Defenseman Sheldon Souray is most at ease confronting scoring machines like Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar or firing his booming slapshot at opposing NHL goaltenders.
So it’s rare to get him off his game the way he became distracted when he attended at a party in Malibu during WWE SummerSlam in 2009 with hockey pal Chris Chelios and musician Kid Rock.
The fun-loving hockey player was halted in his tracks when he saw, then briefly met, Barbie Blank—a.k.a. Kelly Kelly—the statuesque pro wrestling star. Athlete-to-athlete, there was immediate common ground. Only later would they discover the level of their mutual attraction.
“It was more of a chance meeting than anything,’’ says the 6-foot-4 blueliner who plays for the Anaheim Ducks. “Before I even knew what Barbie did, I remember seeing her and having my breath taken away. And then to find out what she did and who she was as a person became more amazing for me each day. I didn’t realize until we started dating how wildly successful and popular she was.”
The pairing of skilled hockey player and accomplished wrestler has become a life-changer for the 37-year-old Souray, a native of Elk Point, Alberta, who started his NHL career with the New Jersey Devils in 1997-98 before playing for Montreal, Edmonton and Dallas. He loves life at the beach, sharing summers and days between games with Blank, who retired last year from the pro wrestling circuit to focus on modeling and acting.
For Blank, there’s been learning curve since she’s become a hockey fan only in recent years. Certainly she deserves high grades for doing her homework on Souray’s pugilistic side.
“My mom told me to ‘YouTube’ his fights,’’ she says laughing. “That’s so sweet, right? When I started coming to Shelly’s games, it was amazing and crazy to see him come alive in his element. I was always standing up and yelling. The rest of the wives and girlfriends didn’t know what to make of me.”
Now hooked on hockey and eager to cheer for Souray’s ice exploits, Blank says mutual support has always been a linchpin of their sporting relationship.
“He was the same with my career, right there in the front row,’’ she says. “We bonded over cheering each other on. We took our time about two years from when we met before we started dating. But when we met, we knew we belonged together.”
The chance to jointly participate in a joint shoot for Athletes Quarterly was a welcome challenge, though Souray readily admits he felt in need of expert guidance. Blank is familiar with hours before a camera since he’s graced Maxim’s cover and regularly does swimsuit calendar.
“I’ve never done anything like it and I’m much less comfortable in front of the camera than Barbie,’’ Souray says. “It was key to have a really good partner. There aren’t any clothes that could have made me look as good as she did.”
To Blank, her favorite defenseman—who scored a career-best 26 goals for Montreal in 2006-07 and is no shrinking violet with 1,145 career penalty minutes—was a natural as cameras whirred.
“I’m really glad we did this together, it was a blast,’’ she says. “We played off each other and we could be ourselves in front of the camera. It was very comfortable.”
Souray becomes almost spiritual when talking of the arc of his athletic life. He admits to thoroughly enjoying the New York nightlife in his early years and how meaningful it was to skate for the legendary Canadiens and his hometown Oilers. Now he regards the opportunity to play in Southern California as a blessing.
“Every stop of my career had its moments and I’m appreciative for all of them, for all the people I met and all the places I’ve been,’’ he says. “And to be here now with the Ducks, where the lifestyle is so agreeable, is really great.”
Playoff success has eluded the three-time All-Star but that could change with the Ducks, a Pacific Division powerhouse thanks to top scorers Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, plus the stellar goaltending of Jonas Hiller.
“Every kid who grows up in Canada wants to play hockey. So from where I started, if I had played one NHL game, that would have been a success,’’ he says. “My family gave me the opportunity, that’s not lost on me. I owe them everything.”
Not to mention a few valuable lessons from Blank that may help Souray as he battles younger and scrappier opponents.
“I try to wrestle him all the time, but he always comes up with something in return,” she laughs. “So I taught him a few moves and I hope they’ll help him on the ice!”
Souray says the hard work on and off the ice never ceases but when hockey’s not on his daily agenda, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the good life he has with the former WWE Divas Champion.
“The fun meter has always been at ‘full’ for me,’’ he admits. “But the bottom line is that I’ve never been in a more happy, safe and comfortable place than I am right now.”