Thornhill Summer Skate shines light on young skaters and brings out the competitive edge in veterans

The Thornhill Summer Skate is a refreshing mix of sandals and down-filled jackets, tiny tots and Olympians and even skaters from other countries: Japan, Kazakhstan, Germany. Mostly, it’s an event for skaters to try out their wings and get feedback from judges and monitors.

And it’s a place where stars are born, perhaps, come growth and development and the grace of the skating gods. Natalie D’Allessandro is 10 and precocious by competing in the pre-novice women’s event.

Thornhill head coach Katerina Papafotiou, who has handled the little wonder-kid for the past two years, get shivers when she thinks of the girl’s future.

When Papafotiou first got D’Allessandro, she saw a “quite delightful girl, who loves to skate, with gorgeous skating skills, and aggressive with the edges.” Papafotiou helped her develop her jumps and spins. “I call her my little Tara Lipinski,” Papafotiou said. The girl has spent some time working with Richard Callaghan, the coach of Lipinski, in Detroit.

D’Allessandro won the pre-novice women’s event at Thornhill, with a higher score than any of the 125 other entrants, split into seven groups. Her 80.41 paled in comparison to an international effort at Lake Placid in June, when she finished with 99.86 points in the novice women’s category. Not one to sit still, D’Allessandro also competed at Skate Detroit in novice.

While she didn’t unleash any triples at Thornhill, she’s been learning them this year, up to the triple Lutz. Her triple Salchow and triple toe loop are most consistent this season.

The thing about D’Allessandro at this point? “She’s just so aggressive on the ice with all the elements,” Papafotiou said. “The judges are really loving that part of her skating. Not just her tricks, but her skating and performance.”

On the boy’s side, there was 9-year-old Stephen Gogolev, who attempted his first triple Lutz in competition (and fell, but did one in the warm-up), and won the men’s pre-novice competition with 100.72 points, 30 points ahead of his nearest rival. He landed three triples, and executed three level-four spins.

All of them got an eyeful of some of the top skaters in the country.

With the senior men’s event promising to be a more wide open affair than the Canadian championships has seen in years, the men of Canada are all setting their caps for the national championships in January in Kingston, Ontario.

Andrei Rogozine, now training in Colorado Springs with Tom Zakrajsek, bolted boldly out of the blocks at Thornhill and won the short program. He fired off a big quadruple toe loop (he did brush a foot on landing), then did his signature triple Axel out of a spread eagle and topped that off with a deft triple flip – triple toe loop. He pumped his fists when he finished and some people stood, applauding. That was worth 73.53 points to him, higher than his official ISU score of 70.58, attained at the 2013 Four Continents championships.

It was a major triumph for Rogozine, who finished only seventh at the Canadian championships and missed an Olympic berth in Sochi.

That effort put him more than six points ahead of second-place Liam Firus, who was using his “Fascination” program from last season, and about 10 1/2 points ahead of reigning junior world champion Nam Nguyen, who was debuting two new routines.

Firus could have scored higher, but received no points for a triple toe loop, which might become a quad later this season. He’s working on one with the quadmeister teacher, Christy Krall. Firus did land a triple Lutz – triple toe loop combo but only a double Axel, his nemesis jump.  Firus outscored Rogozine by about five points in program components, and it was no wonder: the Vancouver-born skater has developed even more of an expressive power on the ice over the summer. In a word, he was gorgeous.

Nguyen ended up in third because he popped his triple Axel and got no score for it. He gathered himself for the rest of the performance while showing off his unusual – and very cool – routine to “Sinnerman” vocals.

That all changed in the senior men’s program, when Nguyen, 16, prevailed with his “La Strada” routine. This time, he got the triple Axel under control and did two of them, one in combination with a triple toe loop. And for the first time, he attempted a quad – a Salchow – although he under rotated it and fell. The rest of his program went off without a hitch, complete with eight triple jumps, three level-four spins and a step sequence that earned him a level four. All of this early season diligence landed him the win in the free skate with 146.46 points (his record score of 147.31 came at the world championships last March in Japan) and he won overall with 209.61.

In the end, Nguyen narrowly defeated Rogozine by only .52 points.

Interesting fact? Roman Sadovsky, all of 15, and only 13th behind Nguyen at the world junior championships last year, finished second in the long program, ahead of Rogozine (third) and Firus (fourth). And his component mark was a point higher than the expressive Nguyen’s.

Sadovsky finished third overall, and he almost defeated Nguyen in the short. Had he not fallen out of a camel spin, he might have finished second. This little expert spinner hit a hole in the ice.

The Thornhill crowd also saw two powerful performances from senior women Gabby Daleman and Alaine Chartrand, who was here to do only her new short program. Daleman won the short when she went out, gobbling up the rink with her huge strides and speed – almost as if the rink wasn’t big enough for her – and did a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combo, although she intends to make that a Lutz-toe loop later in the season.

Chartrand, dressed in scarlet, made mistakes in her short to finish second, but what the crowd saw was a skater with more power and speed and presence than ever before. Just so that you know: both skaters are working on triple Axels and not just for fun.

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