Post-Pyeongchang departures means new opportunities for Canadian skaters

Canada captured two gold and two bronze in an unprecedented showing in South Korea

The departure of Patrick Chan might have opened up an opportunity in Canadian men’s figure skating, but Keegan Messing will miss having the retired three-time world champion around.

Six months after Canadian skating’s most successful Olympics in history, the national team gathered for its annual high performance camp to kick off the season — and the talk was as much about who wasn’t there as who was.

“I’m actually kind of sad to see Patrick go,” said Messing, who was 12th at the Pyeongchang Games as Canada’s other men’s entry. “Because it’s like he was somebody I could look up to that I could really watch his skating, and just every move he did out on the ice … well, honestly every move he did out on the ice was better than mine. It was like if I watched him, it was a way that I could learn, and so not having that anymore, all I have is this memory.

“Now it’s my turn, it’s my turn to try to keep his memory going, just to try to make myself better every day on the ice.”

Canada captured two gold and two bronze in an unprecedented showing in South Korea in what was a swan song for several veterans. Chan and two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired. And while ice dance champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have made no official announcement, they’ve all but retired from competition.

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Kirsten Moore-Towers, who was sixth at the world championships last spring with pairs partner Michael Marinaro, said it’s time for others to step up as leaders.

“Absolutely. For a couple of years now we have been trying to be leaders in our rink, the teams we train with for the most part are younger than us … well everybody’s younger than us,” the 26-year-old said. “So we’ve been trying to be leaders there, but we believe we can take on a leadership role at this camp, and within Skate Canada and help the new teams. We hope to be a positive infulence for all the newbies here.”

Dylan Moscovitch, who skated with Lubov Ilyushechkina, also retired, opening up another spot on the Canadian pairs landscape.

Reigning world champion Kaetlyn Osmond is taking the season off, while ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, world silver and bronze medallists, are skipping the ISU Grand Prix season. Osmond, Weaver and Poje will join Chan, Virtue and Moir on The Thank You Canada Tour, which runs Oct. 5 to Nov. 24.

“At first, our initial gut reaction (when invited on the tour) was no, we still have a passion for competing, we feel like we’re getting back into the swing of things, we had a wonderful finish at the world championships,” Weaver said. “And then we went on the Stars on Ice Tour, and realized just how special this group is, to perform with, to travel the country with. And I have to say that was a mind-changing moment, and luckily our spot was still there.”

Rather than skate to “show” programs, Weaver and Poje, who won world bronze a month after the Pyeongchang Olympics, will use the tour to work on their competitive programs for this season.

“It’s a chance for us to expand our boundaries, to practise our programs not two or three times in front of an audience, but 30 times,” Weaver said. “We feel like it’s letting ourselves grow and have the freedom to do so as artists as well as athletes.”

RELATED: Patrick Chan hopes to open skating school in Vancouver

A few of the skaters were nursing injuries or illness from the off-season. Piper Gilles, who was sixth at the worlds with ice dance partner Paul Poirier, fell face-first at practice earlier this month, and broke her orbital bone (around the eye) and suffered a concussion. She skated in a black baseball cap Wednesday to guard against the arena’s bright lights, but hasn’t been cleared to do lifts.

“First thing I hit was my face. There’s not much cushion there. It’s never happened before, it’s very bizarre,” said Gilles. “It might be a blessing in disguise. It might be a slower start for us, and that might be a positive thing for us.”

Gabrielle Daleman was recently diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, the latest in a list of physical ailments to sideline the world bronze medallist. IBS affects the large intestine and causes cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating, among other unpleasant symptoms.

“As much as it sucked over the years, and we couldn’t figure out why, I’m very glad that we figured out why … that it’s not just made-up pain,” Daleman said.

She’s had to adopt a new diet that eliminates things like salad dressing, sauces, garlic, apples and peaches.

“And there’s a whole list of ‘maybe’ foods, and so far there’s been blackberries, peanut butter, sugar snap peas, shrimp, a whole different foods that were on the maybe list that now I can’t have,” she said. “It’s a big change, something I’m still getting used to.”

The ISU Grand Prix circuit kicks off Oct. 19 with Skate America in Everett, Wa. Skate Canada International is in Laval, Que., Oct. 26-28. Vancouver will host the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 6-9.

The Canadian Press

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