By Maura Sullivan Hill | Photo by Robin Ritoss

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier returned to the Grand Prix Final this year for the first time since the 2014-15 season, propelled by their most successful Grand Prix campaign to date: a first-time Grand Prix victory at Skate Canada and a silver at Rostelecom Cup.

While the duo saw it as a milestone, they ultimately weren’t happy with their fifth place finish in the six-team field.

“We were really pleased to be back at the Final. It’s something that has eluded us for several years and we’ve been very close many times, so it was really nice to be back there and really feel a part of the top echelon in the world,” Poirier said on a Skate Canada media call ahead of the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ontario. “As much as we didn’t quite get the result that we wanted there, we really feel like we were in the mix, especially with coming fourth in the free dance. I think that did build our confidence. We really feel that we are in the mix, that we’re competitive, that we can really challenge for the podium at the World Championships.”

Armed with that confidence and judges’ feedback, Gilles and Poirier have made some changes to their programs looking ahead to both the National Championships and the international events in the second half of the season, Four Continents and Worlds.

“The feedback we got from the Final and from the Grand Prix events guided the modifications we made to our programs leading up to Canadians,” Poirier said. “It’s really been about that, taking in stride all the feedback we’ve gotten and seeing [how many] more points we can really eek out of these programs, so that when we do get to Four Continents and Worlds and we’re competing against those teams again, we’re really getting everything we can out of the programs.”

Their Joni Mitchell free dance has been their strength all season, and Gilles said they are focused on speed on the technical side of that program. In the rhythm dance, they changed some of their transitions to emphasize speed and flow throughout the program, and are also focusing on the required Finnstep pattern, where level calls have often put teams at a deficit heading into the free dance.

“It was about taking the transitions between the elements and simplifying them so that we can keep more speed, which we feel really helps, especially with our skating skills mark in the components, which tends to be our lowest component of the five,” Poirier said. “In terms of the Finnstep…we’ve been training it a lot. We’ve been skating it a lot tired, so that we know that we can execute it well tired and I think we just need to skate it with confidence next week.”

They’re on the hunt for another first time-victory in Mississauga, after five silvers and two bronze medals at Canadians since their senior debut in 2012.

The duo will be skating on home ice of sorts, as their training base is in nearby Scarborough, Ontario. They see it as a helpful practice run for the upcoming 2020 World Championships in Montreal, which will be in front of another home Canadian crowd.

“It will definitely hold a special place in our heart if we end up on top of the podium [at Canadians], being home and sharing that with our friends and our family,” Gilles said. “I think this will just give us a little bit more confidence going into the World Championships, knowing that we can perform at home, in front of a Canadian crowd. We’re looking at taking this as almost a practice run for March [at Worlds]. We’re very excited to show our new stuff, but our sights are set farther from here.”