Battle of Blades a real victory

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

The Gardens hadn't seen that kind of celebration for a victory on ice since 1967.

People were on their feet cheering while fans shed tears of joy.

On the ice, former NHLer and Stanley Cup winner Craig Simpson and his partner -- 2002 Olympic Gold medallist Jamie Sale -- skated a victory lap around the Gardens ice with the Battle of the Blades trophy.

Finally, a championship celebration at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The place was electric. Even had scalpers outside.

"For me this was like winning my first national championship," Sale said of the excitement. "This is a really big deal for me."

Simpson, who battled injuries throughout the seven weeks, said it was a "different kind of journey" than winning a Stanley Cup -- but "equally as rewarding."

However, this was so much more than winning a reality-show competition. What got captured here was a piece of Canadiana.

Battle of the Blades not only captured a country's imagination but also bottled something so special and sometimes elusive.

This was a show and competition for Canadians by Canadians.

Nothing wrong with other successful reality and performance shows, but a lot of those ideas were originally British or American gems.

This time it'll be the other way around.

Countries all over the world want a piece of the ice. Battle of the Blades will be tried in Russia, the United States and Scandinavia.

Some scoffed at first. But nobody was scoffing last night, as the show brought in almost 2 million viewers in the final two episodes and attracted in the range of 1.6 million and 1.7 million people on Sunday nights throughout its run.

However skating fans in Toronto with cable service from Rogers were met only with a black TV screen when they tuned in at 8 p.m. last night. A signal problem prevented the show from being aired until an hour later than scheduled.

But the numbers don't lie.

The show just worked: From Bryan Adams' There Will Never Be Another Tonight theme song, to Ron MacLean and Kurt Browning on the mike, to Dick Button, to the weekly mystery guest judge. It also raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities.

STAR-STRUCK

And to think it all came about while legendary figure skating choreographer Sandra Bezic and her life partner, Kevin Albrecht, a producer and sports manager, were at home one night almost three years ago watching Dancing with the Stars.

"We knew something had to happen here in Canada," Bezic said. "And Kevin started thinking of how to do it."

Out of that came the idea of melding the figure skaters and hockey players.

The first person they took it to was John Brunton of Insight Productions and Canadian Idol fame, who loved the idea and was on board right away.

Then in came the CBC and suddenly things started to happen.

The first to sign on were Maple Leafs legend Tie Domi and fellow NHL tough guy Bob Probert.

They still had a long way to go.

And then came Sale and former World champion Shae-Lynn Bourne, followed pretty well by the whole Canadian figure skating world, which embraced the idea.

Soon after, you had Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Craig Simpson, Ken Danyeko, Glenn Anderson, Ron Duguay -- none of whom had ever been on figure skates.

"The former players were the real wild card in this," Brunton said. "We really didn't know how this was going to work out and if they could really do this. They put in so much effort."

The women, who also included Isabelle Brassiere, Jodeyne Higgins, Christine Hough-Sweeney, Barbara Underhill, Kristina Lenko and Marie-France Dubreuil, also stepped up in a very big way by not only working with men who had never performed before but also by patiently and bravely mentoring them -- all at their own risk.

"It turned out even better than I expected," Albrecht said. "I know I had buddies from across the country calling and saying they would watch just so they could tell me they did but ended up watching every show from start to finish."

And it gave Torontonians born after 1967 a chance to experience an on-ice victory celebration.

JOE.WARMINGTON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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