SPORTS

In a transition year, Canada still aiming for two world championship medals

01/25/2015 03:37 EST | Updated 03/27/2015 05:59 EDT
KINGSTON, Ont. - Missing some of its biggest stars, the Canadian figure skating team will still head to the world championships with the podium in its sights.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford in pairs and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje in ice dance headline the world championship team named Sunday at the end of the Canadian championships.

Both the pairs and ice dance teams are enjoying breakthough seasons, sweeping gold in every competition in which they've competed, including the Grand Prix Final in December.

"Given what we had coming out of the Final, definitely with Meagan and Eric and Kaitlyn and Andrew, (the goal is) podium," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director. "And both have a great shot at gold. Those are two realistic entries.

"And we have a lot of unknowns."

Missing in action this weekend were three-time world champion Patrick Chan and Olympic and world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. All three, who were at the Rogers K-Rock Centre to watch the competition, are taking this season off to contemplate their futures.

"In a transition year, we've created depth," Slipchuk said.

When and if Chan and the ice dancers return, he said "it will only make us stronger.

"Spots that were available this year might not be there next year. That changed the landscape. And I think it makes everyone hungrier ... We're starting to see the potential of our younger skaters. They were thrust in the spotlight this year and they totally handled it fine."

Nam Nguyen, a 16-year-old from Toronto, won the men's title in dominant fashion, giving a glimpse of a bright future in men's skating.

"Nam, he just lit it up," Slipchuk said.

Nguyen is improving at breakneck pace, finishing 23rd in a junior Grand Prix last season months before winning the world junior championships. He captured a bronze and a fourth-place finish in his two senior Grand Prix events this season, and then had the performance of his career at the K-Rock Centre, opening Saturday night's free program with a huge quad Salchow on his way to a clean program.

"The thing with Nam is he is just so calm, cool and collected, and consistent," Slipchuk said. "He has a good sense of humour, he's fun to be around, but when he's on the ice, it's all business. With the way the field is now, and everyone is so technically efficient, you've got to be efficient. And he just gives you that feeling that first jump is landed, he's going clean."

Following in Chan's footsteps, Slipchuk said, has helped Nguyen's development.

"We've always had someone everyone could develop underneqth. Jeff (Buttle) was there so Patrick had a year or two to build up. Then Patrick carried that group of men underneath him, so they could develop under him. And now this is the result of that.

"And I think it's that leadership, we have a great group of skaters, they're great role models, they want to see all Canadians succeed, and you saw that with Patrick being here (in Kingston) and Tessa and Scott being here, they all came back."

Jeremy Ten of Vancouver is the other men's entry for the world championships. Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., won the women's title in a field that was missing defending champion Kaetlyn Osmond due to injury. Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., finished second to also make the world team.

Canada's other two world entries in pairs are Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto, and Julianne Seguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Notre-Dame-du-Portage, Que. Seguin and Bilodeau are still juniors, and are aiming for gold at the world junior championships.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch are a new team this season, created after Moscovitch split with former partner Kirsten Moore-Towers. Ilyushechkina competed for Russia, and when Moscovitch discovered she was without a partner, he approached her via Facebook, inviting her for a tryout.

They won silver this week despite only joining forces in the fall. They had just one previous competition under their belt.

"We had to prepare everything for a big start, I know the Canadian expression 'Go big or go home,'" Ilyushechkina said.

Ilyushechkina is eligible to compete for Canada at the world championships, but must obtain Canadian citizenship to compete in the Olympics.

"Oh, it's fantastic," she said, about wearing Canada's colours at the world championships. "I don't believe it yet."

Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., and Alexandra Paul of Midhurst, Ont., and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., round out the ice dance group. All three had top-10 finishes at last year's world championships, proving that Canada's strength in ice dance doesn't stop with Virtue and Moir.

Weaver and Poje captured silver at last year's worlds, but are the favourites for gold a year later.

The world championships are March 23-29.

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