Last weekend, two Canadian dance teams brought home bronze medal souvenirs from abroad, and I was in Toronto to attend the first taping of Battle of the Blades, Season 3. What a banner weekend! To me, the onset of fall means golden and red leaves, pumpkin baked goods, and watching former NHL players discover the toe pick. If I’d only thought to bring a pumpkin muffin to the taping.

 

Innsbruck, Stop #5

It’s hard to believe that the JGP series has already passed its halfway point, but we only have three weeks left. Team Canada has arrived safely in Innsbruck, Austria, for the event this weekend and are looking forward to competing.

 

2011-0927-1Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams are trying to secure a place in the Junior Grand Prix Final after winning gold in Australia. A medal here should punch their tickets to Québec City in December, and they have a great shot, even in a tougher field than they saw in Brisbane. If they can have an even better short dance and really hit their levels this time, I know they can bring it home with the free.

 

Nicole & Thomas are once again traveling with training mates. This time, it’s Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (pictured, left) who are making the trip as their international debut. Madeline & ZhaoKai have spent the past three seasons winning national titles—juvenile in 2009, pre-novice in 2010, and novice in 2011—so they are used to delivering when it counts. This is a new stage for them, but they are ready for the challenge. I saw them at Minto this season, where a missed lift entrance cost them a huge amount of points and a shot at one of the early JGP assignments, but the mistake gave them an opportunity to fight back. The following day, they skated a beautiful free dance to Notre Dame de Paris, without the slightest hesitation on that pesky lift. They were even better a few weeks later, when they won BC Summer Skate and earned their JGP assignment. Although the field includes some incredibly talented teams, I think that Madeline & ZhaoKai will make a positive impression with their attack and musicality.

 

In the “Canadians skating for another country” category, we also have Pilar Maekawa Moreno & Leonardo Maekawa Moreno, who are skating for Mexico. They were born in Mexico City, but moved to Victoria, B.C, when they were small, so they have been skating domestically in Canada up until the novice level. Last year, they were one of the standout performances in an unexpectedly rough free dance event at the novice level at Junior Nationals. The hometown kids had to skate early and come from behind, but their skate-of-their-young-lives free dance pulled the crowd to its feet and pulled them up to fifth place. This will be their international debut.

 

Ralph & Hill Take Bronze

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill proved that they have shaken off the pre-season jitters and delivered a smooth, consistent pair of dances at Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany. Their bronze medal is their first senior international medal. With a score of 133.94, Kharis & Asher blew way past their best ISU score from last season and landed just over 5 points behind the winning mark. They were third in both dances, and although I haven’t seen the programs, it looks like both of their programs had some excellent moments. Their footwork in the short was called a level 3 and earned +1.14 GOE, and the protocol from their free dance had only one negative GOE mark. The tango free dance, in particular, was met with great feedback for its construction and choreography. I am looking forward to seeing it again.

 

Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon needed a score of 111.15 to qualify to skate on the Grand Prix circuit, and they did just that at Nebelhorn. Their score of 114.70 ranked them 8th, and while I don’t think that the placement was what they were hoping for, they can be proud of their consistent skates. They have some opportunities to increase their levels in the short dance—they had level 2 on both Rhumba patterns, as well as the footwork. Free dance levels were stronger overall, with level 4 on their lifts and spin, 3 on the twizzles (looks like they had a small mistake on that element), and 2 on the footwork. It would be great to see them push the levels up on their footwork over the season. I liked the quote from Keith in this article, where he says that they want to skate with “explosive energy” and “light up the building.” They have consistently done this at Nationals, and I would love to see them skate with that kind of spark every time they take the ice, because I think that this is what defines them as a team.

 

Edit [09/28]: I’ve found videos!  Watch Kharis & Asher’s free dance and Tarrah & Keith’s free dance.

 

Bronze for Bent & MacKeen

I’m not sure if anyone predicted Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen to medal at their first JGP event last weekend in Brasov, Romania. I know that they are capable of fantastic skating, but even I was just betting on a top five showing for them. I’m happy that they exceeded my expectations, though! What a great statement for them. The youngsters from the Eastern Ontario section put up a score of 120.69 overall, less than a point from the silver medal and a team who qualified for the Final last year. Their neat feet definitely impressed in the short dance, where they earned level 4 for their lift and twizzles, and level 3 for the Cha Cha patterns and their footwork, along with all positive or base GOE marks. With 50.87 points and a second-place ranking after the short, the pressure was on, but Mackenzie & Garrett delivered beautifully with a 69.82-point free dance.  Canada’s assignments for the last two events have been switched around a bit, and Mackenzie & Garrett will have the opportunity to compete once again at the final JGP event in Tallinn, Estonia.

 

 

Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton also competed in Brasov, finishing 11th with a score of 91.54. Their short dance patterns were pretty good, earning level 2 and level 3, but small mistakes on their other elements hurt their levels, especially on the footwork, which only earned level 1. I really like their free dance, but this wasn’t the best performance of it. Besides a weird trip between elements, a few places just seemed a bit shaky and less confident than I have seen from them this year. I hope they had a great experience overall and will come back strong at their next event!

 

The Battle Begins

As I mentioned above, I really love Battle of the Blades. I’ve been fortunate to attend a couple of tapings each season, and the studio has a great energy. Whose heart isn’t warmed when a bunch of tough guys grow to appreciate our sport? I think I also love it because even though I consider myself very much “in” the figure skating world…I know that I’d look even more awkward than an NHL guy if I had to lace up a pair of skates and perform in a weekly elimination show on national TV!

 

2011-0927-2A couple of Canadian ice dancers are on the roster this year, so I think that the show has earned a mention in my blog. Tanith Belbin, who competed for the United States but was born in Montréal, and Marie-France Dubreuil are both among the eight professional skaters who have taken on the task of softening up a hockey player. Tanith is appearing on the show for the first time and is partnered with Boyd Devereaux. Marie-France is skating with Bryan Berard (pictured, right) and is  in her second season with BOTB. She was third in season 1, but took off last season because she was pregnant with her first daughter, Billie-Rose. I saw both Marie-France and Tanith skate on Sunday (only four couples skated; the other four skated on Monday), but it was Billie-Rose who really stole the show. The little cutie was featured in the fluff segment before Marie-France & Bryan skated and isn’t camera-shy at all. Her mom told me later that she doesn’t know where Billie-Rose learned to turn on the charm for the camera. Really? I can’t imagine where. Couldn’t have anything to do with her ice dancer parents, could it?

 

Anyway, the first show was pretty solid. The guys were all a little bug-eyed under the spotlights, but they are already showing good skills and will get more comfortable as the season progresses. Even for those who don’t know any of the guys from their hockey careers (I’m definitely included in this group), it’s a fascinating look at skating’s development process.  And in a sport that always needs more guys, it’s not bad publicity at all!

 

I mentioned in my last blog that Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam were slated to begin their season at the Isabella Henderson Memorial competition in Hamilton. Unfortunately, they did not skate.

 

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