Recapping S6 ‘Battle of the Blades’ first episode

Double the women’s hockey players to watch, when you include a judge

Welcome, fellow fans of women’s hockey, to another digression into the land of women’s hockey players in figure skates. Yes, “Battle of the Blades” has returned to CBC for another season in this strange time of “bubble tournaments” and “Zoom parties” and, having weathered a brief postponement, they’re going to do their best.

This season includes three women’s hockey players as contestants, the first time that the show has had so many: Olympic medalist Meghan Agosta of Team Canada and a Clarkson Cup champion in the CWHL; Olympic medalist Jennifer Botterill of Team Canada and a CWHL All-Star; and Jessica Campbell, a CWHL All-Star and Clarkson Cup champion.

The reality of the coronavirus pandemic means the show looks a little different this season — “Season Six Feet,” as new co-host Keshia Chanté told stalwart host Ron MacLean. (That’s two meters in Canadian.) Rather than a live audience, there are video screens showing households around Canada. And there will be no guest judges, which means we get to hear Natalie Spooner’s thoughts on this crop of contestants all season long. The Team Canada Olympian, who was runner-up in the previous season of BotB, joins Olympic gold medalist Scott Moir and skater–choreographer Elladj Baldé on the judging panel. Kurt Browning is still there in a new role, with the title “Elite Battle Expert.”

But we’re really here to see hockey players struggle with toe picks, right? Let’s get to it.

The performances

Agosta and her partner Andrew Poje skated to “Flying on My Own” by Celine Dion. (You might recall that Poje was Spooner’s partner last season, so he may be on a bit of a revenge tour this time around.)

In a costume that was clearly inspired by Dion’s glamorous style, Agosta displayed a deep commitment to getting everything right. But she appeared somewhat uncomfortable with the flowing, graceful movements that are generally expected of figure skaters. The routine was smooth and lyrical — with several modest lifts and spins, and one impressive move that Spooner referred to as a “reverse fruit roll-up” — but I don’t feel like the choreography suited Agosta’s strength as a speedy skater.

As Moir noted, “I think you have a really strong base, but there’s a bit of a disconnect between your lower body and your upper body.”

Agosta and Poje earned a combined 15.7 from the judges. (And though there was plenty of discussion about her day job with the Vancouver Police Department, I did not hear a single “Constable Agosta” in the episode.)

Campbell and Asher Hill performed to “Purple Hat” by Sofi Tukker — and I do mean performed. In a crop top and high ponytail, Campbell twirled her hair and struck sassy poses and vogued her way through the hip-hop-inspired routine, which included a variety of lifts, some tricky footwork, and even a sequence of simple side-by-side jumps.

(One note, for the sake of accuracy: Hill apparently made a change to his charity and is competing on behalf of FreedomSchool Toronto this season.)

Baldé said the intricate routine was “incredibly executed”; Spooner appreciated Campbell’s edgework and fashion choices.

Campbell and Hill earned a combined 16.4 from the judges.

Botterill, with partner Eric Radford, skated to “Sparrow” by Emeli Sande.

Botterill, who is slim and lean and close to Radford’s height, matched well with him in the dance-heavy program. She exuded poise with every glide and extension. The routine was modest, but the pair was deeply in sync.

Moir was impressed with Botterill’s seemingly effortless ease on her new figure skates: “The relationship that your blades have with the ice is something it takes years to get.”

Spooner was similarly wowed by the pair’s smoothness and also a bit starry-eyed, noting that Botterill was a personal hero who had inspired her own hockey dreams.

Botterill and Radford earned a combined 16.1 from the judges. Radford was Amanda Kessel’s partner last season — here’s hoping he lasts longer this time around.

The results

Based on the judges’ scores, Campbell and Hill were in first place among the eight pairs, Botterill and Radford were in fourth place, and Agosta and Poje came in seventh.

Next week we’ll find out what viewers across Canada thought, and we’ll see who’ll be first to face “the dreaded skate-off.”