Nicole & ThomasWhen I left Chicago last Friday, the skies were bright blue with cartoon-puffy clouds, and I practically skipped home from work every day without a jacket, enjoying the sunshine on my face when I crossed the river. When my plane began to descend into Chicago on Wednesday night, winds rocked us back and forth, and the rain streamed upwards on the windows. “Don’t come outside right away,” my mom warned me from the cell phone lot. “It’s crowded and it will take me a few minutes to get down to the end, and the weather is awful.”  Fall in Chicago is apparently over, even though it seemed like it just began. And so is the Junior Grand Prix, even though it seems like just last week that I was staring wide-eyed at my browser, shocked and thrilled at the ISU JGP Youtube channel. A lot has happened in the past seven weeks, so let’s take a look.

 

Canada Does the JGP

Last year was a mess. With the introduction of the short dance and the surprise of young and new teams shooting toward the top of the junior ranks, it seemed like Skate Canada was at a loss for how to use their spots. So they didn’t use them all. This year, we had even more new teams shooting to the top of the junior ranks, and even fewer spots on the JGP. Fortunately, Canada picked up a few extra spots from countries without huge dance programs, and, in my opinion, almost all of the teams who deserved an assignment did receive one.

 

This year’s Canadian JGP competitors were full of new faces. Only three teams from last year returned to the circuit, and many of the teams who earned their first assignment this year are quite young, in their first year of junior competition. Junior champions Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (pictured, right) were definitely handed the highest expectations for the series, but I don’t think that many people knew what to expect from the crop of young Canadians. Those were the people who were not talking to me, because I spent last year absolutely floored by the talent at the novice level in Canada. I had high hopes and big expectations for the new class of juniors, and they delivered. I think that a lot of people expected a “rebuiliding year” from the Canadians, but with the depth that this field has, this exceeded the standards of any ordinary rebuilding year.

 

 

With the usual disclaimer that scores are not meant to be directly compared across competitions, here’s how the Canadian juniors fared, in order of high score:

Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, 127.21 (gold in Australia) & 120.12 (6th in Austria)

Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang, 122.90 (5th in Austria)

Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen, 120.69 (bronze in Romania) & 118.23 (5th in Estonia)

Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa, 118.45 (5th in Poland) & 118.45 (5th in Italy)

Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum, 115.56 (6th in Poland)

Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant, 108.03 (6th in Latvia)

Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus, 102.38 (9th in Italy)

Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton, 91.54 (11th in Romania)

 

I am glad that so many teams had the chance to compete, but I do think that Skate Canada could have managed their assignments a little better. If they had listed more teams as substitutes, they wouldn’t have had to switch assignments for the 6th and 7th events so late in the game. I would have loved to see them take an extra spot in Estonia (I believe that they had the opportunity to have one), in case one of their teams distinguished themselves in the second half of the series. As it turned out, Edwards & Pang earned a very high score in a tough field, and they ended up being the only team that broke 120 points who did not get a second assignment. They were not even on the sub list for the last two events. Sure, they had a rough skate a Minto, but that was two solid months before their JGP event, and they rarely make major mistakes at all, much less mistakes that mean they miss an entire element. Perhaps Skate Canada assumed that they could not win a medal because of the depth of the field, so decided not to re-assign them, but the Hasegawas had already been given a second assignment for a fifth-place ranking.

 

I also would have liked to see Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette assigned to a JGP. Although they had a rough time in Lake Placid, they came back very strong at the Québec Summer Championships, where scores (and especially levels) seemed a bit inflated to me, but it’s especially worth noting that Paradis & Ouellette won the free dance, ahead of two teams who had assignments. I think it is apparent that, this year, Skate Canada had the challenge of balancing Eastern and Western teams for the first time. Since the Québec teams did not face the BC or Ontario teams in summer competitions this year, it was especially difficult to rank them. So I can understand the difficulties in doling out assignments to such a wide and talented field.

 

The JGP rankings don’t mean anything yet. Some teams saw tougher fields and stricter callers, some had off days. A lot can change in the next month and a half. The teams who competed have earned valuable experience, but they will still have fight for top honours beginning with Challenge in December. The top of the standings should be an exciting battle—keep in mind that Nicole & Thomas have to skate on the senior level in Canada—and the programs will continue to develop toward Junior Nationals in January. I cannot wait! These teams are all so talented, and the best is still to come!

 

Mackenzie & Garrett in Estonia

As mentioned above, Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen were Canada’s entry into the final JGP event in Estonia last week. They scored 118.23 and finished fifth. You might recall that I expected them to finish between third and fifth, so that’s a point for me! Mackenzie & Garrett participated in an ISU seminar in Latvia just before the first event of the series, so this trip was actually their third European jaunt in seven weeks. I envy their schedule, although they may have found it a little tiring!

 

In the short dance, Mackenzie & Garrett scored 51.25 and were sitting in third place. In an unpredictable event, most of the top teams had mistakes in the short. Mackenzie & Garrett struggled with the twizzles a bit, but their mistake was slight in terms of points, and they kept close to the top of the standings by turning in a level 3 midline sequence. Their program components were all over the place, from 4.25 to as high as 7.25, but averaged out to the high 5s. Their free dance scored 66.98 and, like the short dance, they earned mostly positive GOE. A couple of lift levels cost them some points, and they had a bobble on the twizzles again, but the performance was solid. Mackenzie & Garrett have terrific, neat feet, and a natural outward performance ability. I think that as they continue to mature, they will have an easier time connecting with each other and showing off the years that they have poured into their partnership (already seven and counting).

