Hey--who wouldn't want to go for a skate at Maple Leaf Gardens? Press were invited to bring their skates today as CBC held an open house at what was once known as the Carleton Street Cash Box. The arena, built during the Great Depression, has been shut down for a decade, used only occasionally as a film set for features like Robin Williams‘ 2002 comedy "Death to Smoochy" and Ron Howard's boxing opus "Cinderella Man." CBC and Insight Productions reached a deal with current owners Loblaw properties to turn the place into a massive TV studio, home for the next eight weeks to Battle of the Blades. The hockey-meets-figure skating reality competition begins Sunday at 8 on CBC.
Here's one that is sure to test the expansiveness of the new Personal People Meter BBM Canada TV ratings. Battle of the Blades is a live event, a reality show and a sports-themed program--all seemingly viewer magnets in the month-old PPM universe. I had never laced 'em up at the Gardens, or if I did, it was so long ago I don't remember. It was cool to look up at the old gold, red, blue and grey sections. Most of the seats are missing on one side. There's no giant scoreboard over centre ice anymore, either.
Ron MacLean, who hosts BOTB with former men`s champion Kurt Browning, pointed out that the producers have tried to stay true to MLGs art deco roots, something not even late owner/despot Harold Ballard could blight.
Ex-Leaf Tie Domi was one of only two men in hockey skates today. He says he'll wear them for Sunday's opening "Arena Rock" competition, then try to switch back to the figure skates, although damn those picks. Domi is paired with Christine "Tuffy" Hough-Sweeney, a former World and Olympic pairs skater. The two were interviewed at today`s skate by Toronto Sun`s Joe Warmington who must have left his fedora at home as some sort of homage to Punch Imlach.
Former New York Ranger Ron Duguay--paired in the competition with former World Champion Barb Underhill--was the other hockey skate guy. He says yeah, he's heard Leafs radio analyst/banquet toastmaster Jim Ralph joke about him many times. It goes like this: "Did you know Duguay was a pretty tough customer when he broke into the NHL? In fact, his first season, he sent six people to the hospital--five to maternity."
Bob Probert, who, as a Black Hawk, scored the very last goal scored at MLG--Chicago beat the Leafs 1-0--says he's fallen a million times trying to get used to the pick skates. His partner is ice dancer Kristina Lenko.
There are eight pairs in all. The competitors were told not to spill the beans about what tune they would be skating to Sunday night, but that didn't stop trouble maker Claude Lemieux (paired with Shae-Lynn Bourne). "It would be bad to the bone if you didn't guess it," he said, cracking up Probert.
The eight pairs are all skating for charity, with a total of $250,000 up for grabs according to MacLean (the winning pair nets $100,000 for the charity of their choice). Who will win? Ex-Oiler Craig Simpson, now a Hockey Night in Canada analyst, may have an inside edge. Simpson, forced to retire due to a bad back at 28, is the youngest competitor although he's been out of hockey the longest. His partner, plucky Gold medalist Jamie Sale, said earlier this month at CBC's fall launch that she was amazed at Simpson's flexibility on the ice and that the pair plans to take full advantage. The two both live in Edmonton and have been working out there under the tutelage of Sale's partner, David Pelletier. All of the ex-NHLers are said to be taking this very seriously.
The pairs will be narrowed down via fan phone votes with the bottom pair doing a skate-off each week on the Monday night broadcast, with a winner declared Nov. 16. Three judges, sitting at a rinkside podium not unlike the set up on Dancing with the Stars, will determine which of the two bottom pairs get sent home every week. Famed skating coach and former Olympian Sandra Bezic and two-time Olympic men's champion and long-time commentator Dick Button will occupy two of the judging chairs each week with the third filled by a rotating series of guest judges, which one week will include Don Cherry. Beauty, eh?
Executive producer John Brunton pointed out today where in the reds he sat when his dad took him to see Muhammad Ali battle Canadian champ George Chuvallo. That mid '60s tilt was back when the Gardens rocked not just to hockey but to every big name act from The Beatles to Sinatra.
The ice and all the piping have been long gone at MLG, so Brunton had to have a new ice bed laid down with giant refrigeration units housed outside around the back. Neighbouring condo residents went nuts with the noise, so the producer flew up sound reduction experts from LA to minimize the racket.
The ice felt pretty good today and Domi figures it can only get better the more they skate on it. Tickets to the live tapings are available to the public and can be obtained here or at any Ticketmaster outlet or by calling 416-870-8000. You'll get dinged a $5 or $8 fee, depending where you sit, damn cheap compared to what the Leafs charge nowadays at the ACC. Audiences will be ushered in Sundays and Mondays at 6:30 p.m. The series premieres Sunday, Oct. 4 at 8/7c.
UPDATE: Follow this link to CP video from Tuesday's Gardens' press event as posted at Globe and Mail's web site.