Northern Lights #12: Previewing Challenge

Am I the only person who cannot believe that November is nearly over? I spent Thursday stuffing myself with sweet potatoes and butternut squash for Thanksgiving on my side of the border, and then spent yesterday managing crowds at work on the busiest shopping day of the year. Being so busy, I did not have a chance to realize how late in the year it really is. It was not until I started pulling the information for this post together that it hit me. It’s time for Challenge already? But Challenge is in December! How is this happening?

I know I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks, and since I have so much information to cover, I have two posts planned for the next few days. This post is sticking to Challenge and the teams that will be fighting for top national rankings and trips to Canadians. Start orders have been posted here, so I am using those for rosters.

No Cut for Seniors
At the beginning of the season, I expected to see a bigger field at Challenge, with about 13 teams competing for ten spots to Canadians. However, a few retirements or possible injuries have depleted the field, and now the senior competition at Challenge will have exactly ten teams. Because five teams have byes this year, this means that all teams from Challenge will go through to comprise the 15 teams at Canadians. I am not sure about a couple of teams who are not on the roster, so I wish them the best and am sorry that I will not see them again this season.

Last year’s medalists earned automatic byes to Canadians, along with Grand Prix competitors. This year, that means that byes go to the Skate Canada National Team members:
Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon
Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam
Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill
Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

2011-1126-1The skaters slated to compete at Challenge next week are:

Jazz Smyl Joly & Nick Jesionek (AB/NWT/NU)
Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (BC/YT)
Larissa Van As & Troy Shindle (BC/YT)
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CO)
Hélène Létourneau & Kevin Boczar (EO)
Anne-Chloé Bissonnette & Dylan Lockey Chatham (QC)
Mélissande Dumas & David Mackay-Perry (QC)
Shanna René de Cotret-Laporte & Alexandre Laliberté (QC)
Anoushka Ritchie-Hervieux & Philippe Massé (QC)
Olga Liouvinevitch & Benjamin Mulder (WO)

Among the Challenge competitors, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (pictured, right) have recorded the highest score so far this season, with a 150.84 at Central Ontario Sectionals, where they easily defeated Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill. The new team has a ton of hype, and everyone is anxious to see whether they have the same scoring potential in a field with more than a couple of competitors. Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams have the second-highest score, a 137.58 from BC/YT Sectionals, but they are just as untested in senior competition as Gilles & Poirier are. Still, I think that these two teams are likely to medal in Regina, but I think that the third medalist is far less predictable. With so many teams that are new to the senior level, each other, or both, I am excited to finally see how they will compare.

Several teams that competed earlier this season are now missing in action. Audrey Dupont & Marcus Connolly last competed in September at Autumn Skate, and Sarah Arnold & Justin Trojek and Alexa-Marie Arrotta & Martin Nickel have not competed since August. If you’d like to pass on any news about these three teams, you can email me at [email protected]. I will certainly miss seeing all three at Canadians this season.

Race for Junior Podium Heats Up
With many of last year’s top junior teams sticking around and a talented new class of juniors in the mix as well, Challenge is going to be an exciting event as teams jockey for position. Excluding Orford & Williams, who are skating on the senior level nationally, the junior roster features seven teams with Junior Grand Prix experience.

2011-1126-2Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa recorded the highest junior score in Canada this year, a combined score of 129.43 at the Québec Summer Provincials in August. Internationally, they were extremely consistent, scoring exactly 118.45 in Gdansk and in Milan. They struggled a bit at Sectionals a few weeks ago, finishing second in Québec by a large margin after a fall in the short dance.

Looking solely at JGP scores, Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang have the advantage, carrying a score of 122.90 from Austria, where they finished fifth in the series’ toughest field. Edwards & Pang also won BC SummerSkate back in August, scoring 119.35, in a close race over training mates Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum and Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus (pictured, left), both of whom also competed on the JGP. The BC powerhouse trio did not compete at sectionals, so they have been out of the competitive mindset for about two months. However, for this group, training every day is a bit like competing.

Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen snagged a bronze medal on the JGP in Romania, where they scored 120.69. They upped their season’s best score by a couple of tenths at Eastern Ontario sectionals, which they easily won.

Also in the 120+ club are Québec sectional champions Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette. They did not compete on the JGP this year, but seem to be gaining momentum as the season progresses, even without the international experience.

Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton struggled at their JGP assignment, but bounced back beautifully at Québec sectionals, where they won the bronze medal. Last year at Challenge, they came out of nowhere and won the short dance, so they should not be counted out.

