Allison Eby and Brett Varley dazzle in novice pair; Joseph Phan jumps into lead in novice men’s competition

OTTAWA: Coach Kevin Wheeler had an inkling that Allison Eby and Brett Varley would be an entertainment twosome, given that they had always shown a little bit of moxie in his club in Cambridge, Ont.

He matched the two together, not because he thought they’d have booming throws or endless lifts or soaring twists. He just thought, as a team, they’d have a lot of energy and appeal.

And so they have. Skating to “Black Bottom Stomp,” Eby, 11, of Ayr, Ont., and Varley, 19, of Thedford, Ont., won the novice pair short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating championships. They had enough technical tricks too to muster the win: a double twist, a throw double toe loop, double loop jumps, and a step sequence and a combination spin that both got level four for difficulty.

They will take 40.25 points with them into the free skate, and this, even though this is their first season together. “Both had to learn the pairs moves right from the start,” Wheeler said. They had been singles skaters. Varley had done some ice dancing. “We didn’t know what to expect ,” he said. “They had to learn the basics. But they get along really well.”

Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz of Alberta are in second place with 38.62 points, and Naomie Boudreau and Cedric Savard are third with 38.17.

Wheeler, a former senior national competitor in his day, has here novice and one junior pair in his stable, but was disappointed when his novice stars Renata Wong and Henry Su withdrew from the event. “We had big expectations for them this year,” he said. “They’ve been skating really well.”

However, the day of the long program at the Challenge competition, Wong suffered a knee injury while practicing a twist on the floor. She fell awkwardly and the injury has taken a long time to heal. Wheeler had witnessed the accident.

“They were very disappointed they weren’t here,” he said. Su is 19, Wong 14, and they are in their second year of pairs – his veterans on the team – and they had been working on triple throws. “We wanted to show them off,” he said. They will have one more chance to do this, at the Ontario Winter Games in March.

Even though the number of pair skaters is small at these championships – there were 10 pairs and 12 had been entered and the novice level – Wheeler is encouraged by what he has seen at pair practices at the novice and junior level.

“They were very exciting,” he said. “They are training some extremely difficult tricks. He’s seen junior pair skaters attempting two triple throws and moves with a lot of quality. “They will fit well into senior,” he said. “I see it being very exciting for the future. I’m looking forward to seeing this. And it’s not as if they are landing the odd one. They are landing them solidly.”

At this stage, there are a lot of talented pairs in Canada that are currently eligible for the world junior championships later this season.

In the novice men’s short program, Joseph Phan of Montreal delighted the little crowd with his victory, by showing off his easy flow across the ice and a deft set of tricks, including a triple Salchow – double toe loop and a triple toe loop. He is only 12 years old, and coached by Yvan Desjardins.

Phan is on top with 42.40 points, ahead of Josh Allen, 15, of Ottawa, with 37.11.

Zachary Daleman, 13, of Newmarket, Ont., is in third place only two hundredths of a point behind (37.09.) He had an impressive cheering section: his sister, Gabby, who just made the Olympic team in the women’s event, watched her brother compete.

Beverley Smith

Joseph Phan skates like Chan to claim Canadian novice men’s title

OTTAWA: Joseph Phan is a natural. He is only 12 years old, but already he has this lovely glide around the ice, and edges to match. Is it any wonder that the skater he admires most is three-time world champion Patrick Chan? Could it be they are two peas in a pod? On Tuesday, Phan took the first step when he became the novice men’s champion of Canada.

He’ll move up to the junior level next year and he vows to learn all the triples when he does. On Tuesday, he put his two triples to good use, skating to Singing in the Rain.

Phan won with 119.84 points ahead of Edrian Paul Celestino with 115.60,. Third and taking the bronze medal was Josh Allen of Ottawa with 107.60.

Phan didn’t actually win the free skate but he had such a commanding lead (five points, eight ahead of Celestino) after the short program the previous day, that he held onto a safe win.

Celestino, 15, of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., had no expectations or reference points when he came to the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships because he had never been to a nationals, not at any level. He intended to compete last year as a pre-novice, but he sprained his ankle at sectionals and didn’t compete.

Celestino won the free skate with 81.33  points while Phan was second with 77.44. Celestino had been seventh in the short program.

Last year when Phan came to train with Yvan Desjardines, he had no triple toe loop, so they worked on that and also on his skating quality, to maximize grade of execution points. The goal for next summer is to work on a triple loop and a triple Lutz, Desjardins said. And why not a triple-triple combo? That will be in the works, too.

Best of all, Phan has a wonderful skating ability, from a young age. “He has this ease,” Desjardins said. “He is really smooth. He has a nice flow. He doesn’t really know he has this ability. He just likes to do that. He is a natural.”

Later on, this ability will help him in the code of points judging system as he moves up the ladder.

Phan said his parents had him try a wide variety of different sports – soccer, tennis, swimming and gymnastics – but he didn’t really like any of them. Figure skating fit the bill. He started skating when he was five years old.

He admitted he was nervous on Tuesday, skating in the big rink, the Canadian Tire Centre, after skating in a smaller rink for the short program, usually used for practice. “But I’m getting used to it for next year,” he said.

Celestino dealt with the nerves his own way. “Just before I started the long program, I took a moment and just blocked everything out,” he said. “I skated the program like a robot.”

“This has been a completely different experience,” Celestino said. “But for this one, I felt relaxed. Usually I stress about my program. But this time I didn’t feel that.”

But his silver medal feels like a win overall, because he wasn’t expecting to win the free skate. “I expected second or third,” he said.

Beverley Smith