by Melanie Heaney | Photos by Danielle Earl
Following the conclusion of the senior-level events at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, the junior skaters took the ice for their championships. Skate Canada has flipped the schedule at Canadians once before, in 2014, which allows the seniors a bit more time to prepare for the Olympic Winter Games and the Four Continents Championships, and does not require the juniors to have to travel over New Year’s weekend.
When Skate Canada announced that spectators and media would not be allowed to attend the event on December 30, they also postponed the novice-level event. This is due to newly revised restrictions in some of the provinces which currently prevent novice skaters from training indoors. In the 2020-21 season, most of the Canadian juniors only had one or two opportunities for a provincial competition and a virtual Challenge event, so the majority of the athletes were quick to express gratitude at being able to compete at all.
Competing at the first Canadian Championships since 2019, when they won the bronze medal, Natalie D’Alessandro & Bruce Waddell took home the Canadian junior title. The Toronto-based team were the favorites going in, having won a Junior Grand Prix event and qualified for the Final, which was later cancelled, this season. Last season, they were the top Canadian junior team at Skate Canada Challenge and in 2020, they missed the Canadian Championships because they were selected to compete at the Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
They skated with a ton of attack in their rhythm dance, but so did their main rivals this season, Nadiia Bashynska & Peter Beaumont. Both teams earned almost all level fours—D’Alessandro & Waddell had a level three midline step sequence while Bashynka & Beaumont had a level three for their second Blues pattern—but D’Alessandro & Waddell had a slight edge on the program components and squeaked out the lead, 70.79 to 70.66.
In their Swan Lake free dance choreographed by Romain Haguenauer, D’Alessandro & Waddell were composed and perhaps a bit reserved in the first half, but really let the drama and passion fly after their circular step sequence and twizzles were completed. The twizzle sequence contained perhaps the most noticeable mistake, but it was still quite slight—a loss of unison on the final set of twizzles. They still earned level fours and positive GOE for the element and then really flew into the choreography, starting with the character step sequence. D’Alessandro & Waddell were excited before they even left the ice, proud of their efforts as they made their way to the kiss & cry, where it was made official: the 2016 Canadian pre-novice and 2017 Canadian novice champions won the 2022 Canadian junior title with a total score of 175.03.
“It feels amazing,” Waddell said. “This is like my favourite competition, and we were finally able to do it after a while. We went out there and had lots of fun.”
They have had plenty of time to grow in confidence with this program that was originally choreographed back in summer 2020. Due to limited opportunities to perform a program that meant so much to them—D’Alessandro in particular had always wanted to be the Black Swan—they kept working with this program this year.
“We’ve definitely made a lot of changes,” Waddell said, “for the better, too. We want to keep growing with it. With our improvements comes a feeling that we’ve almost outgrown [the choreography], so we always want to be leveling up the program and evolving it.”
“Also little things in practice, every day,” D’Alessandro added. “Whether it’s our coaches or Bruce and I, we’ll think, ‘Why don’t we throw this in here?,’ or, ‘What it we open up this section to make it a bit bigger?’ That’s such a cool part about ice dance—you never really have like a set program, and you’re always working on it and trying to make it better.”
Waddell in particular has plenty to keep him busy—he also qualified in the senior men’s division, where he finished tenth. He is quite comfortable with his training workload and even with the chaos of competing in two events at the same competition and intends to continue to skate both disciplines. D’Alessandro used to also skate freestyle; in fact, both partners won the 2016 Canadian bronze medal at the novice level in their singles events. She gave up freestyle training after a ninth-place finish at the junior level in 2019, feeling satisfied with her performance but ready to fully focus on ice dance.
Although Bashynska & Beaumont fell a bit short of the top step of the podium, they were upbeat and positive following their strong performance of the free dance to classic Russian folk songs. They earned a total of 170.79 points to easily win the silver medal, matching their result from 2020 and improving upon their winning score from Skate Canada Challenge by about five points. This performance was extra special for Bashynska—it was her first Canadian Championships as a Canadian citizen. Beaumont is also seeking citizenship, and unfortunately, his permanent residency process saw delays, so he still expects at least a few years before he will be able to acquire citizenship in Canada.
“It [our skate today] was definitely memorable,” Bashynska said. “We definitely gave it all at the end.”
“It was harder than yesterday,” Beaumont added. “I don’t know why—well, naturally, we had a bit more nerves today.”
