14cdns-tailleferchanArticle & Photos by Melanie Hoyt

The novice dance event at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships featured only one team returning from last year’s novice-level championship. That team, Québec’s Valérie Taillefer & Jason Chan, came out of the gate strong this year, and were in the hunt for the novice title all season long. Their biggest competition was Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham of Central Ontario, and the two teams split the wins in the two pattern dances. 

Taillefer & Chan trailed by .17 heading into the free dance, but a confident, inspired program helped them leap into the lead to secure their first Canadian title.

“Since we were second in the pattern dances, we were kind of iffy about today [the free dance], but I think that we set that aside to really skate well,” Chan said.

Taillefer & Chan’s free dance scored 63.53 points, a seven-point leap from its outing at Challenge. Although they made a small error on twizzles that led to a level 3, they picked up extra points for their level three midline step sequence, the only one in the competition. Their “Magic”-themed free dance had a unique look, thanks to choreographer Shae Zukiwsky, and their flow and presentation stood out from the rest of the teams.

“We were really excited that he [Zukiwsky] agreed to make our programs this year,” Chan said.

One standout moment in their free dance was their straightline lift (pictured, right), in which Chan lifts Taillefer by her skate blade while she remains upside-down. The lift, suggested by their coach Shawn Winter, was first done by Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt a couple of seasons ago, but has not become a popular variation yet.

“We were just watching videos to see what kind of lifts we wanted to do this year,” Chan said. “We tried it off the ice first, and it was pretty easy.”

“It’s fun to do,” Taillefer said.

“Because I’m lifting you,” Chan shot back with a smile.

The first pattern dance at this event, the Cha Cha Congelado, negatively affected scores a bit, as the dance is not worth as much as the second pattern dance, the Argentine Tango. However, Taillefer & Chan still managed to increase their total score from Challenge, finishing the competition with 90.54 points. Last year, they were tenth at Canadians on the novice level, but made big improvements over the off-season to take their skating to new heights. The team, which trains in Pierrefonds, Que., with Élise Hamel and Shawn Winter, looks forward to moving to the junior level next year.

After winning the Argentine Tango, Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham entered the free dance with a narrow lead. Although their “Cabaret” program was energetic and sharply-executed, they slipped to second with a season’s best total score of 87.12 points. Their twizzles and footwork sequences were only level 2, but their other lifts and spin were level 4.

“Our elements were good,” Graham said, “but our transitions weren’t our best.”

While they were initially disappointed to drop a spot after the free dance, they did not originally expect to medal in their first season at the novice level. 

“We were actually only aiming for top ten,” Whitley said. 

After a strong season, though, they expected to finish in the top two spots if they skated their best.

Whitley & Graham were youngsters in the field, but the length of their partnership makes them veterans. They have already been skating together for over six years, and it is easy to see that they are very comfortable and confident together. Whitley & Graham train in Barrie, Ont., with David Islam, Kelly Johnson, and the rest of the team at the Mariposa International Training Centre.

The most surprised and delighted medalists were Megan Koenig-Croft & Jake Richardson, who finished third. Although they were fifth at Challenge and could have realistically hoped to improve two spots at Canadians, they were already so pleased with their efforts as a new team that they were not worrying about a medal.

“Actually, my goal was only to get to Nationals,” Richardson said. “Last year when I went to Challenge [with a different partner], we finished dead last.”

“I thought that whatever place we come in, as long as we do a good job and are happy with our skate, that’s the greatest thing,” Koenig-Croft added. “Medaling is the most awesome thing in the world!”

They performed their folk dance very well, earning level 4 on their twizzles, lifts, and spin. They earned level 1 for both step sequences, and they were relieved to hit level 4 twizzles, despite a shaky moment on the often troublesome element.

“Twizzles are definitely something that we always want to improve,” Koenig-Croft said. “I got a little bit behind today, but I caught up and I guess it worked out.”

Koenig-Croft & Richardson train at Ice Dance Elite in Scarborough, Ont. 

14cdns-mageekitteridgeSkating in the penultimate flight, Ceduna Magee & Lucas Kitteridge (pictured, left) bounced back well after a fall in the Argentine Tango. Their free dance was ranked fourth, and it was enough to bring them up to fourth overall, with a total of 76.78 points. They had originally hoped to medal, after winning bronze at Challenge in December, but had to refocus going into the free dance.

