Fifteen junior teams will take the ice on Wednesday and Thursday to fight for placements in the 2011 BMO Skate Canada Junior Nationals. Last month, the teams all faced each other at the 2011 BMO Skate Canada Challenges to qualify for these championships, but now the stakes are a bit higher. For most teams, this will be the final event of the season, but the top two will (most likely) qualify to represent Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships. With withdrawals from two of the most experienced teams, Carolyn MacCuish & Tyler Morris and Abby Carswell & Andrew Doleman, the junior roster this week is young, but they are also talented and driven. It is hard to predict what will happen, but this is sure to be an exciting event where fresh talent has a chance to shine through.
Though the excellent field is very closely matched, the potential favourites are perhaps Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams. Although they are one of the youngest partnerships, they have achieved the best results so far this season. They are the only Canadian team to have medaled on the Junior Grand Prix Series this season, and they took home gold from Challenge last month. Since they train just over the Salish Sea from Victoria, in Burnaby, B.C., they will have the support of a local crowd, and their incredible speed is sure to win over some new fans. Orford & Williams would love to cap off their successful debut season with a trip to Junior Worlds.
Without a JGP assignment, Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton from Québec were not among the favourites at Challenge last month, but their steady progress over the season resulted in two beautiful skates and they ended up with the silver medal. They are competing in their first year on the junior level after a seventh-place finish last year at 2010 Junior Nationals as novices. Their confident expression is one of their strengths and skating cleanly will be the key for them.
Another team from Québec was hot on their heels at Challenge and hopes to make a run at a higher step on the podium this week. Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant were a late substitute on the JGP Series, but they ended up placing fourth in their event with one of the highest Canadian scores this season. Last year, they ended their season as the fifth-ranked junior team in Canada and they should be able to improve on that this year with strong dances that highlight their connection, which is one of their best qualities.
Two of last year’s national medalists on the novice level have made a statement this year and are continuing to contend on the junior level. Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa, last year’s novice bronze medalists, were fourth at Challenge last month while Kelly Oliveira & Jordan Hockley, last year’s novice champions, were fifth. Both teams competed at the JGP in Japan this season, and Oliveira & Hockley earned a second assignment to Germany.
The Hasegawas (pictured, right), part of the strong dance legacy in Québec, turn on the charm in their short dance, which has received great feedback this year. Meanwhile, Oliveira & Hockley really excel in their spunky free dance to “Singin’ in the Rain,” which allows their personalities to shine through. The two teams have gone head-to-head quite a few times this season, splitting the victories, and both teams are definite medal contenders this week.
Like Fournier-Beaudry & Breton, Elisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette missed out on a JGP assignment, but progressed well over the season. With their sixth-place finish at Challenge, just a fraction of a point from fifth, they have nearly broken into the top rank of junior teams in Canada and would love to keep moving up.
Whatever happens, a new generation is poised to establish themselves. All six skaters on the podium are guaranteed to be new medalists on the junior level in Canada. Competition begins on Wednesday with the short dance and champions will be crowned on Thursday night after the free dance.