'Battle' takes Dubé, Savage out of comfort zonesNHL player, world pairs bronze medalist both exploring new frontiers
It goes without saying that Battle of the Blades marks former NHL star Brian Savage's first figure skating performances under spotlights. In fact, it's also kind of a first for his partner, two-time Olympian and three-time Canadian pairs champion Jessica Dubé, who, outside of post-competition exhibitions, hasn't done much show skating.
"It's taking me out of my comfort zone -- maybe not as much as Brian, but it's something I have to adjust to," said Dubé, the 2008 world pairs bronze medalist with former partner Bryce Davison. "So far, I'm loving it. It's just what I needed at this point."
Savage, 42, who is also a Canadian Olympian, initially passed on doing the show, but when one of the show's producers told him about the charity component, he changed his mind.
"The second reason I'm doing it is two of my sons never saw me play in the NHL. This is an opportunity to show them the work ethic, the desire, the commitment that is needed to be successful, not only in sports, but in life," Savage said. "They've been watching me for the last four or five months train, get in shape, try something different, try something that I've never done before and succeed at it."
In his pro hockey career, Savage played forward, so he rarely skated backward. Not only has he had to master figure skates, but he's had to learn a basic element crucial in figure skating: bringing emotion and expression to his performances.
He credits Dubé's help for his improvement in this area.
"As hockey players, you have one face: game face," Savage said. "Here, you have all kinds of emotions."
Each week Battle of the Blades has a theme. So far, Dubé and Savage have skated to rock, suit and tie/dance classics, international beats and Canadian music, and have avoided landing in the bottom two despite some mistakes. They're working hard at learning a new routine each week.
"That is a big challenge for them, and I think it is for us, too, because we have to be so patient," Dubé, 25, said. "[In competition], we're skating for years with our partners.
"The thing that helped me is that the last year I skated, I had a new partner (Sébastien Wolfe), and I kind of had to do what I'm doing with Brian. So when I came here, I knew I would be able to do that."
Dubé said the show is helping her develop her performing skills. She's loving it and feeling herself becoming a new person.
Watching that transformation is a familiar face: Davison, who has joined the creative team as a coach.
"Having Bryce here working with us has been great for me because he and Jessica had so much success. He knows her body and how to pick her up and has been really helping me on ice and off ice," Savage said.
Coach Paul Martini has also been working with the duo, and Renée Roca is their choreographer.
While Savage and his family live in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the school year, they spend their summers in Sudbury, Ontario, where he grew up. It helps him stay close to his roots.
He's had a long-standing relationship with the charity he is representing, Ten Rainbows Children's Foundation/ Megan's Wings Foundation. Ten Rainbows supports underprivileged children, mostly in Ontario. Over the last 15 years, Savage has raised money for the foundation through his golf tournament. In 2005, he started the Megan's Wings portion in memory of his 9-year-old niece who died from leukemia in 2003.
Savage described himself as not a natural showman, but Dubé begged to differ.
"When it's showtime, he's stepping it up," she said.
"At the end of the day, it's satisfying to do something different and show something different to the crowd," he said. "It's changed a lot of people's perspectives, and mine, about the figure skating world."
For next week's theme -- "Great duos" -- they'll be performing to the theme from Top Gun.