Northern Lights #25: Canadians on the Horizon

2013-0107-1A new year has begun and once again, I'm not sure where the time has gone in the past month. I was able to spend some time relaxing with my family over Christmas, and I hope that everyone enjoyed lovely holidays. Even the athletes heading to Canadians—I hope you had a day or two of rest in between double run-throughs! I'm belated with my Challenge recap, because I had planned to link to the Skatebuzz archive of each performance, and I never thought I had time to seek out all of those links. Well as it turns out, the Skatebuzz archives can't be linked to, even for someone who is logged in at the time, so I'm finally sitting down to write this and kind of turning it into a Canadians preview at the same time.

Small Senior Field Slated for Mississauga 
I think it's unfortunate that the senior roster at Canadians this year is so small. Only 9 teams?! I don't think the field has been that small since 2000. It's hard to believe when Canadians have been so strong in dance lately. But I suppose it reflects the way that the assignments fall. With room and budget enough to send only the top 5-7 teams out on the international circuit, it's hard to expect the teams who fall below that to keep plugging along in a very expensive sport once they have university and other pursuits on their plates as well. At any rate, best of luck to the nine teams that are entered, and I look forward to each and every one of the 18 dances.

Of course, we all expect that Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir will easily capture their fifth national title. They won the silver medal at the Grand Prix Final, and as they are always aiming to be the top team in the world, not simply among the top two, I look forward to seeing them fighting hard in Mississauga, perhaps with some tweaks to their programs and even more attention paid to their short dance.

With Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje sidelined (more on that below), the medal race should be quite exciting. I think that Kaitlyn & Andrew will be named to the World team, pending the outcome of Kaitlyn's recovery, so for now, I think that only one Worlds spot is up for grabs, although the first alternate should certainly keep training hard. Last year's bronze medalists, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, can be considered frontrunners for the silver medal and the trip to London, but I think that several other teams could mount serious challenges. Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam (pictured, above) are hungry after missing the Grand Prix circuit this year—their best chance to qualify for the Grand Prix next year is to make it to Four Continents and knock it out of the park in Japan. Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams matched Gilles & Poirier's best finish on the Grand Prix circuit, fourth place, albeit with a lower score. They are consistent and well-trained, and have had a goal all season of making the national team. Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, last year's fourth-place finishers, seem to have lost some steam after a terrific season last year that culminated with their first trip to Worlds. No one has seen them skate in several months, though, so they could show up at Nationals and really surprise people.

The remaining four teams are less likely to challenge for medals and assignments to Four Continents and Worlds, but should all give solid performances. Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette won Challenge with a personal best, 81+ free dance. Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant, last year's junior champions, medaled twice on the JGP circuit, but now have had to switch gears and prepare senior programs. They competed at Challenge, but withdrew after the short dance, so I'm looking forward to see what they do with the extra time added to their charming free dance. Mélissande Dumas & David Mackay Perry were second at Challenge and have been consistent this season, showing improvement from last year. And Larissa Van As & Troy Shindle missed Challenge while recovering from injury, but should be back on form in Mississauga.

All in all, I am most pleased that Skate Canada isn't splitting up the dance events and letting all nine skaters skate in succession. Now if we can just get them to do that with all of the senior disciplines...

2013-0107-2Another Deep Junior Field 
Last year was one of the strongest and closest junior competitions I have ever seen, and this year promises to be another excellent year. At Challenge, though, two teams distanced themselves from the field, and if they both skate just as well or better, I can see the same thing happening at Canadians. Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang won the junior competition in Regina last month, another feather in their hats for a terrific season that has also included two JGP bronze medals. They did so by re-establishing their own Canadian record score since the introduction of the short dance, winning with a total of 142.33. Just as they have been for three years, though, Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen were right on their heels, even grabbing the Canadian record for a few minutes before Maddie & ZhaoKai skated their free dance. In the end though, Mackenzie & Garrett were about four points short and settled for silver, over 12 points ahead of the bronze medalists. I think a few teams underperformed at Challenge and could step int that gap in Mississauga, but I'm not sure they'll catch the top two.

Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois (pictured, left) were surprised bronze medalists at Challenge, and I was so pleased for them. I feel that they really deserved it. Their programs this year are both wonderful for them, and they skated really well. This part of the field is so talented and so close, though, so with several motivated teams right behind them, it's hard to say what will happen next week. Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa were about a point and a half from the podium in Regina, and while their short dance was strong, I think that they have the potential to skate much better in the free dance and as past medalists, they are also a clear podium threat. Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng, last year's novice silver medalists, finished less than two-tenths of a point behind the Hasegawas. They are a team that has improved drastically since I first started watching them, and they have been very strong in their first junior season. Finally, Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus were sixth in Regina, but mainly because a fall on their final lift dropped them down from third. They have not skated their best at Canadians in the past couple of years, so perhaps this will give them some extra motivation.

