French connection fuels Dubreuil, DandenaultDuo balances 'Battle of the Blades' with lives in Montreal
Three-time Stanley Cup champion Mathieu Dandenault had turned down previous offers to participate on Battle of the Blades, but when this season's request came with the prospect of partnering Marie-France Dubreuil, he signed on. They both have families and jobs in Montreal, so they've commuted home each week during the run of the series.
After doing choreography with Michael Seibert on Monday mornings -- with Dubreuil's husband and ice dance partner, Patrice Lauzon, participating -- they head back to Montreal in the afternoon.
"The rest of the week we train at our own skating school in the mornings," said Dubreuil, 39, whose daughter, Billie Rose, turns 3 in December. "From 9 (a.m.) to 12 (p.m.), I train with Mathieu. The kids come in at 12, and I coach from 12 to 4:30 or 5 (p.m.)."
Dandenault, 37, is a hockey analyst on a TV show in Montreal 2-3 nights a week. He's also an analyst for UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Beyond that, he plays for the Montreal Canadiens Alumni, but he won't get back into hockey skates until Battle of the Blades is done.
Midway through the season, they adjusted their travel schedule. Instead of returning to Toronto on Fridays, they now head back Thursday evenings, which gives them Friday to practice on studio ice and be fully prepared for Saturday's camera blocking and Sunday's show.
"Every Friday night, the whole cast goes out to dinner, and we go to a place where there's a DJ, and we all dance after," Dubreuil said. "Sometimes we practice our routines on the dance floor. My partner is 100 percent committed. He even does his choreography at the airport while we wait for a taxi."
"It's good laughs," Dandenault said. "The show has created a lot of good and fun friendships."
Despite a couple of times in the bottom two, Dubreuil and Dandenault have earned a spot in the final. They've performed a diverse range of programs, from "Walk Like an Egyptian" to music by Psy and Blue Rodeo and last Sunday's interpretation of Love Story.
Dubreuil said the Blue Rodeo number on Canadian songbook night was where the partnership truly meshed.
"He's always aware of where I am when he lifts me," she said. "I've been able to do lifts I never did with anybody else other than my husband."
Previous lifting experience with some circus performing gave Dandenault good instincts for lifts.
"The way he puts me down on the ice is always so controlled and soft," Dubreuil added.
Rotational lifts are not allowed on Battle, so they created an intricate lift where Dandenault rotated Dubreuil in the air by changing his hand position. They will reprise that lift in the final.
"We've developed a chemistry that's been working," said Dandenault, who credited Dubreuil and Lauzon with making him feel comfortable and confident. "It's been fun to try everything. It's been a special time, and I'm happy I went through it.
"She can do it all, which is pretty amazing," he added. "Then she has that quality that makes her who she is -- really being in character and showing all these emotions."
Dubreuil and Lauzon have a significant number of high-level students, including world and Olympic competitors, so she hadn't expected to perform again on such a huge stage. This opportunity has proved to be exhilarating.
Watching her train and perform with Dandenault has even motivated their students.
"It does nourish me in a big way. I'm a better coach when I come back after satisfying that part of myself," she said. "My skaters are then trying to be performers and not just competitors. ... They're learning a lot from watching the whole experience that close."
Dandenault has bought his daughter, Amélia, 8, some skates. She's skated on studio ice in Toronto a couple of times.
"It's been a cool ride and a nice father/daughter experience that we've had throughout this process," he said. "To have her sitting on the sidelines has been really cool."
The other couples in the final are Amanda Evora and Scott Thornton, and Violetta Afanasieva and Jason Strudwick. All the competitors get money for the charities of their choice. The winning team receives $100,000. Dubreuil's charity is the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Dandenault's is Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation. International voters can vote at www.cbc.ca/battle. The winners will be announced Nov. 17.