Northern Lights #14: Challenge Recap & On to Moncton

Hello again, Canadian ice dance family. I hope that everyone had a great Christmas and New Year’s. Here’s to a 2012 filled with great dancing! I apologize for being a bit absent in the past few weeks, but the time between the Grand Prix Final and Canadians is always a bit of a slow news time, so I took that opportunity to focus on other responsibilities. Now, as dancers around the country are enduring long days and double run-throughs in hopes of skating their best in Moncton, I thought I would look back at Challenge and discuss what those results might mean for Nationals.


Gilles & Poirier Triumph in Seniors

Given the hype that had built up over the past few months and the scores that they received at Sectionals, I think that most were expecting the new pairing of Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CO) to win Challenge. And they did, in spectacular fashion, with a new season’s best of 153.45. That score ranks them as the third-highest-scoring senior team in Canada this year, behind only Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje. I have known both Piper and Paul for a long time, so I was thrilled to finally see them together (thanks, Skatebuzz). I think that their performances at Challenge were just about what I expected from them—accurate, but lacking a bit in overall togetherness, unison, and connection. Dance fans everywhere know that time spent together has no shortcut. I think that their free dance brilliantly shows off their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. That being said, I am not sure that their 7.50-8.00 program component scores were warranted, and I wonder if those will change once they are on the same ice as teams that have been skating together for over a decade. For the short time that Piper & Paul have spent together, though, and considering that this is Piper’s first senior at the senior level after skipping a year of competition, they are doing wonderfully well.


Larissa & TroyWith a score of 140.42 (also a season’s best), Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (BC/YT) easily took the silver medal in their second competition at the senior level. I’d seen them run through their new senior short dance when I was in Vancouver in October, so I really enjoyed seeing how that had grown in just 6 weeks or so. They missed some levels in the short, so I’m sure they have been working hard on those rhumba sequences and their circular footwork at home, but their protocol from the free is a beauty, with level four on everything except level three on the step sequences. Their free dance score of 89.94 was less than five points off of the leaders, after being eight points back in the short. In the past, the main criticism that I have heard for their skating has been its “frantic” quality. I love the rawness to their skating and of course I love their speed, so I hope they never lose those aspects, but I am noticing more attention to detail as the season progresses, which is definitely a plus.


Larissa Van As & Troy Shindle (BC/YT) (pictured, left) eased onto the podium with a score of 119.22, just three points shy of the mark they had set at Sectionals in November. The short dance was not completely smooth, but their free dance to ’60s music was delivered beautifully. If they skate it well in Moncton, I think that they will get the crowd behind them. Since placing in the middle of the pack on the junior level last year, they have made a solid transition to the senior level.


Beyond the medalists, Anoushka Ritchie-Hervieux & Philippe Massé (QC) placed fourth, as I expected. They are good performers and have improved quite a bit in the past year. Shanna René de Cotret-Laporte & Alexandre Laliberté (QC) fared better than I expected and were fifth, while Olga Lioudvinevitch & Benjamin Mulder (WO) struggled a bit into their sixth-place finish.


Looking ahead to Canadians, I am excited to see how Gilles & Poirier and Orford & Williams figure into the mix at their first (senior) Canadians. Their Challenge scores indicate that they could both be in the top five, which of course means being a part of the National Team. Once again, when you add the five current national team members to the list, I think that Canada is looking at having about seven teams fighting for those five spots. And without a lock for the bronze medal this year, Gilles & Poirier could very well prove that they really are the third-highest-scoring team in Canada. Only about two and a half weeks until the seniors hit the ice!


Miss any of the action? Here’s a list of all of the videos from the senior teams at Challenge:

1. Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier – short / free

2. Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams – short / free

3. Larissa Van As & Troy Shindle – short / free

4. Anoushka Ritchie-Hervieux & Philippe Massé – short / free

5. Shanna René de Cotret-Laporte & Alexandre Laliberté – short / free

6. Olga Lioudvinevitch & Benjamin Mulder – short / free

7. Mélissande Dumas & David Mackay-Perry – short / free

8. Jazz Smyl Joly & Nicholas Jesionek – short / free


The Pressure is On for the Juniors

I expected a close race in the junior events, with so many talented teams fighting for the top spots. In the end, the medalists all had a bit of a cushion, but places four through seven were separated by under 3.5 points. The top eight teams could be completely shuffled after the competition in Moncton. It is impossible to say.


With the highest Canadian junior score of the season (129.56), Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette (QC) won the Challenge gold medal. I found this victory particularly sweet for two reasons: 1) they were the only team in the top 8 that did not have a JGP assignment, but showed up in Regina and blew away the competition; and 2) their performances were just fantastic. The juniors all did a fine job with their short dances, and I was glad to be able to watch them on Skatebuzz, but those that know me know that I am not crazy about Latin ice dance. So after 8 seniors and 16 juniors, I had grown weary of the music and I was starting to get antsy. And then Élisabeth & François-Xavier came out and completely wowed me. I wonder if the judges were feeling the same way, because although they skated a wonderful dance, I’m not convinced that they were 58-points kind of incredible. Still, though, a very deserving win. After seeing them have a rough start to the season in Lake Placid, I am very happy to see them back on track.


