The team to beat this weekend at Skate Canada, the second competition of the 2011 Grand Prix Series, is undoubtedly 2010 Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. Having previously won Skate Canada in 2007 and 2009, Virtue & Moir come to Mississauga, Ontario fresh off a first-place finish at the Finlandia Trophy. In an about face from last season–when their only complete competition was the last event of the season–they began this season extra early, competing in Vantaa to receive feedback before the Grand Prix. Skating to Gershwin’s music from the movie Funny Face, these two veterans will delight the home crowd with their take on Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in the free dance.

A showdown between France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat and their training mates, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada, was expected to take place in Mississauga. Weaver & Poje finished a surprising fifth at the 2011 World Championships, just over three points behind the French. Pechalat & Bourzat competed last week at Skate America, where they won the silver medal, but Bourzat is suffering from bronchitis and had a difficult time getting through the programs. It was no surprise when the duo withdrew from Skate Canada.

Weaver & Poje will skate to “Je Suis Malade” by Serge Lama and Karl Hugo in the free dance. In a departure from their usual lighthearted style, they will portray the theme of love and loss. Weaver & Poje made it to the Grand Prix Final last season in Beijing, placing fifth, and are hoping for a return trip this year with jump in the standings.
Italians Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte are Grand Prix veterans looking to rebound from a fifth-place finish at NHK Trophy last year. Following NHK, they took time to regroup and made a coaching change before recording an eighth-place finish at the World Championships with a personal best score of 153.77. They are no strangers to Grand Prix medals, having won two silvers in 2009 when they qualified for their first Final. If they are back in top form this season, they could certainly stand on the podium.

harveygagnon-11skatecanAlso challenging for a medal will be Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko. Riazanova & Tkachenko made their senior Grand Prix Series debut last season, placing as high as second at Trophée Eric Bompard. They missed out on a trip to the World Championships when they finished behind Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov at the European Championships, so Riazanova & Tkachenko hope to make an impression and improve their ranking this year. They fared well at the Russian test skate, but were unable to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy because Tkachenko’s passport renewal was delayed. Skate Canada will be their international season début.

A new and much-anticipated team making their Grand Prix debut is Madison Chock & Evan Bates, representing the United States. Both had success with their former partners (including back-to-back World Junior titles–Bates with Emily Samuelson in 2008 and Chock with Greg Zuerlein in 2009), and based on their bronze medal at Finlandia Trophy, they are likely to have even more success in the future as they continue to gel as a team. Chock & Bates train in Canton, Mich., with Virtue & Moir.

Also making their senior Grand Prix début are Ekaterina Pushkash & Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia and Canadians Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon (pictured). Pushkash & Guerreiro won the silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships; Skate Canada will be their first senior international event. Harvey & Gagnon are in their third year as seniors and recently placed eighth at Nebelhorn Trophy.

Practices begin Thursday at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. The short dance will be contested on Friday evening, and the free dance is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.