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Newcomers like Duffy, Gervais mark Canadian World Cup short-track teams

10/06/2014 05:59 EDT | Updated 12/06/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - It is time for Patrick Duffy and other youngsters to show what they can do in World Cup short-track speedskating.

Duffy is among eight new names on the Canadian team announced Monday to take part in the first four World Cup events of the 2014-15 season, which starts in November.

"It's fantastic that I've broken through," the Oakville, Ont., skater said. "The past two years I've been on the edge of the team, but haven't quite made it onto the world stage properly.

"So I guess these four World Cups coming up is my time to shine, to show what I'm made of."

The men's team did not have any retirements from last season, which featured the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the world championships in Montreal. But veteran Olivier Jean is taking the first half of the season off to finish up his kinesiology degree.

On the women's side, Jessica Gregg has moved on, Jessica Hewitt is still pondering her future and Marie-Eve Drolet is on pregnancy leave, although she hopes at some point to return to racing.

That left spots open for World Cups Nov, 7-9 in Salt Lake City, Nov. 14-16 in Montreal, Dec. 12-14 in Shanghai and Dec. 19-21 in Seoul.

And it made for fierce battles at a selection camp last month in Calgary.

Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., his brother Francois Hamelin (now based in Calgary), Charle Cournoyer of Boucherville, Que. and Guillaume Bastille of Riviere-du-Loup, Que., are back with the men's team and Marianne St-Gelais of Saint-Felicien, Que., and Valerie Maltais of Saguenay, Que., for the women.

New comers Duffy and Samuel Girard of Ferland-Boileau, Que., will skate in the first four World Cups while Yoan Gauthier of Riviere-du-Loup and Samuel Belanger-Marceau of St-Bruno, Que., will only be in the first two. Sasha Alexander Fathoullin of Calgary and Francois Hamelin will take over in the next two events.

For the women, Maltais, Kim Boutin of Sherbrooke, Que., and Kasandra Bradette of Saint-Felicien wil skate in all four, while Courtney Shmyr of Langley, B.C. will be in the first two and Namasthee Harris-Gauthier of Montreal and Audrey Phaneuf of Boucherville will appear in the two Asian events.

It is the first year of a new four-year Olympic cycle and skaters like Duffy see it as a first step toward qualification for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"The timing's perfect," he said. "It'll be an ideal experience to help me grow as a skater."

It helps that three-time Olympic gold medallist Charles Hamelin decided to skate through another Olympic cycle. The 30-year-old is the team's most accomplished and experienced racer.

"Having someone like Charles around, with the success he's had, to lead this new generation of short-trackers is huge," said men's team coach Derrick Campbell. "But guys like Bastille and Chournoyer are still with the group. They provide leadership, but they're getting better too. They're still on the radar."

Campbell likes what he's seen of Duffy, who ended last season ranked eighth in Canada.

"He's refined his racing skills," he said. "He doesn't have a lot of World Cup experience, but he has a savvyness in his racing style that is the cornerstone of his improvement."

What Charles Hamelin provides for the men's team, his partner St-Gelais will bring to the women.

St-Gelais said it will likely take most of this season to get the relay squad synchronized, but she welcomes new blood.

"If I want to be on top, I need to work every day because they're young, they're good and they want to be on top too, so I have to work really hard," she said. "For the relay, we lost both Jessicas and Marie-Eve.

"That's lot of experience, but I'm comfortable with that. They're hungry, they want to win but we need to get to know each other."

The highlight for newcomers like Gervais will be the World Cup in Montreal, which is held at the Maurice Richard Arena where most of the team trains.

"I was training and I was thinking 'at World Cup, people will be screaming Go Canada' and it was a good feeling," said Gervais. "I can't wait to be on the ice."

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