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Hough-Sweeney returns to the spotlight

Showing her moves on Battle of the Blades

Christine Hough-Sweeney with <i>Battle of the Blades</i> partner, Tie Domi.
Christine Hough-Sweeney with Battle of the Blades partner, Tie Domi. (courtesy of CBC)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/15/2009) - One day about six months ago Christine Hough-Sweeney was at a Target store near her home in Boston picking up some things for her sons. Her cell phone rang and she saw the call was coming from the 416 area code -- Toronto. Although she was trying to get her shopping done she decided to answer. When the caller turned out to be Sandra Bezic, Hough-Sweeney was a bit taken aback.

"I was like, 'What are you calling for?'" says Hough-Sweeney, who competed at two Olympic Winter Games and five world championships with former pairs partner Doug Ladret. They won the Canadian title in 1988. The duo toured for four years with Stars on Ice (Bezic was the show's director), but Hough-Sweeney had not performed in 13 years.

"Sandra talked about this idea and she said, 'What do you think? Would you be on board?' I said, 'Yes Sandra, I want to do it!' Then I said, 'I have to ask my family,'" Hough-Sweeney says.

The idea was the TV show Battle of the Blades, which pairs female skaters with hockey players in a weekly competition format. It's currently airing live on CBC on Sunday evenings and each Monday one couple is eliminated. Viewers in Canada vote by phone, Internet and text. She's skating with Tie Domi, who in his 16-year NHL career was known as a notorious "enforcer."

Thankfully, Hough-Sweeney has a bit of experience in dealing with hockey players. She's been married to former NHL player Don Sweeney, now assistant general manager of the Boston Bruins, for 13 years. They have twin sons, Jarrod and Tyler, 10.

"Hockey players are competitive and they don't want to look bad," says Hough-Sweeney. "They're really strong. What they're like on the ice is never what they're like off the ice. They can be animals out there, but they're not like that as people. As you can see with every one of the guys who's in this. I'm skating with the one who could snap and fight at any minute. He's a complete gentleman. All of them are.

"My husband is the most competitive and driven man," she adds. "But believe me there's a nurturing side and a loving side that obviously you don't see on the ice, but you see at home."

Sweeney and their sons were in the front row for the first show, where Hough-Sweeney and Domi skated to "Satisfaction." It was the first time her sons had seen her skate live.

"I've always been a mom. They didn't even know I skated much," she says. "They know I teach. They've seen me teach, but never perform. They were funny. 'Wow, Mom, you look hot.'"

She and Ladret skated some very cool rock numbers in their day, so week one was easy. The theme for week two, Sinatra music, was a little harder. This week's theme is Latin music, which has her a bit intimidated, but giving it her best. After this interview she headed out for a dance lesson.

The first show Hough-Sweeney was admittedly nervous, but having Ladret rinkside helped. He's been serving as one of the coaches for she and Domi, along with David Wilson, Paul Martini and Sean Rice.

"Once everything started, it felt fantastic," she says. "I just love being back out there performing. And being with my girlfriends. It's such a challenge to come back and do something I love, but at the same time I'm learning too."

While most of the guys have made the transition from hockey skates to figure skates, Domi has preferred to stay on hockey skates. Hough-Sweeney says she's okay with that.

"For me, it's about joining the disciplines of hockey and figure skating," she says. "I don't mind him in them. Obviously, there are a couple of limitations, but we're doing another overhead lift this week. So far, he's been able to get his head around what we need to do even if he is in hockey skates. As long as he's comfortable, I feel good." She says he is a natural showman.

She turned 40 last week, and fellow cast members threw her a surprise birthday party. At dinner, they went around the table and everyone said something about her. Shae-Lynn Bourne spoke about how much watching Hough-Sweeney made her want to pair skate, which she did before switching to ice dancing and teaming up with Victor Kraatz.

"I don't have Olympic titles, but if I made an impact on anybody, even as a pro and being seen, that's a huge compliment," Hough-Sweeney says.

All the teams have charities they represent. Hough-Sweeney and Domi have selected the Diabetes Hope Foundation because Domi's son is diabetic.

Hough-Sweeney is enjoying her time back in Canada and is incredibly touched by the warm reception she's received. She doesn't know how long she and Domi will last in the competition, but she loves every minute.

"We're trying hard, but you never know. It's what Canada wants," she says. "It's nice that everybody's been really supportive of me being back out there. We'll do our very best."