New faces, new teams, new tricks keeping Canadian skating exciting

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – The effects of the post-Olympic season showed up at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships: name skaters taking a year off, team splits, new pairings, new tricks, and new faces emerging.

Most of all, said Michael Slipchuk, high performance director at Skate Canada, new and young faces aplenty stepped up to the bar and earned their way onto World, Four Continents and Junior World teams.

The women started it off on Saturday, with new national champion Gabby Daleman and free program winner Alaine Chartrand seizing opportunities (with Kaetlyn Osmond out with injuries) and both scoring more than 180 points. “They showed competitive fire,” Slipchuk said.

And without seven-time Canadian champion Patrick Chan and the injured quad king Kevin Reynolds, Nam Nguyen, all of 16, got some good advice from coach Brian Orser: stop looking up to others. “You are the best out there,” he told his pupil early in the week. And Nguyen skated like that, winning the title with 256.88 points, more than 34 points ahead of his closest competitor.

Only a year ago, Nguyen was floundering in Junior Grand Prix events, finishing 23rd in his first one. Four months later, he won the world junior championships. And he’s adding quads at a rapid pace, pushing himself, and according to Orser, actually working harder than his more famous training mates, Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez.

“He just lit it up,” Slipchuk said. “He gives us that legitimate top-10 threat (Orser figures he could be in top eight) to keep our numbers up.” And Jeremy Ten, who hasn’t been on a world team since 2009, has returned rejuvenated, with great programs and a quad, exceeding his goals just to have a final skate at a Canadian championship.

Slipchuk figures it’s a realistic goal for pairs champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje to finish on a world podium if not win the entire thing altogether. Some of the others are unknowns, he added.

The unknowns are exciting: new pair team Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch delighted the Kingston crowds to take the silver medal, but they’ve only been to one senior B competition in Poland.

Other highlights: new senior team, Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, bronze medalists here, have made both the junior and senior world teams: their goal is to win the world junior title this year. Slipchuk says they’ve come into their own this season, improving their scores by 40 points and turning to dance choreographers Marie-France Dubrueil to give them a different look.

They will, however, give up the Four Continents assignment to Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, who finished a close fourth in the pair event.

“Let’s see where these guys fit into the world scene,” Slipchuk said. “We have two that have proven themselves. The rest, we’ll have a better idea after Four Continents.”

Meanwhile, former world champion Patrick Chan is hanging in the wings, and was the first to congratulate Nguyen as the new senior men’s champ.

Indications are that Chan will return next year. Slipchuk has seen him training in Detroit, and he still has his quads, has kept his technical prowess and even has improved in some ways. Chan still has it: he won Japan Open earlier this year with one of the highest free program scores of the season.

Asked if he misses being out there, going toe to toe with other Canadians, Chan said: “A little bit.” You could see it in his eyes.

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