Over his 14-year NHL career, Brian Savage used his skating ability to weave in and out of defenders with grace. But on season four of CBC's “Battle of the Blades,” he's had to scrap his hockey knowledge and start from the beginning ... as a figure skater.
“It's been great,” Savage told Northern Life. “It has been more than I expected and a lot harder than I expected, but it has been an unbelievable experience so far.
“You have to learn to skate on these blades — they are totally different than in hockey.”
The toughest part to pick up so far, Savage said, was stability.
“It's a different balance. You are so far back on your heels, because the blades are so much longer,” he explained. “In hockey, you are leaning forward when you are skating, but in this, you are skating more in the middle of your foot.
“There were tons of times where I hit the toe pick and went face first on the ice. You think you have it and the next thing you know you are down.”
This gave Savage a new appreciation for the sport.
“When I skated with the Sudbury Figure Skating Club the last part of July, I'm out there with five-year-olds and 15-year-olds and they are kicking my butt all over the place,” Savage said. “Then I went down to Arizona to skate for a couple weeks. I was skating with someone who was trying to make the Olympics and he is doing quads and triples like they are nothing, and I'm there just trying to stand up on my feet.”
In hockey, players are constantly watching game film, so when Savage took the challenge of the show he looked to past contestants for pointers.
“I started watching past episodes and Claude Lemieux was unbelievable,” Savage said. “Cale Hulse was by me in Scottsdale (Arizona) so I watched him, and Brad May is a good friend. So I watched these guys, and called them up and said, 'How the heck did you get so good?' Basically, their response was, 'Whatever you learnt in the past 35 years of hockey, just leave it at the door.' ”
Now that he has the hang of the new skates, Savage sees there are other sides to figure skating.
“It's getting the artistic side of it down,” he said. “As a hockey player, you have one face — a game face,” said Savage. “(In figure skating), you have to be smiling — you have to be posing (and) all this other stuff that is not in my repertoire.”
On top of it all, he has to be in sync with his partner, two-time Olympian and three-time national champion, Jessica Dubé.
“Jessica is a jumper,” Savage said. “There are different kinds of skaters — jumpers, dancers, and acrobats. So I have been throwing her and she does these double spins in the air.
“The lift over the head is pretty tough, too.”
Savage has played on some of the biggest stages in the NHL, but “Battle of the Blades” is a whole new kind of performance, he said.
“You just kind of don't want to screw up,” Savage said. “But it's great, it's out of my comfort zone, and I'm learning something new and showing the kids what dad's all about.”
You can catch Savage every Sunday night at 8 p.m., with the first performance Sept. 29 on CBC. Vote for him by heading to CBC.ca/battle/voting.
You can also show your support by heading to their Facebook page “Team Savage-Dubé for Battle of the Blades.”
-- Nick Liard is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.