 

Gilles & Poirier Smoke the Field at Octoberfest

Everyone that follows Canadian dance closely was anxious to see how Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier would fare in their first competition together. I was out on Sunday afternoon, but as soon as I got back, I had my laptop open to check results. Piper & Paul only skated the senior free dance in Barrie, but they made quite an impression with just one program, earning 91.09 points and leading the field by almost 11 points. With excellent levels (4 on lifts, spin, and twizzles; 3 and 2 on footwork), a majority of +2 GOE, and PCS marks up to 8.50, it seems like it was quite a debut for the new team. Now if we could just get a video! Lynn Krieingkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt of the USA were second with 79.28 points in their season debut, and Olga Lioudvinevitch & Benjamin Mulder took the bronze with 61.12 points.

 

The short dance was contested separately, and Lynn & Logan won that event with a score of 56.41. Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam finally made their season debut with a silver medal and a score of 55.99. Alex & Mitch had a fall (although not on an element), and Lynn & Logan had superior levels to help them secure the win. Anoushka Ritchie-Hervieux & Philippe Massé were third with 40.00 points.

 

On the junior level, the gold & silver medals were split by Amanda Bertsch & Sam Kaplun (USA) and Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette. Bertsch & Kaplun won the short dance, while Paradis & Ouellette won the free. Rebecca Nelles & Nicholas Lettner took the bronze in the short, while Nick’s brother, Christopher Lettner, and his partner Rachel Kirkland were third in the free.

 

The novice event was contested as a single event. Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs had a narrow lead after the pattern dances, but Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng pulled ahead in the free dance to win the event with a new season’s best score of 83.80. Katie & Dima stayed close behind with 81.05 points. Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour won the bronze and earned 68.82 points. Only about four points separated third place from seventh, and season’s bests were also turned in by Jaimie Clarke & Matthew Webb and Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Jean-Luc Jackson.

 

On the pre-novice level, only three teams competed, but Christina Carreira & Simon-Pierre Malette-Paquette continued their winning streak. For the third consecutive time, they defeated the field by a wide margin, earning 60.89 points. Cristina Monopoli & Lucas Kitteridge were second and Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham were third.

 

The top three juvenile teams all turned in 40+ points. Victoria Oliver & Charles Waddell won the gold medal, Kaitlin Stitz & George Waddell took silver, and Priya Ramesh & Brandon Labelle won the bronze.

 

See the rest of the results here.

 

Alex & MitchFace-Off at Skate America

This week, the skating world switches into high gear as the Senior Grand Prix begins with Skate America in Ontario, CA. Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill were Canada’s original entry, and then last month, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam (pictured, left) were subbed into the roster. This will be an interesting face-off for the teams that finished third (Alex & Mitch) and fourth (Kharis & Asher) at Canadians last year.

 

In January, Alex & Mitch established a 10-point gap between themselves and Kharis & Asher, but they had some momentum last year after their breakout performance in their senior debut at Skate Canada. This weekend, it is Kharis & Asher who have a bit of momentum, having just won a bronze medal at Nebelhorn Trophy with an ISU personal best of 133.94. Alex & Mitch, on the other hand, just turned in a solid effort in the short dance at Octoberfest, but that was their season debut, and although they skated their free dance in a show in August, this will be its competitive debut. Alex sustained a minor leg injury that saw the team miss some training over the past couple of months, so they are a bit of a question mark right now, but at the same time, they could enchant the crowd if they have a performance like they did last year at Skate Canada. Either way, I know that I will be glued to my computer tonight during the short dance!

 

Canadians can tune into CBC this weekend for plenty of Skate America footage, while Americans should tune to NBC, unless they live near a border, in which case, picking up the CBC channel is always the better option for dance coverage! We’re getting better about dance on the south side of the border, but it’s still not there yet.

 

The Vancouver Report

I was in Vancouver for a little vacation during the past week, but even on vacation, I can’t stay away from ice dance! I did a couple of photo sessions over the weekend, and then asked Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe if I could pop into the rink on Tuesday morning to shoot some practice. They were happy to have me, and they have their senior, junior, and novice teams on the ice together for three hours every morning, so I had plenty of opportunities for great shots of most of their teams. I love photographing practice sessions, especially when they’re the usual everyday sessions, not the official ones at competitions. Despite living in the centre of a major city, I don’t have a rink that’s easily accessible to me, so I don’t have this opportunity too often.

 

Team BCI was most impressed with the incredible amount of focus and discipline that everyone had. It could have been because they were on their best behavior for the girl with the camera, but I’m not a complete stranger to them, so I think that they’re fairly comfortable with me, or at least as comfortable as you can be when someone is photographing your every move at an extremely early hour of the morning. From what this group of skaters always says about their training, though, I think that this is the norm. Every team had something to work on, and no one was ever wandering around, wondering what to do, even with seven teams on the ice at once. I was at the boards for a little over an hour, and I saw at least one run-through from every team, as well as detailed work on a particular element. Nicole & Thomas were already training their senior short dance, which has some reworked material from their junior program, but quite a bit of new choreography as well, since the tempo for the rhumba is faster than the cha cha. Quite a few of the teams were working hard on the pattern dances, several took turns working on spins with a pairs coach, some were working on speed and flow of certain sections of their programs. It was hard just deciding where to look sometimes, but the energy was high and I just kept shooting. They had asked me to get a group shot of their international team in their Canada jackets at the end of the session, and I was suprised when Aaron skated over to tell me that they were almost done. I wanted to get the Canadian flag painting in the background, so I even got to shuffle out onto the ice in my runners, and I did so without killing myself or injuring my tailbone (again). Definitely a successful morning.

 

As always, email me at [email protected] with comments, questions, and suggestions!