First, it was falling in the mud and bouncing across giant red balls on Wipeout Canada. Now, National Women’s Team defenceman Tessa Bonhomme is donning figure skates for “Battle of the Blades.”
Bonhomme, who won Olympic gold with the Canadian team in 2010, will be the first female hockey player on the CBC-TV series. The show, which opens its third season Sept. 18, pairs up hockey players with figure skaters.
To this point, it's been former NHL players skating with female figure skaters. But Bonhomme's partner will be David Pelletier, who won Olympic gold in pairs with Jamie Sale in 2002 and has served as a coach and choreographer on the show.
“I just love a new challenge and I have fun doing wacky things,” Bonhomme said Monday from Finland, where the Canadian women's hockey team is participating in an international tournament.
Bonhomme skates her first performance on “Battle of the Blades” in late September. The show will be broadcast from the MasterCard Centre in Toronto.
Unlike the male hockey players, the 26-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., will have to trade in her shoulder pads for a figure skating dress. Bonhomme doesn't yet know what her first outfit looks like, but she's prepared for sequins.
“I talked to a couple of the girls who are skating on the show. One of the girls asked 'Have you ever skated wearing basically nothing?”' Bonhomme said.
“I've made a deal with myself when I get my dress, I'm going to take my dress home, walk up and down Spadina and get all the looks and wear it to hockey practice and get all the chirps and everything over with so that come show time, I'm quite comfortable with what I'm wearing.”
The lineup of hockey players participating in Season 3 also includes former Toronto Maple Leaf Bryan Berard, Brad May, who won a Stanley Cup ring with the 2008 Anaheim Ducks, and Boyd Devereaux, who won the Cup with Detroit in 2002.
Bruiser Wade Belak, who played for five different NHL clubs, Colorado Avalanche defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn and ex-Calgary Flame Cale Hulse round out the hockey players.
In addition to Pelletier, the figure skating contingent includes Russian Elena Berezhnaya and Canadian-born ice dance champ Tanith Belbin. Returning to the “Battle” are Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Anabelle Langlois, as well as Russian skater Violetta Afanasieva.
The winning skaters get $100,000 for the charity of their choice.
Bonhomme also earned an appearance on Wipeout Canada's athletes' edition last year. It aired April 24, which was the day before Canada lost in overtime to the U.S. in this year's IIHF World Women’s Championship gold medal game.
Bonhomme just missed making the final group on Wipeout Canada, in which participants run a giant obstacle course.
“Battle of the Blades” producers initially asked one of Bonhomme's Canadian hockey teammates to be on the show. That player, whom Bonhomme declined to identify, didn't accept the invitation.
With Wipeout Canada under her belt, Bonhomme was ready for another reality TV challenge.
At five-foot-seven and 140 pounds, Bonhomme isn't a behemoth, but she's bigger than the typical female in pairs figure skating.
She must stay muscular for her upcoming season with her Toronto team in the Canadian Women's Hockey League, as well as for her stints with the national team this winter. She can't afford to de-bulk in order to be lighter for figure skating.
“I would never think of even doing that because of my hockey career,” she said. “There's no way I could do that mid-season. Hockey is my number one job and always will be.
“I was worried they'd be able to find someone who is able to lift me, but David is so powerful and strong and good at what he does, he just makes it look so easy.”
Pelletier expects to constantly be asked about lifting Bonhomme in the air, but he says it's not an issue.
“It's the least of my worries to be able to lift her,” he said from Edmonton. “There's the matter of a girl being strong. I would rather lift a heavy table than a soft mattress and I'm not comparing her to a table.
“But she is an athlete and trains extremely hard. She has this body awareness that only athletes have, so once she up there and somebody tells her to squeeze something, she knows what to do.”
In order to look graceful on the ice, Bonhomme is drawing on her years of ballet between the age of four and 11, as well as taking advice from friends who own dance studios.
“It's all about getting used to looking at yourself in the mirror and practising,” she said.
The men typically arrive on set and struggle skating on blades with toe picks. In that, Bonhomme shares their pain. She can't recall ever wearing figure skates in her life until she started training for the TV show in mid-July.
“When you do catch a toe-pick, you are down before you even know you are falling,” she said.
One of the reasons Bonhomme made the 2010 Olympic team roster was because of her fluid skating, forwards and backwards. Pelletier believes those skills will help her on the show.
“The first time I took her hand and skated around, one thing I noticed she has great rhythm when she skates,” he recalled. “In figure skating, we say it's important 'to have knees.' I was extremely impressed by how well she adopted the figure skating blade.”
Bonhomme kept up a punishing schedule thought the month of August. She had figure skating skills with other skaters on the show in the morning, followed by hockey training in the afternoon and then back to the rink for figure skating in the evening.
She vows she won't hesitate to take a day off from the TV show if fatigue or illness sets in. Bonhomme added she didn't think she would enjoy figure skating as much as she has.
“Wipeout was a TV show I'd seen and I always said 'if I ever get the chance to do that, there's no way I'm ever letting that pass by' and I did it,” Bonhomme says. “When this show came on, I thought 'You know what? Why not?'
“This is a great way to get the word out there about how we female hockey players are training, what diverse skaters we are nowadays and just basically promote out sport coming out of Vancouver and promote our CWHL league even.”
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