Di­rec­tor has high hopes for new crop of skaters

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - GEMMA KARSTENS-SMITH

VAN­COU­VER Sev­eral of the coun­try’s mar­quee fig­ure skaters have stepped away from com­pe­ti­tion, but Skate Canada’s high per­for­mance di­rec­tor says a tal­ented crop of ath­letes has emerged in their ab­sence.

“We had a very ex­tra­or­di­nary group that was with us for a long time,” Mike Slipchuk said Fri­day at the Grand Prix Fi­nal in Van­cou­ver, where just one Cana­dian (Kee­gan Mess­ing) qual­i­fied for the se­nior com­pe­ti­tion.

“But we’re happy with what we see with our se­niors and we have a lot of good ju­niors com­ing up. We know the fu­ture will be bright.”

Pa­trick Chan and the pairs team of Eric Rad­ford and Mea­gan Duhamel re­tired ear­lier this year af­ter putting in strong per­for­mances with the squad that brought home two gold and two bronze medals from Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Gold medal-win­ning ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have also stepped away from com­pe­ti­tion.

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing reign­ing world cham­pion Kaet­lyn Os­mond, have opted to take time off fol­low­ing the Olympic suc­cess. It’s not un­com­mon for skaters to take some time away from com­pe­ti­tion in a sea­son fol­low­ing a Win­ter Games.

The suc­cess­ful Cana­dian skaters have all played a cru­cial role in nur­tur­ing the up-and-com­ing group of ath­letes, Slipchuk said.

“What those skaters did is they al­lowed this group un­derneath them to de­velop and have the time to grow and de­velop and be ready to step for­ward,” he said.

The group’s suc­cess in South Korea is also a push for the next gen­er­a­tion. “It helped their legacy with Cana­dian skat­ing, but it also helps mo­ti­vate that group be­hind,” Slipchuk said.

Mess­ing has said work­ing with and watch­ing Chan has helped him grow as a skater.

The 26-year-old wasn’t orig­i­nally in the lineup here, with his scores on this year’s Grand Prix cir­cuit qual­i­fy­ing him in­stead for the first al­ter­nate po­si­tion. He gained a spot when reign­ing Olympic cham­pion Yuzuru Hanyu of Ja­pan dropped out with an an­kle in­jury.

Mess­ing sat in sixth and last place af­ter the men’s short pro­gram on Thurs­day.

Skate Canada was hop­ing to have skaters in the ice dance, pairs and men’s events this year.

“Some­times the num­bers just don’t add up,” he said, adding ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and pairs skaters Kirsten Moore-Tow­ers and Michael Mari­naro have proven this year they’re ready to take the next step in their com­pet­i­tive ca­reers.

“We like what we see from the team this year and we know that as we move through to the (world) cham­pi­onships, we’re go­ing to be in a good po­si­tion.”

There’s also a lot of tal­ent per­co­lat­ing in ju­niors and the de­vel­op­ment streams, Slipchuk said.

Thir­teen-year-old Stephen Go­golev has burst on to the junior scene in his first year of el­i­gi­bil­ity for the Grand Prix cir­cuit. He sat in sec­ond fol­low­ing the men’s short pro­gram on Thurs­day.

“He’s a young skater with just huge po­ten­tial. And this is step one along the way,” Slipchuk said.

Junior ice dancers Mar­jorie La­joie and Zachary Lagha were in fourth place and just 0.04 points out of the top three af­ter their short pro­gram. “They skate like se­niors,” Slipchuk said of the young trip. “There’ll be ups and downs, but we’re look­ing for­ward to a bright fu­ture for all three.”

We like what we see from the team this year, and we know that as we move through to the cham­pi­onships we’re go­ing to be in a good po­si­tion.

JONATHAN HAy­wARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Canada’s Kee­gan Mess­ing was in sixth and last place fol­low­ing the men’s’ short pro­gram at the Grand Prix of Fig­ure Skat­ing fi­nals in Van­cou­ver on Thurs­day.

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