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Battle of the Blades: Figure skaters v. hockey players

No need to search high and low these days if you're looking for Sandra Bezic.

She's front and centre as the producer and judge on CBC's new reality show, Battle of the Blades, which pits teams of male hockey players and female figure skaters against each other this fall.

Bezic, also a choreographer and five-time Canadian pairs champion, said that Battle of the Blades was the brainchild of athlete agent Kevin Albrecht, who hatched the idea one day when they were watching Dancing With the Stars together. "A light bulb went on for him," Bezic said.

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"It's amazing that something like this is not happening in Canada with our skating culture."

Bezic was doubtful at first that the hockey players would sign on, but Albrecht pushed ahead.

They enticed them with the promise of donating money - as much as $100,000 for the winning team - to their favourite charity.

The female figure skaters signed on in a flash. The first one in the door was former world pairs champion Barbara Underhill, who had serendipitously called Bezic after watching Dancing With the Stars, and said: "This is killing me. I miss this."

"You know, I've got this idea … " Bezic said.

Bezic and Albrecht approached John Brunton, president of Insight Productions, known for its figure skating shows, and "he thought we were nuts, but he loved it," Bezic said.

The time commitment necessary for the show proved to be the stumbling block for many of the hockey players; they needed to be available for three months. Bezic knew it would be a hard task for the players, and promised them the best coaches and choreographers.

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They started with a boot camp last July for the contestants to start getting skating fit. Former Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi showed up with gusto, and lost 10 to 12 pounds. He's also taken up yoga, pilates and spinning.

"I am blown away by how hard they have worked," Bezic said. "These guys had no idea. They've never experienced anything like it. It was like the Olympics for them."

The idea took at least 21/2 years to come to fruition.

Craig Simpson, now a Hockey Night in Canada commentator, said Albrecht told him about the idea 11/2 years ago. "Oh, that's a good idea, but not for me," Simpson said at the time.

Battle 10

But when Bezic and Albrecht approached him last June and told him about the calibre of the female skaters involved, he was intrigued. And he was ready. He's lost 35 pounds in the past year.

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In Battle of the Blades, he teamed up with Olympic and world pairs champion Jamie Salé. Both live in Edmonton.

He found boot camp "nerve-wracking" but energizing. It took him a month to get used to toe picks on his skates, and took two hard falls.

At 39, Domi is the youngest hockey player in the group, has been away from the game for four years, and admits he's already tired. "It's a lot bigger commitment than I thought it would be," he said.

Domi started practising with figure skates, but one day, before the show started, he took a nasty tumble and planted his face in the ice.

"Well, Tie," Bezic told him, "you can always go back to hockey skates. After all, it is called Battle of the Blades."

Domi switched back immediately. He's the only player in hockey skates left on the show. Although it's more difficult to do lifts with the shorter, more curved hockey blades, Domi says he's found a way to adjust.

But he said he's had the best of help. He calls Bezic the one with the vision. "She's the David Foster of the figure skating world," he said, referring to the Canadian musician and music producer.

While David Wilson does the choreography for the programs of Domi and his partner Christine Hough-Sweeney, Bezic tweaks them. She makes minor adjustments to everybody's programs.

He said Bezic took it hard when Bob Probert (with skater Kristina Lenko) was voted off the first show, because she had done a tremendous amount of work with the player. "She made Bob into a new man," Domi said.

Glenn Anderson (with skater Isabelle Brasseur) was the next to bow out.

"We're all having a blast," Domi added. "Everybody is pulling for one another to do well."

When she was just 12, Bezic and her brother, Val, qualified for the North American championships at a competition at Maple Leaf Gardens. Now, more than 40 years later, at the helm of Battle of the Blades, she has come more than full circle, with new and unusual challenges.

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