01/18/2012 04:45 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Rejuvenated Patrick Chan gunning for fifth consecutive Canadian title

On the heels of a heady undefeated year, Patrick Chan needed to get away from it all.

So he travelled to Vegas to celebrate his 21st birthday on New Year's Eve, and over four days of shows like Cirque de Soleil and a little bit of gambling, the Canadian ultimately achieved what he'd been hoping for — he briefly forgot he was a skater.

Now the rejuvenated Chan will be gunning for his fifth senior men's title at the Canadian figure skating championships this week in Moncton, N.B., to kick off the second half of the season.

"It was exhilarating, my chance to be myself and get out of the good and the bad of skating," Chan said. "It was a well-needed rest, and I really had a good time and I left Vegas almost forgetting that I was a skater, which was great, that was exactly what I wanted. Vegas does that for you."

The Toronto skater is coming off a magnificent 2011 that saw him win the world championship — setting three world scoring records in the process — along with every other event he competed in, earning the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of the year.

But he drew the ire of some skating fans late in the year for comments he made comparing Canada to his parents' homeland of China.

The timing of his Vegas break — he spent four days with friends and family, taking in some shows and trying his hand at the blackjack table — was ideal.

"It was awesome," said Chan, adding he broke even at the card table. "The shows were amazing, it's good to sit back and really enjoy and be the audience and not be the performer."

Chan will return to centre stage this week, one of nearly 300 skaters at the championships.

Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir return after missing last year's event while Virtue recovered from surgery on her lower legs.

Cynthia Phaneuf will defend her women's singles title, along with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch in pairs.

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., completed just one competition last season, winning silver at the world championships.

"It was a bit of a tough one with our coaches last year," Virtue said on a recent conference call. "Scott and I felt ready to compete (at the Canadian championships) and we wanted to compete more than anything, but our coaches knew best.

"It was a tough one to sit out, but we're so happy to be back this year, and not just back but back in top shape."

With the 22-year-old Virtue back healthy, she and Moir, 24, had one of their strongest off-seasons of training in several years.

"It's refreshing, absolutely, and it's something we're not going to take for granted any time soon, given the history we've had with injury," Virtue said.

The two are keen to reclaim their world figure skating crown they lost to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. After finishing runners-up to Davis and White at the Grand Prix Final, where Moir fell in the short program, they went back to the drawing board during the Christmas break to tinker with their programs.

"We definitely wanted to capitalize on a couple more points from the Grand Prix Final, and in 2012, we see ourselves on the top of the podium," Moir said.

They changed a lift in both the short and free dance, Moir said, moving a lift in the short dance from the middle to the end of the program.

"We wanted to end with more of a bang," Moir said.

Phaneuf will make her first competitive appearance since a coaching change in November. The 24-year-old from Contrecoeur, Que., left her longtime coach Annie Barabe and moved to Toronto to train with Brian Orser in an effort to recharge her career after some frustrating results.

"The first week was hard," Phaneuf said on a conference call. "I felt like I had nothing (in Toronto), I left everything in Quebec.

"After a week, everything was fine. As soon as I got on the rink, I knew this was the right choice."

Phaneuf was fifth at the 2010 world championships, but was 13th last year. She had seventh- and ninth-place finishes on the Grand Prix circuit this season.

The Canadian championships will determine the teams for the ISU Four Continents and the world championships in Nice, France.

Moncton also held the Canadian championships in 1974, 1985 and '92.