway Canada."

"I think the very first and most aggressive country that was the first call was Finland of all places. For why, I don't know. And then of course we started getting approached from Russia and Germany."

Viewers can expect to see a reworked "Battle" when it returns to CBC-TV in late September or early October, he adds. For one thing, it will have a new home, because Maple Leaf Gardens is under construction. It could also grow by one or two episodes.

"We're looking at the possibility of having more episodes and we have a twist in the middle of our season, the details have not been completely agreed upon by all partners involved," said Brunton.

"We're looking at making some adjustments based on having gone through a first season and deciding how we can make the show more exciting and more dramatic."

-With files from Ron Sudlow in Vancouver


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