When competition at the 2009 Canadian National Championships begins on Wednesday, January 14, it will be the junior dancers who take the ice first. Twenty teams from across Canada qualified for the event through the Eastern and Western Challenges in December. The teams that will skate in Saskatoon represent seven of Skate Canada’s 13 sections and the battle for the medals will be fierce. In addition to spots on the podium, teams are also vying for spots on the World Junior Championships team and five places on the junior national team. With Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill likely to take one of the Junior Worlds spots, the other two will probably go to the top two finishers in this event. 

For the first time this century, both the silver- and bronze-medal-winning teams from the previous year are returning to junior competition with hopes of defending their place on the podium. Overall, of the 19 teams that competed last year, seven teams will return to the Canadian Championships at the junior level, but challenges for the podium could come from new and old partnerships alike. 

If there is a clear favorite for the junior title, it would have to be Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle. As last year’s silver medalists, the obvious goal for their third trip to this event would be winning the title. They have had the most successful year of all the teams. After cracking the top ten at the 2008 World Junior Championships, they won two medals on the Junior Grand Prix this season, were second alternates to the JGP Final, and easily won Eastern Challenge. Since last year, Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle have increased their difficulty and worked on their presentation. 

Based on results from Challenges, one of their strongest challenges could come from the young team of Alexandra Paul & Jason Cheperdak, who won the Western division with a slightly higher score than Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle’s Eastern total. On their best days, it is hard to believe that Paul & Cheperdak are only competing in their second season together and their first season at the junior level. Last year’s bronze medalists at Junior Canadians on the novice level are a fluid team that is capable of executing difficult elements. However, they have struggled with consistency this season. After setting a personal best of 146.47 at the John Curry Memorial on the JGP, their score at Central Ontario Sectionals less than a month later was 15 points lower. Paul & Cheperdak train alongside Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle in Barrie, Ontario. 

Another team that should make a strong run at the podium is Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon. After just missing the podium last year, they have had a successful season so far, finishing fourth and fifth in their JGP assignments. Some technical mistakes factored into their second-place finish behind Paul & Cheperdak at Western Challenge, but they are great performers who can really light up an arena. After finishing 13th on the junior level in both 2006 and 2007, Harvey & Gagnon made a huge jump to 4th last year and would love to add a junior medal to their accomplishments. 

Sophie Knippel & Andrew Britten are last year’s bronze medalists, but they are a bit of a question mark right now. They were assigned to JGP Merano, where they finished seventh—three places behind Harvey & Gagnon. At Central Ontario Sectionals, they struggled and ended up in fifth place. They withdrew from Western Challenge, where an ankle injury had Knippel on crutches. Since only eight teams competed at Western Challenge and 10 qualify, Knippel & Britten were permitted to advance to Saskatoon, but they may not be as strong as they were last year. 

In addition to Paul & Cheperdak, the other two teams on last year’s novice podium are already making their mark on the junior level. Olivia Martins & Alvin Chau, the 2008 novice champions, competed on the JGP this season in the Czech Republic, where they placed sixth, and won the bronze medal at Eastern Challenge. 

Véronique de Beaumont-Boisvert & Sébastien Buron finished less than a point behind Martins & Chau last year at Junior Canadians, but flip-flopped with them this year at Eastern Challenge. In Mississauga, they bested Martins & Chau by over five points to win the silver medal. De Beaumont-Boisvert & Buron finished seventh this year on the JGP at Skate Safari. 

After a sixth-place finish last year at Canadians, Sarah Arnold & Christopher Steeves were on the alternate list to receive a JGP assignment this season, but never made it onto a roster. With a strong second-place finish at Central Ontario Sectionals and a bronze medal at Western Challenge, perhaps Arnold & Steeves should not have been left out. They have looked very competitive this season and are on track to repeat or better last year’s result with solid dances. 

Katelyn Good & Brandon Deslauriers have only been skating together since May, but they have made a steady climb this season, culminating (so far) with a fourth-place finish at Eastern Challenge. They missed the podium by less than a point.  

Another new team that has made an impressive debut this year already is Abby Carswell & Jason Cusmariu. After their outings at summer competitions, Carswell & Cusmariu earned a JGP assignment to Mexico Cup, where they placed ninth. They were fifth at the Eastern Challenge. Carswell & Cusmariu train at the Scarboro FSC with Martins & Chau. 

Catherine St-Onge & Alexander Browne also competed on the JGP at Madrid Cup. They finished seventh there and broke their personal best by over 14 points, but they were not able to match that score at either Québec Sectionals or Eastern Challenge. St-Onge & Browne finished 12th last year, and if they can approach their new personal best of 131.62 points, they should certainly move up. 

The final team with JGP experience is Maja Vermeulen & Andrew Doleman. Their 10th-place finish in Courchevel this season was a solid effort for the 2007 Canadian silver medalists on the junior level. Vermeulen & Doleman finished fourth at Western Challenge. 

Mélodie-Tara Tremblay & Jonathan Arcieri hope to improve upon last year’s 16th-place finish at this event. They were sixth this season at Eastern Challenge. 

Alexa-Marie Arrotta & Martin Nickel, Olga Lioudvinevitch & Thomas Williams, Natasha Osmond & Justin Mohr, Marina Staltari & Jonathan Okrainetz, and Raphaëlle Viau & Sebastien Lapointe are all new teams hoping to make a mark at their first Canadian Championships. 

Moving up to the junior level this year are Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Anthony Quintal, Emily Stoll & Allan Stoll, and Marie-Philippe Vincent & François-Xavier Ouellette. 

Competition begins on Wednesday morning with the Starlight Waltz, and after a short break, the original dance is just a couple of hours later. The event concludes with the free dance on Thursday, January 15.