Kitchener, Ontario

After six weeks and 24 billion miles, the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating wraps up its initial phase of competition with HomeSense Skate Canada in Kitchener, Ontario.

Last month the roster for this event could have been called “Skate Trains-in-Michigan” as six of the 10 teams called various cities in the mitten state their practice base. With injuries knocking out two of those teams (Lithuania’s Katie Copely & Deividas Stagniunas and Italy’s Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali) and neither being replaced as of Wednesday night, half of the field is now only a 200-mile drive away from the competition arena.

Three of those four Michigan teams met at the first Grand Prix event, Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris. Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir won the event in France and come into Skate Canada as the favorites for gold. At TEB they beat silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France by 16 points. The French, who won bronze at Skate Canada last year, had made major changes to their free dance between The Masters competition and TEB, and the reaction — at least among many vocal fans — was extremely unfavorable to the new version. With five weeks to re-think these changes, perhaps Pechalat & Bourzat will be able to top Virtue & Moir on their home ice? Unlikely, yes, but it’s not like we’re predicting someone could beat Yu-Na Kim in a free skate or something crazy like that.

The other two teams who competed at Bompard are Americans from Michigan. However, unlike their last competition in Paris, Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell will not meet as training mates when they compete in Kitchener. 

Since the beginning of their ice-dance partnerships, the Hubbells and Samuelson & Bates called Ann Arbor their skating home. After Trophee Eric Bompard, the Hubbells decided to make a change, moving to Detroit to work with Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova. Although it has only been a month and the commuting logistics have been a challenge, the Hubbells come into Kitchener eager to see how these past weeks of practice will feel in a competition setting. Even when it is a positive thing, change is always a little uncomfortable. Good thing the Hubbells won’t have any distractions like their former coaches and closest rivals competing there, too. Oh, wait.

Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates had mixed results in Paris, although they did wind up in fourth overall. They struggled a bit in the original and free dances, but it was their first competition of the season. Usually the duo tests their programs at Lake Placid or a B international, but this time, Bompard was the debut. With five weeks to polish and that “first pancake” out of the way, the U.S. national silver medalists could definitely be aiming for a step on the podium. After all, they did take home a bronze medal from NHK Trophy last year, their first on the senior Grand Prix. Bates probably feels no extra pressure from housemates Charlie White and Alex Shibutani, both of whom took home two golds from their senior/junior Grand Prix events. It has probably never even come up. Guys aren’t competitive like that.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, who now call Madison & Keiffer Hubbell their part-time training mates, return to Skate Canada after four Grand Prix events on foreign ice. They last competed at Cup of China, where a nightmare original dance put them in last for that phase, but a fourth in the free dance pulled them up to sixth overall. Aside from the fall, their scores were on par with Alexandra and Roman Zaretski’s. With an extra week and home ice advantage, it would not be out of the questions for Weaver & Poje to equal the Zaretskis’ bronze medal from Skate America this past weekend.

The above five teams all competed the Golden Waltz at their first Grand Prix of the season. At Skate Canada, however, the compulsory dance is the Tango Romantica. For two of the teams in Kitchener, this will be a repeat.

Two weeks ago at NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev took third in the CD behind Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Sinead & John Kerr. Bobrova & Soloviev dropped in the standings after that but managed to pull up to fourth overall. 2009 marks their third consecutive appearance at Skate Canada. They finished sixth last year.

German siblings Carolina & Daniel Hermann also competed the Tango Romantica at their first event, Cup of Russia. They placed ninth in Moscow and were named as replacements at Skate Canada for Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder, who withdrew to allow Delobel more time to recover from the birth of her baby. The Hermanns last competed at Skate Canada two years ago in Quebec City, where they improved with each phase of the competition.

Rounding out the roster in Kitchener is the final Canadian entry, Andrea Chong & Guillaume Gfeller. This is their only Grand Prix event this season. Their last appearance on the international stage was at 2008 HomeSense Skate Canada, where they placed eighth.

The ice dance competition kicks off Friday afternoon with the compulsory dance. Saturday competition opens with the original dance, and Skate Canada wraps up with the free dance on Sunday.