“We were hoping for a medal,” Kitteridge said, “but it was a good skate.”

“We had a rough compulsory, so we have to happy with how we finished overall,” Magee explained. “I was the one who fell, and I felt like I was letting him down, so I had to remember to focus on myself and make sure I was on for today.”

They earned a season’s best in their Italian-themed free dance.

“We went through a few ideas first—we went through country, there was an Elvis idea for a while, but we both loved this one and decided on this one,” Kitteridge said.

Magee & Kitteridge are another new team this season, and Magee, originally from Alberta, is new to competitive ice dance. She is an accomplished singles skater, having qualified for Canadians before, and she has made it Challenge at the junior level for the past two seasons.

“I’ve been wanting to do ice dance for a long time,” Magee said. “I was pretty competitive in singles, and I wasn’t really allowed to make the switch. When I finally got to the point where I could switch, it was a little discouraging because I was older and I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. But I moved to Barrie, and it’s been good, and I’m really happy.”

They were two of the oldest competitors in the novice field this year, due to their late start in dance, and they are excited to move up to the junior level next season.

Ashlynne Stairs & Bradley Keeping-Myra were seventh in the free dance, but their strong pattern dances kept them in fifth after they earned 76.10 points overall. They had fun with their “Stray Cat Strut” free dance which showed off how well they can move, but they seemed to run out of speed towards the end. Their final two elements, a rotational lift and the midline steps, netted negative GOE.

Stairs & Keeping-Myra teamed up last year, but have already made a coaching change. They trained in Barrie during the summer, but later moved to train with Mark and Roy Bradshaw in Oakville, Ont. 

Finishing sixth overall was the new team of Jazlyn Tabachniuk & Nikolas Wamsteeker. They earned 73.53 points, and their “My Fair Lady” free dance was skated quite well. They were a little shaky on the opening twizzles, but got back into the program and were solid on the rest of their elements. This was Tabachniuk’s first season in a competitive dance partnership, and this was Wamsteeker’s first season back after taking a year away from ice dance. Both skaters are quite tall and lean, giving the team an elegant look that suited their music.

14cdns-bedduvyergEkaterina Fedyushchenko & Kaelan Dunker were close behind, scoring 73.00 points to land in seventh place. The Mariposa-trained team was mainly held back by level 1 step sequences; the rest of their program to music from the French musical “Don Juan” was well done. They are also a new team, but they already have a nice rapport with each other, highlighted by the way that they expressed the lyrical songs.

Local Minto-trained skaters Vanessa Chartrand & Christian Reekie were surprise participants in the final group of the free dance after a great outing in the pattern dances. Unfortunately, they slipped a few spots after a fall in the free dance. They did not maximize their levels, earning level 1 for the step sequences and level 3 for the twizzles and two lifts. Their spunky dance to music by Elvis Presley was a lot of fun, though, and their score of 72.93 points was good enough for eighth place.

Sabrina Bédard & Zoé Duval-Yergeau (pictured, right) came on strong in the free dance, ranking fifth in that segment, but they ended up at the bottom of a close point spread between sixth and ninth. Their free dance closed with “I Wanna Be Like You,” and the 14-year-olds exploded with energy in the last minute. They earned level 4 for most of their elements, but only level 1 on the step sequences. A few extra points from footwork could have bumped them up a few rankings, but their score of 72.41 kept them in fifth.

Mira Samoisette & Alexander Seidel just stayed ahead of Sara Marier & Anthony Campanelli, 61.80 to 60.19. Samoisette & Seidel were tenth overall, while Marier & Campanelli skated the tenth-best free dance, but finished 11th.

The results from 12th to 14th were impossibly close—only one-hundredth of a point separated the three places! Natascha Collier & Lee Royer emerged at the top of the pack to finish 12th with 49.98 points. Nicola Salimova & Paul Ayer were 13th with 49.97 points, and Alycia O’Leary & Oliver Grutter amassed the exact same total score. Salimova & Ayer were given the nod in the rankings because their free dance score was higher.

Émilie Huynh & Jeffrey Wong, alternates for the event who replaced Priya Ramesh & Brandon Labelle, finished 15th.