Blades hot on heels of HNIC

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Only in Canada would 1.562 million people watch a flock of former hockey players attempt to figure skate with a gaggle of semi-retired females from the sequined sport with Don Cherry, in all his sartorial glory, as a judge.

But even in Canada this just doesn't compute. For the second straight weekend, CBC's Battle of the Blades held its own in a battle for TV numbers against the iconic Hockey Night In Canada.

Almost as many people watched Ron MacLean host and Don Cherry judge a figure skating event Sunday night as watched the two of them on Coaches Corner Saturday night. It was 1.682 million to 1.562 million.

While it's mostly a combination between trash sport and a vote-them-off-the-island reality show, this is also a replay -- a generation later -- of when Kurt Browning, MacLean's Battle of the Blades' co-host, came on the scene in figure skating.

The son of an outfitter and mountain guide from the foothills of Alberta, Browning put male hockey fans in front of TV sets along with their wives and made it OK to talk about what they watched the next day with their buddies at the construction site.

The first week, with an hour and a half debut show and the first-time novelty factor through the roof, Battle of the Blades drew 1.95 million viewers and peaked at 2.4 million.

That number easily beat the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers-Calgary Flames Hockey Night In Canada numbers from the night before.

All week, no matter where you went, from NHL dressing rooms to coffee shops and office water coolers around the country, not to mention kitchen tables at home, people were talking about it. With Cherry added to the mix of judges, joining Sandra Bezic and Dick Button, another element was added to the attraction to see what kind of ratings the CBC show could possibly get for the second show on a Thanksgiving Sunday when numbers traditionally drop dramatically and are somewhat skewered by the fact that people gather but are still only counted for one TV set dialed into the event.

They came within a whisker of beating HNIC again!

As a sportswriter who may be the only person on the planet to have covered more than 500 Stanley Cup playoff games and about 20 World Figure Skating Championships, I was watching because I knew virtually everybody involved in the Kevin Albrecht-Bezic inspired show.

But even moreso, I've been drawn to it by realizing the danger here. Chances of one of these unbelievably brave female skaters ending up on their heads unconscious like Marie-France Dubreuil did a dozen days ago when Stephane Richer dropped her, are high.

I mean we watched Tuffy Hough in enough serious skating accidents with partner Doug Ladret. And the poor girl ended up partnered with Tie Domi who couldn't skate as a hockey player (and went into Week Two as the only one left in the event still wearing hockey skates.)

Remarkably, two weeks into a seven-week event, the level of figure skating, particularly from Craig Simpson (with Jamie Sale) and Claude Lemieux (with Shae-Lynn Bourne) has been almost stunning.

The transition to figure skater hasn't worked as well for Bob Probert (first to be voted off the pond), Domi and the exceptionally game Ken Daneyko.

It's weird how this is working so far. Usually the eye of the spectator goes to the girl. I don't think that's happening here. Despite the sex appeal of Sale, Bourne, Dubreuil, Barbara Underhill, etc. (which was all first week guest judge Kelly Hrudey seemed to notice), the eyes of most have likely been on the men.

Plenty of eyes were on Glenn Anderson's skates when he was a victim of the toe picks on his figure skates and took an extended spill. He later ended up gonged on the Monday skate-off.

All eyes have been on Underhill's partner --Ron Duguay -- whose footwork in his hockey skates demonstrates the magnetism he had when he was the glamour guy of the New York Rangers. At 52, Duguay has been reborn as a middle-aged heartthrob.

You know when it comes to the voting, it's the figure skating fans who are dialing in, not the hockey fans. For that reason expect Sale & Simpson to be there at the end because they're already so slick and it's my belief that whoever ends up doing a successful side-by-side jump is likely going to triumph.

Even if we don't see one, Domi and Daneyko have no skating upside and Dubreuil and Bourne are ice dancers in a pairs event.

That's right, with 1.95 million and 1.562 million watching, you have to start analyzing this thing and taking it seriously. This could not happen in any other country.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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