Noa & TimMadeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (BC/YT) took the silver medal, scoring 124.87. Their fourth-place short dance was good, but not the absolute best that they can skate that dance. In a way, I think that having a less-than-perfect short dance puts them in a great place, because they are fantastic fighters in the free dance. Their free was ranked first with a score of 73.24, and that was even with one noticeable misstep, a one-point long lift deduction, and dropping to a level 2 on one of their footwork sequences that was intended to be a level 3, so they are still capable of scoring higher. I love that they are able to exude confidence and emotion at the same time—a special characteristic for a team so young.


A fifth-place short dance and a second-place free dance gave Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum (BC/YT) (pictured, right) 122.28 points and the bronze medal. Both of their dances had opportunities for increased levels, so they are also quite capable of scoring even higher this month. Another young team that has taken a big step up, I think that they showed a bit more connection in their tango free dance in Regina, although I think that is still an opportunity for improvement. They skated so confidently, though, and I really enjoyed the details in their choreography. Noa & Tim have been consistent all season long, and it will be exciting to see how they fare at Canadians.


After a second-place short dance, Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa (QC) dropped to seventh in the free dance and finished fourth overall. They were fighting through illness in Regina, but still managed a great overall score of 120.14. Only a point behind them were Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen (EO), who were sixth in the short and fifth in the free. Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant (QC) finally hit seemed to their stride after a difficult start to the season, fighting back with a gorgeous fourth-place free dance to slide into a close sixth overall. Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus (BC/YT) fell on a lift exit in the free dance, but held on to seventh overall after a delightful third-place short dance. Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton (QC) rounded out the top eight after placing sixth in the free.


Relive the action with archived videos:

1. Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette – short / free

2. Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang – short / free

3. Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum – short / free

4. Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa – short / free

5. Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen – short / free

6. Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant – short / free

7. Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus – short / free

8. Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Yoan Breton – short / free

9. Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois-Gaudreau – short / free

10. Rachel Kirkland & Christopher Lettner – short / free

11. Josyane Cholette & Simon Proulx- Sénécal – short / free

12. Carolane Soucisse & Benjamin Smyth – short / free

13. Nicole Kuzmich & Jordan Hockley – short / free

14. Abby Carswell & Simon Tanguay – short / free

15. Sarah Clarke & Steven Clarke – short / free

16. Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner – short / free

17. Catherine Culhane & Simon Mondor – short / free

18. Courtney Royer & Steven Paslawsky – short / free


Novices Gear Up for Moncton

With a margin of less than a point, Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng (QC) took home the novice gold medal from Challenge over rivals and former training mates Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough (EO). The Mengs, who moved to Montréal full-time last year, have improved quite a bit since last year’s fifth-place finish at Challenge in the pre-novice division. Their score of 90.75 is a personal best for them, as well as the highest score in Canada so far this year.


Sam & JeffSam & Jeff (pictured, left) actually won both the Starlight Waltz and the free dance, but could not overtake the Mengs overall. They had consistency issues with their free dance earlier this season, as well as in past years, but they have now turned in two solid free dances in a row. At Challenge, they earned 89.80 points, improved upon their season’s best by 10 points, and proved that they are ready to jump from the pre-novice podium to the novice podium. Jeff often overpowers his partner with his performance, but I felt like this performance was more evenly matched and confident than I have seen from them in the past.


Jessica Jiang & Nikolas Wamsteeker (BC/YT) won the bronze medal with 88.13 points after finishing 3rd in the Starlight, 2nd in the Congelado, and 4th in the free. They skated very well and looked prepared, as always, but seemed to lack a bit of the spark that I usually see in them. Just a couple of weeks after Challenge, their names were missing from the Canadians roster, so I wonder if they had an injury or some other issue that they were dealing with. I was really looking forward to seeing the top four novice teams face off again in Moncton, and they will definitely be missed.


Rounding out those top four teams were Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs (CO) with a score of 86.04. The youngsters are typically stronger in the free dance than in the pattern dances, and this was the case once again, although they are certainly improving their patterns. In their free dance, though, I love that they do something different. Their modern circus theme is entertaining, with interesting choreography and music. After a couple of years of “classics” from them (Chaplin + West Side Story), I love seeing this side of them.


Along with the top four, many of the teams in the field also reached season’s bests in Regina, including: Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour, fifth place (CO); Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Simon Longtin-Martel, sixth (QC); Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert, eighth (AB/NWT/NU); Catherine Daigle-Roy & Alexis St-Louis, ninth (QC); Haili Moyer & Aaron Chapplain, 10th (CO); Nevada Smith & Addison Voldeng, 11th (SK); and Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Jean-Luc Jackson, 12th (WO).


