03/24/2014 06:00 EDT | Updated 05/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Canada's Weaver and Poje poised to step onto world ice dance podium

They've long danced in the shadows of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

But there's about to be a new world order in ice dancing, and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje hope to lead the way.

The ice dancers from Waterloo, Ont., are competing at the world figure skating championships this week in Saitama, Japan, and for the first time in five years, the gold won't go to Virtue and Moir or Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Both teams took a pass on the worlds.

"I think initially it was a bit of a shock," Weaver said. "Everyone knew there would be a day when Tessa and Scott and Meryl and Charlie weren't going to grace the competitive rinks, but now that it's here, it's like 'Wait. . what are we going to do now?'

"It's a little strange to not have them there on the list. But at this point, we're ready. I feel like we're ready to take over."

Virtue and Moir and their American rivals have split the last four world championships. Each team has a gold and a silver from the last two Olympics, with Davis and White claiming gold last month in Sochi.

Both teams are expected to announce their retirement shortly. Davis and White are currently competing on "Dancing With the Stars."

Weaver and Poje were seventh in their Olympic debut last month in Sochi, and have been fourth once and fifth twice at the world championships.

Now, the world title is up for grabs, said the 24-year-old Weaver.

"And it's going to be a free-for-all. I really do believe that everyone is in this predicament where anything can happen and that's a thrilling place to be," she said. "We've always prided ourselves on being the underdogs, and we've been working so hard the last couple of weeks but we've been working so hard this whole season because we knew this moment could be a reality when we'd be the first Canadian team.

"We've been preparing our whole lives for these types of moments, and we're very excited to go in and try and stake our claim for Canada and not lose any ground without Tessa and Scott being there."

Weaver and Poje finished fifth at the world championships last spring in London, Ont., despite the fact Weaver was coming off a broken ankle. The two had missed the entire Grand Prix season and she was still on crutches at the Canadian championships, two months before they took the ice at worlds.

Weaver had surgery this past off-season to remove the screws in her ankle.

The ice dancers lead an 11-member Canadian team in Japan that is also missing three-time world champion Patrick Chan. Chan, who won silver at the Sochi Olympics, hasn't announced his immediate competitive plans.

In his absence, Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., will be the top men's singles skater in Japan.

The 23-year-old, who was fifth at last year's world championships, hopes to make up for his disappointing 15th-place finish at the Sochi Olympics. Reynolds has had a short season after struggling for months to find skates that fit him properly, skipping the Grand Prix events in the fall. And while he has yet to find a solution, he's going to focus on competing this week and then will spend the off-season working with his skate sponsor to build a boot that fits his narrow heel.

"It's kind of like the end is in sight, and that's motivated me to put it out of my mind and do the best that I can at the world championships," Reynolds said.

Rising star Nam Nguyen will make his world senior debut this week. The 15-year-old from Toronto is coming off a victory at the world junior championships two weeks ago. Nguyen reeled off two triple Axels in his long program to win the world title.

"When I saw the score, it was unbelievable, that's the highest score I've ever gotten internationally," Nguyen said. "When I sat down, there were so many things going on in my head — 'I skated awesome' and things like that. I saw the score and thought, 'Oh my god, I can't believe it.'"

Reynolds and Weaver and Poje said it wasn't easy to get revved up again for the world championships after coming down off the Olympic high from Sochi.

"There was so much energy involved," Reynolds said of his Sochi experience.

Weaver and Poje took a few days off, and spoke to students at several schools through their involvement with Right to Play, an organization that uses sport and play to empower and educate children.

"Seeing the excitement on (the students') faces just made us realize how special the moment was," Poje said.

"It took a bit of regrouping, we were mentally and physically drained coming back from the Olympics, as we should be," Weaver added. "I would feel like we missed something if we came back still with energy. I think we lived our Olympics to the fullest and we were able to experience so many different aspects of the Games."

It wasn't difficult, Weaver said, for the ice dancers to get excited for the world championships, especially considering the absence of Virtue and Moir and Davis and White.

"It leaves two spots open that weren't there before," Weaver said. "That leaves a lot of room for us. . . And it allows close out our season and celebrate all the strides we've made this year."

Kaetlyn Osmond, an 18-year-old from Marystown, N.L., is Canada's top women's singles skater at the world championships, and is looking to improve on her 13th place in Sochi.

Canada has a couple of pairs teams that could finish on the podium. Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., won bronze at last year's worlds, and were seventh at the Sochi Olympics. Kirsten Moore-Towers of Waterloo, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto were fifth in Sochi and fourth at the worlds last year.