Another 12-point gap was opened between sixth and seventh place at Challenge, and if I'm making predictions, I think that the top six (though perhaps in a different order) will remain the same at Canadians. It's not that the teams who finished seventh and below in Regina are not excellent and talented—it's just that the top six have consistently had a better handle on the short dance all season. It's difficult to make a big move after a gap appears in the short dance. I welcome any of the other teams to prove me wrong, though! 

Only 10 points separated seventh from 15th in Regina, so I definitely do not expect the standings to stay the same. A good mix of new teams and teams new to the junior level fill out the rest of the Canadians roster, and it should be exciting to see how everything shakes out. 

On a disappointing note, I will really miss Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum, whose season ended early. Bruser was injured before Challenge and did not recover in time to compete in Regina. I was looking forward to seeing them fight to retain a spot on the podium, especially since a fierce competition at Canadians has always brought out the best in them.

2013-0107-3Novices to Kick off the Week
Exactly one week from now, the novice event at Canadians will be half done. It's hard to believe that it's coming up so quickly! Like the junior level, I think that two teams are leading the field at the novice level. Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo won Challenge with a score of 88.83, just about two-and-a-half points ahead of Christina Carreira & Simon-Pierre Malette-Paquette. Christina & Simon-Pierre have been together for much longer and their free dance packs a serious punch, but their weakness has been the compulsories. Danielle & Spencer are perhaps a bit more well-rounded, with strength in both compulsories and the free dance, but they are only in their second year together. I think that both teams are wonderful and look forward to seeing them battling it out again.

Less than four points separated third from seventh in Regina, and I can't wait to see the medal race in Mississauga. Danielle & Spencer train with two terrific teams, Alexa Linden & Tyler Miller (pictured, right), who were the bronze medalists at Challenge, Brianna Delmaestro & Graeme Gordon, who were sixth. Like the BC juniors, the BC novices have the advantage of training together and I think it's really helped them, especially for the two new teams that have become competitive so quickly. Also in the top seven from Challenge are Jaimie Clarke & Matthew Webb (fourth), Catherine Daigle-Roy & Alexis St-Louis (fifth), and Andie-Lynn Gingrich & Liam Kinrade (seventh). Jaimie & Matthew and Catherine & Alexis both are in their second year at the novice level and have made big strides this season. Andie-Lynn & Liam are up from pre-novice and have also shown great improvements, including winning the Westminster Waltz at Challenge.

I am really excited to see all of the young teams, many of whom I haven't seen (live) yet this year. I am also really excited to see them skate the Blues, which is one of my favourite compulsories. It definitely has my favourite music. Blues 4!

Pre-Novice Champions Crowned
The 2013 Canadian pre-novice champions were crowned at Challenge last month, with Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham taking top honors. They led the field all season, and turned in a season's best total of 70.99 to take the title. Sabrina Bédard & Zoé Duval-Yergeau of Québec were the only team not from Central Ontario to make the top five, and their total of 66.90 won them the silver medal. Priya Ramesh & Brandon Labelle were only third at Central Ontario sectionals, but squeezed past one of their teammates to win the bronze medal at Challenge. The two Waddell teams, Victoria Oliver & Charles Waddell and Kaitlin Stitz and George Waddell, were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Overall, I was impressed by the level of skating at the pre-novice level and I think that when many of these teams move up next year, the novice ranks will be very competitive. 

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje Sidelined 
One of the saddest stories in Canadian ice dance in December was news of Kaitlyn Weaver's injury. She broke her fibula in a training session and has undergone surgery. The ever-optimistic Kaitlyn has been sunny about her recovery prospects, and they are hoping to be back on the ice with enough time to train for Worlds, but needless to say, they had to withdraw from Canadians. Sending them best wishes for a speedy and full recovery!

IDC's Canadians Coverage 
I am so excited to be heading to Mississauga to cover my fifth Canadians for Ice-Dance.com! After two years of big trips, it will be nice to be able to drive to this one. I've done an event at the Hershey Centre every year since 2006, so I'm familiar with the facility and the area around it...meaning that I know the fastest way to the nearest Starbucks. I'm also excited because I'm borrowing some wonderful equipment from the terrific folks at Canon Professional Services. The Hershey Centre has challenging lighting, but I should be able to conquer it with this gear! But most of all, I can't wait to dole out hugs, catch up with friends, and enjoy a full week of great skating. 

We launched our Canadians site a few days ago, so check out all of our pre-event content. The first photos and news from the rink will be coming on Sunday. Make sure you're following us on Facebook and Twitter to get the news first!