Former NHL players Theo Fleury and Russ Courtnall have signed on for the second season of the popular figure skating-hockey reality TV show Battle of the Blades.
And two days ago, Olympic pair skater Anabelle Langlois joined the cast, too.
Langlois, who just retired from competitive pair skating, wasn't expecting a cast call and was preparing to go to university this fall. "I put off university for eight years,'' said the 29-year-old Langlois. "It's why I retired.''
That is, until Battle of the Blades chief Sandra Bezic called on Tuesday, warning her that if she signed up, there would be no time for schooling during the new season, which is 2 ½ hours longer than last season.
Bezic's call came only four days after Langlois retired. Langlois is a perfect candidate for Battle of the Blades. She's still fit from the Olympic and world competitive wars, and is as fearless and gritty as they come.
It was an offer Langlois couldn't refuse. She has two years of debts to pay back. When she broke her ankle and missed a season of skating the year before last, Langlois had to give up her job as a waitress at Jack Astor's in Barrie, Ont., where she trains.
After the Olympics, Langlois asked for her waitress job back. She was told, tongue in cheek, that the restaurant would accept only former blond skaters who had been to the Olympics.
The cast also includes Shae-Lynn Bourne and Christine Hough-Sweeney. There will be some new faces among the female skaters, but executive producer John Brunton isn't revealing names yet.
"The Russians are coming," one source said.
The show will start with eight teams, but hasn't signed all of the hockey players yet. Brunton said they are waiting for some players who may decide to hang up their gear next season.
Fleury, 41, is known for alleging sexual abuse at the hands of former coach Graham James. Courtnall, who retired more than 10 years ago, is known for his ability to skate fast.
Courtnall, who lives in Los Angeles, was unaware of the program last year, until about the third show, when he said began to receive a flood of emails from his hockey peers. He still hasn't seen any of last year's shows, but the tipping point was advice from an icon: Wayne Gretzky told him "hands down,'' Courtnall had to do the show.
"I got the blessing of the Great One," Courtnall said.
"We're so excited," said Brunton, who has produced many skating shows and who as a boy took skating lessons from Hall of Fame coach Sheldon Galbraith, coach of Barbara Ann Scott and many others.
"Last year was such a white-knuckle ride. We really didn't know what was going to happen," Brunton said. "It had all the makings of a hit TV show, but you never know how competitive people are going to be. I was blown away by just how incredibly competitive they all were, the girls and the guys."
This year will be different. "We're coming into this season with a bunch of curve balls,'' Brunton said.
The format will be different. The show is currently auditioning for a new judge on the panel. There will be a major twist in mid-series. There will be more emphasis on choreography, perhaps with guest choreographers from other genres.
The boot camp, which gets competitors fit and able to do the show, will be longer and more intense, as producers will expect more from the teams this year.
And the concept is heading for other countries. Sweden and Finland are close to signing deals to have their own versions of Battle of the Blades and talks are going on in the United States, Russia and the Czech Republic, countries with a tradition in hockey.
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