Sale and Simpson win "Battle of the Blades"

Edmonton duo earn $100,000 for their charity

Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale won CBC's "Battle of the Blades."
Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale won CBC's "Battle of the Blades." (courtesy of CBC)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(11/19/2009) - Craig Simpson calls himself a private person who prior to two months ago only shared his gregarious side with family and friends. Now all of Canada -- not to mention others worldwide with access to YouTube -- have seen the former NHL star turned commentator smile, dance and show off on ice.

"It's not something that I do naturally in front of the public," said Simpson, who along with partner Jamie Salé was named the winner of CBC's Battle of the Blades this past Monday. "That first week, I think I took the mentality I did as a player and just focused on my job. That first routine we did, I don't think I even looked into the crowd once.

"I realized afterwards that you really need to engage other people and you need to be able to bring them into the performance. That's fortunately what I was able to do as the weeks went along."

Salé said what's all the more impressive is that Simpson did it while in pain. About halfway through the seven-week competition, Simpson had back spasms. Heading into the final night of competition on Sunday, he was having pain and weakness in his groin, glutes and hamstrings.

"It was a challenge for us to keep him healthy," said Salé, who was coached by her partner/husband David Pelletier. Renée Roca did the choreography. "You're teaching these guys to do new tricks in three days." Lunges, which are second nature to figure skaters, caused all of the hockey players pain.

Simpson still told Salé he didn't want to hold back on their final program, telling her to put in "everything but the kitchen sink." She was nervous on Sunday night, but mostly because she wanted Simpson to "come away proud." When they pulled off a great skate, the team of four shared a quiet celebration.

"We had a great moment down in the depths of Maple Leaf Gardens. Renée, David, Jamie and I shared that," Simpson said. "To me, Monday's win was all about winning money for our charity."

As the triumphant team, a donation of $100,000 was made to Salé and Simpson's charity, the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Center (Northern Alberta) Society. Simpson has been raising money for SCITCS for 21 years and his organization, Craig Simpson and Friends Charity Fund, has committed to raise $500,000 towards endowment of a research chair in spinal cord injury at the University of Alberta.

"That will bring in a top researcher who will continue to work for years and years to come," he said. "Another $100,000 from winning this will go a long way to pushing us that much closer to the goal."

Finishing in second place were Shae-Lynn Bourne and Claude Lemieux and third place went to Marie-France Dubreuil and Stéphane Richer. Each team received $25,000 for their charities. Bourne and Lemieux chose Make-A-Wish Canada and Dubreuil and Richer went with the MA Foundation.

Since giving birth to son Jesse in 2007, Salé and Pelletier have been very selective in terms of accepting jobs. Battle of the Blades was a huge commitment and Salé said Simpson's good humor and positive attitude kept her motivated.

"This could have been a 'Gong Show' and a terrible experience," Salé said. "We were super happy that we got a guy like Craig. He was willing to try anything. He was very trusting of Renée. He's very charismatic. Craig's personality just radiated through the television."

She offered praise to all eight hockey players who participated, saying they all were willing to learn. "These guys are all strong. We know that. It wasn't about strength. It was about technique," she noted.

"Ultimately, these hockey players have made a lot of little boys that are interested in figure skating or that already are figure skating feel a lot better about being in the sport."

"It was a really amazing experience," Simpson said. While he'd encourage fellow hockey players to consider doing the show if it's repeated next year (a distinct possibility given the good ratings and enthusiastic response), he does caution them to be prepared for the grueling work.

"I couldn't have asked for a better personality that matches with mine than Jamie," he added. "Couldn't ask for a person that was more dedicated, friendly and motivated every day."

The battle done, Simpson heads back to his commentary duties. Pelletier is off to Kitchener for Skate Canada to do TV work. Salé headed home to Edmonton to snuggle with Jesse and reintroduce herself to their new dog. As soon as Pelletier returns, they'll get on the ice and choreograph numbers for various holiday shows. "No rest for the weary," she said.