And don’t count out Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant, either. They have not had their best season yet, but when they are on, it is clear that they are among the best at the junior level in Canada.

The roster at Challenge has 18 teams, meaning that three teams will leave Regina without qualifying for Canadians. It is always difficult to see teams come within just a few rankings of 15th, and unfortunately, this will be a tough year for those teams. I hope that everyone has their best skates and is proud of their efforts, regardless of what happens.

In Search of the Top 15 Novices
The novice field this year should feature a good battle for the 15 berths to Canadians, with a roster of 22 teams. Nine teams have scored above 70 points this year, and I expect that the standout performances in Regina will come from the following bunch.

2011-1126-3Only three novice teams in Canada have scored over 80 points this season, and the scores are led by Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng (pictured, right), who have the top two scores of 85.24 at Québec sectionals and 83.80 at Octoberfest. The Mengs have represented Eastern Ontario in the past, but moved to Montréal, began training with Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon, and switched to the Québec section this year.

Jessica Jiang & Nikolas Wamsteeker have not faced the Mengs since Challenge last year, when Jiang & Wamsteeker won the Canadian title at the pre-novice level and the Mengs finished fifth. In terms of scores, Jiang & Wamsteeker are a couple of points behind, with a high score of 82.02 at BC/YT sectionals, but a few points is not anything to obsess over when the two teams have not competed against each other at this level.

Also in the mix are Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs, whose high score of 83.26 (from Octoberfest) fits between the other two teams. Desveaux & Razgulajevs finished second to Jiang & Wamsteeker back in August at Minto and second to the Mengs at Octoberfest. If all three teams skate their best in Regina, it should be an exciting battle that comes down to three free dances full of character.

Ready to step in if any of the top teams should falter are Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough, the Eastern Ontario sectional champions, Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Simon Longtin-Martel, last year’s Canadian pre-novice silver medalists, and Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour, who finished a close second at Central Ontario sectionals. All three teams scored above 75 at sectionals last month.

Jade Robitaille & Dominic Barthe, Bianka Gadosy & Simon Dazé, and Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert have also posted 70+ scores this year, although they have not been as consistent over the course of the season.

In addition to the nine teams that have scored over 70, ten teams this year have high scores ranging between 67.98 and 62.44, so the race for the top 15 should be a close one as well. I am already having flashbacks to 2009/2010 Challenge, when places nine through 21 were separated by under four points. Best of luck to all of the competitors!

2011-1126-4Pre-Novices Fight for National Medals
Since the pre-novice competitors do not compete at the Canadian Championships, the Challenge event serves as the national championship for this level. The favourite for the title is certainly Christina Carreira & Simon-Pierre Malette-Paquette of Québec (pictured in 2009, left). They are the only team that has scored over 60 points at every event that they have entered this year (besides Lake Placid, where they only competed in the free dance). If they continue to skate at the same high level, they might just run away with the victory.

Until sectionals, Carreira & Malette-Paquette were the only team that had broken 60 points. After sectionals, though, three more teams hit that mark, including the champions of BC/YT and Saskatchewan, as well as the Québec silver medalists. I think that it is great to see a push for excellence at the younger levels in the western sections, since the eastern half of the country has dominated dance for so long.

Camille Mondor & Stefan Dyck finished second at Québec sectionals with a score of 60.40, up nearly five points from their previous best score. Alexa Linden & Shane Garland won BC/YT sectionals with a personal best score of 60.22 and the Saskatchewan champions, Jocelyn Leblanc & Wyatt Cowell, set their high score of 60.17.

Almost in the 60+ club, with sectional scores less than a point from the 60-mark, are Michaela Milne & Randy Mendita, the Alberta/NWT/Nunavut champions, and Valérie Taillefer & Jason Chan, who won bronze in Québec.

The event should be a great experience for all 24 teams entered. For the first time in several years, I will not have the opportunity to photograph any of the Canadian pre-novice teams this year, and for that, I apologize. I usually love giving the younger skaters the chance to have a piece of the spotlight in IDC’s coverage. I will be watching the results closely and hope to see all of the skaters next season.


Unfortunately, after four consecutive years covering Challenge, I will not be at the event this year. When it was in Mississauga, it meant an easy drive east (if a midnight, blizzardy drive across the Western Ontario Snow Belt is “easy”), but I could not afford the trip to Regina this year. I will miss catching up with everyone at the annual event, but hope to see many of you in Moncton. Skate great!