They have improved their flow and power in the past couple of years since their last appearance at Canadians, and only had one noticeable mistake—their twizzle sequence was a bit wild, resulting in a reduction in both levels and GOE.
“Every competition for us is a new opportunity and a new lesson,” Bashynska said. “We always take out something good and something to work on.”
They now turn their focus to the World Junior Championships in March. Bashynska & Beaumont were assigned to the event, along with D’Alessandro & Waddell. D’Alessandro & Waddell have been before, finishing 11th in 2020, but Bashynska & Beaumont narrowly missed out on a trip that year. The World Junior Championships were not held in 2021.
Miku Makita & Tyler Gunara finished third with a score of 163.00, a huge victory considering how much training time they have missed this season. Things were going well for them until August 2021, when Gunara sustained an ankle injury shortly before their first Junior Grand Prix event in Courchevel, France. They were able to skate fairly well there and won the silver medal, but food poisoning to Makita kept them out of their planned second JGP event, also in Courchevel. After they got home, Gunara’s injury never really healed, and he spent the fall on and off the ice, never seeming to find an accurate diagnosis for his injured ankle. They were given a medical bye through Skate Canada Challenge, which brought the total number of teams in Ottawa to 16, up from the usual field of 15.
“It’s a joint injury, but I don’t know anything for sure,” Gunara said. “When I get back to Vancouver, I’ll get it checked further.”
He was able to train for a few weeks to get through the Canadian Championships, and after returning home, he plans to get additional imaging done to see if arthritis might be root of the problem.
Makita & Gunara showed strength in both of their programs, exhibiting difficult choreography and a mature presentation—particularly in their tango free dance—that set them apart from the rest of the field, but they looked a little less confident and were just not able to get any closer to the top two teams that ran away with the event. They plan to skate on the senior level next season and their musicality and authentic connection should help them fit in well with the more established teams.
Makita & Gunara had been on the Youth Olympics team in 2020 with D’Alessandro & Waddell, so this was their first Canadian Championships since 2019, when they finished ninth in their first junior season. They won a Canadian silver medal at the novice level in 2018, behind Bashynska & Beaumont.
Hailey Yu & Brendan Giang, who train with Makita & Gunara at the Vancouver Ice Dance Academy, gave an impressive performance at their first Canadian Championships at the junior level. They earned 147.52 points to finish in fourth place, a huge leap from their scores on the Junior Grand Prix, and even a few points higher than their silver-medal-winning effort at Skate Canada Challenge in December. Yu & Giang were also fourth at the 2020 Canadian Championships, but on the novice level, and things have changed quite a bit since then. The massive height difference that they used to have has shrunk considerably, although they are still a good physical match.
“I think it’s easier for Brendan to partner me,” Yu said, “but it’s maybe made the lifts more difficult.”
They still handle the lifts well, saving a very strong level four rotational lift for the end of their free dance.
Chaima Ben Khelifa & Everest Zhu pulled up from sixth in the rhythm dance to fifth in the free dance to finish fifth overall, scoring 144.82. They also improved upon their Skate Canada Challenge score by a small margin and were elated with their effort in the free dance. Their program to “Keeping Me Alive” built in drama and intensity towards the end of the program, and the team was able to keep up their presentation to follow the music all the way to the end.
“It felt good to be out there,” Zhu said after the free dance. “We skated for the two of us.”
“Every time we’re on the ice, it feels better and better,” Ben Khelifa added.
Ben Khelifa & Zhu had a disappointing Canadians last time around, finishing 13th in 2020, and have made big improvements in the past two seasons.
Alyssa Robinson & Jacob Portz were a bit disappointed with their free dance efforts in Ottawa. Although they dropped from fifth in the rhythm dance to seventh in the free dance and finished sixth overall, their score of 141.21 was over ten points higher than what they score at Challenge last month.
“It wasn’t our best skate,” Robinson said afterwards. “It started off a bit shaky, but we’re still happy with it.”
They showed off a dramatic side and chose “Paint it Black” for their free dance. They are the one of the newest partnerships among the top ten teams at this event; it is their second season together. Although they still have room to polish up their unison, they have long lines that look great together and they are able to execute difficult elements within a complex program.
“I think, from the beginning, we worked really well together,” Portz said, “so that allowed our choreographers to give us more difficulty to work with.”
Robinson & Portz plan to skate at the senior level next season.
Sandrine Gauthier & Quentin Thieren, the 2020 Canadian novice champions, finished seventh with a total score of 138.77.