This year, international audiences will be able to watch each episode on the CBC website the day after they air, and fans from around the globe will be able to vote as well.
Vanessa James and her “Battle of the Blades” partner Brian McGrattan are putting the final touches to the program they will debut in the show′s premiere, which airs live on Canada′s CBC network and online on CBC Gem, Thurs., Sept. 19 at 8:00 p.m. (EST).
McGrattan, a former National Hockey League (NHL) player with the Calgary Flames retired from the sport two years ago. After watching his good friend Kelly Chase compete on season 2 with partner Kyoko Ina, McGrattan said he was intrigued.
“Kelly called me at the beginning of August and said, ‘I put your name in for ‘Battle of the Blades.’ They might reach out to you in the next week or so’ – and they did. I did not know what to expect, but everything has been first class. It has been great. The people you are surrounded by daily are amazing.”
Though he was not a fan of figure skating in the past, McGrattan watched it when it was on at the Olympics and also the World Championships. However, prior to being partnered with James, he did not know who she was or what she had accomplished in her career. “It wasn’t until I met her that I realized she is pretty awesome,” he said with a laugh.
James was impressed with her partner from the first day. “He has reliable basic skills. He has good instincts. Like Morgan (Ciprès, her competitive partner), he has natural strength and he is very athletic so I think we mesh really well,” she said. “If I had to pick a partner out of the hockey guys it would be Brian because it is so similar to skating with Morgan.”
Mastering not tripping over the toe pick has been a challenge for all the hockey players and McGrattan, who is 6 foot 4 inches tall, admits he has had “some epic bails. It is always like…they are not every day. I will have two or three days of clean runs and then bang. It’s a long way down and it’s quick.
“I would say the toe pick is the biggest difference between hockey and figure skates, but also learning the dynamic of how they skate, how they use their bodies and their edges, and putting all that together…it has come. It is a process, so as the weeks have passed, I have felt more comfortable every day.”
James said the first time McGrattan lifted her at boot camp “he just dead lifted me. There was no hesitation. It was sheer strength and I was like ‘how the hell is he doing this right now?’ So I thought. if he is able to do that with some speed and timing it is going to be easy for him – which it is now. I wasn’t scared at all.”
Choreography has been another challenge but McGrattan now feels that it is also starting to come naturally. “I was talking to our choreographer Michael (Siebert) about this. At first it was like, oh my God I don’t know if I am going to be able to do this. But, you kind of do it piece by piece and walk through it and now it is starting to come naturally.”
When it comes to the pairs elements, McGrattan said that once he got the timing down those also came naturally. “We now do them everyday, but it was tricky at first.”
McGrattan expects more friends and family will be in the audience to watch him compete on this show than ever came to watch him play hockey. His charity is the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society.
Though they plan to skate conservatively in week 1 that will not be the case in the weeks ahead. As the competition heats up, James and her partner have a few technical surprises planned for audiences and the judges. “We are already ahead of the game. No show stuff for us,” she said.
NO GRAND PRIXS FOR JAMES/CIPRÈS
James and Ciprès will not be competing on the Grand Prix or Challenger circuits this season.. The French pairs team will take off most of the remainder of 2019 to catch their breath after two back-to-back grinding seasons. They will open their season at French nationals followed by Europeans.
“We decided that we would continue until the 2022 Olympics, which is now not the case because 2022 Worlds are going to be in Montpelier, France. We decided that would be the best time to end our career, in front of a home crowd – we could not ask for a better opportunity or timing. We have a lot of opportunities this year – like this one – to gain experience and if we want to be the best in 2022 there are a lot of things we need to work on. It is not just about winning every competition.
“Last season we had the Grand Prix Final for the first time, Worlds and the World Team Trophy…the Olympics the year before. It was a long stretch and we don’t have enough time each year doing enough full long program run-throughs, and if we want to win in 2022, we need to make some changes. We have been doing it little by little each season, but this year we want to fine tune all those little things, the imperfections, so this is going to give us the opportunity to really work on that.
“Instead of working on things a little bit, then having a competition, we are trying to be strategic now. We have never been strategic in our seasons before. Other people have taken off part of a season but we have done every single competition for nine years. The goal is to win Olympics and Worlds in 2022, so that was basically our decision. “
James spoke to French ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron, who, with partner Gabriella Papadakis sat out most of the first half of last season. “Guillaume said it did him so much good. He felt that his body could rest and he was re-energized and he needed it. So he said, ‘do what your body is telling you.’”