Miss anything? Well, the videographers missed a few of the Starlight Waltzes, but the rest of the videos are listed below:

1. Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng – SW / CC / free

2. Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough – SW / CC / free

3. Jessica Jiang & Nikolas Wamsteeker – SW / CC / free

4. Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs – SW / CC / free

5. Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour – SW / CC / free

6. Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Simon Longtin-Martel – SW / CC / free

7. Jade Robitaille & Dominic Barthe – SW / CC / free

8. Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert – SW / CC / free

9. Catherine Daigle-Roy & Alexis St-Louis – SW / CC / free

10. Haili Moyer & Aaron Chapplain – SW / CC / free

11. Nevada Smith & Addison Voldeng – SW / CC / free

12. Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Jean-Luc Jackson – SW / CC / free

13. Marie-Jade Lauriault & Pierre-Richard Chiasson – SW / CC / free

14. Abby Savoie & Dennis Romanenko – SW / CC / free

15. Elise Von Holwede & Eric Streichsbier – SW / CC / free

16. Jaimie Clarke & Matthew Webb – SW / CC / free

17. Bianka Gadosy & Simon Dazé – SW / CC / free

18. Ashley Wood & Alexander Hartwell – SW / CC / free

19. Cassandre Lapierre & Malcolm Jones – SW / CC / free

20. Carly McQuilkan & Alexander Brauner – SW / CC / free

21. Claudia Magnan & Anthony Serrecchia – SW / CC / free

22. Geneviève Girard-Provost & Simon Desrochers – SW / CC / free


Carreira & Malette-Paquette Dance to Pre-Novice Title

For the third consecutive year now, Canada’s pre-novice skaters had their national championship at Challenge, alongside the qualifying event for the higher levels. I wish this meant that the schedule-makers and videographers had gotten together to make sure that all pre-novice events would be streamed on Skatebuzz, but unfortunately, they did not. I already felt terrible about not having photographed any of the pre-novices this year, but then I had to go and completely miss their nationals! I hope I’m back on track next year.


Christina Carreira & Simon-Pierre Malette-Paquette (QC) skated away with the pre-novice title in December, exactly according to expectations. Although their pattern dances were not ranked first, they were close enough to soar into a four-point lead with an excellent free dance, ending up with 67.85 points overall. That total was their season’s best, as well as the best score in Canada this season. I am really looking forward to seeing this charming team on the novice level next year.


Jocelyn & WyattThe title winners may not have been a surprise, but the rest of the standings were packed with more than enough surprises to make up for that. Laura-Maude Verret & William Lavictoire (QC) won the pattern dances and finished second in the free to win the silver medal overall with a total of 63.56 points. Verret & Lavictoire were only fourth at Québec Sectionals several weeks earlier, so the silver medal was a nice jump for them, as was the six-point boost to their season’s best.


The bronze medalists were even more surprising. Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo (BC/YT) are a new team comprised of two fairly new ice dancers, and they had just been ranked second at BC/YT Sectionals. Their total of 62.63 points was almost eight points more than the mark they had set at Sectionals, and I really did not have them on my radar as a medal threat for Challenge, but they exceeded expectations.


Unlike the novice and junior levels, which both had quite a few new season’s bests, many of the pre-novice competitors outside of the medalists did not reach their past scores. Some of the competitors from sections which are not typically dance powerhouses did quite well—it was fun to see Jocelyn LeBlanc & Wyatt Cowell (SK) (pictured, right) and Abigail Seewald & Jared Fell (AB/NWT/NU) place fourth and fifth, respectively. The results were close, overall. Less than six points separated eighth place from 23rd, and I think that it only says good things about the development of dance in Canada if the pre-novice level is so unpredictable, diverse, and tightly-packed. One of the benefits of having the pre-novices end their season at Challenge is the longer off-season that it produces. They get to start training for next year a bit earlier than the higher levels, and I get to start hoping that I will see many of these teams next season.


Pore over the full results here.


IDC and Canadians

I am excited for my trip to Moncton and IDC is already gearing up for Canadians. If you have not seen it yet, our Canadians site is now online! We have profiles for all of the competitors, so if you are competing (or if your child is), please look over your profile and let us know if we need to make any changes. I will double-check everything once I pick up a media guide in Moncton, but the more we have done before I get the Moncton, the more I can concentrate on sending photos and writing blogs and reports once I am on site.


We are looking for a guest blogger or two to offer different perspectives…and to help me out, since I will inevitably be running around like a chicken with my head cut off, on about four hours of sleep. The commitment is not a big one. It could be just a couple of posts during the week—whatever you are comfortable with sending. Contact me at [email protected] if you are interested!


I am also available for off-ice portraits. Portraits are a great way to commemorate your trip to Canadians and promote your team over the next year. Packages start at $30 and proceeds help cover costs of IDC coverage. Once again, write [email protected] for more information.


Our previews for the event will be available next week, so be sure to check back again. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone in Moncton. Stay healthy and train hard!