KITCHENER -- If ice dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue finish second tonight but skate like they did in yesterday's original dance, it's going to be a stained silver medal.
So says their coach Igor Shpilband, who was grinning like a lottery winner after Moir and Virtue's brilliant original performance but stern-faced after learning his charges were still three-plus points back of veteran American duo Morgan Matthews and Maxim Zavozin at the world junior figure skating championships at Kitchener's Memorial Auditorium.
Moir, 17, of Ilderton, and 15-year-old Virtue, a Londoner, glided to a personal-best 58.33 points yesterday in the second of three dances but still couldn't surpass the Matthews-Zavozin team with 58.89. The Americans have 98.78 total points to the Canadians' 95.24.
"It's not an age or maturity thing. In my mind, Scott and Tessa are the class of this group and the most mature couple out there," Shpilband said. "It's the best I've ever seen them perform the original dance -- better than London (at the Canadian senior championships in January). I'm proud of them. I'm their coach, but I think they should've won (yesterday's round)."
Shpilband's views should carry some weight in international ice dance. He saw some of the greatest teams ever during his pre-defection days with the Soviet national squad and has coached several top dancers at his home rink in Detroit, including American senior champs Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.
The free dance goes tonight with Moir and Virtue opening the final group at 9:34 p.m. Matthews and Zavozin close out the event at 10:01 p.m. The young Canadians skated first yesterday and applied maximum pressure to the older American pair.
"We like skating first," Moir said. "We're happy with our performance and we're excited for the free skate. It's the dance that comes more natural to us and we're looking forward to it."
Moir and Virtue bettered their previous top original dance total by six points. They came to win and to finally beat Matthews and Zavozin, especially on home ice, would be a sweet end to their season. They have left no margin of error for their competitors.
"There was a lot of energy in the crowd and it felt like we fed off that," said Virtue, who trained with Moir in Kitchener-Waterloo for seven years and considers it a second home.
"It felt good. Our combination spin sequence has never been that high before. It's satisfying to know that all of the hard work we have put in is paying off. Igor and (fellow coach) Marina (Zueva) have done a great job with improving our dances and we're seeing the results."
But it may not be as satisfying if they're on the second step of the medal podium and feel in their hearts they outskated the Americans.
At a recent Junior Grand Prix event in Courchevel, France, Moir and Virtue beat Matthews and Zavozin in the free dance but couldn't close the gap for the overall title. They were at a similar point disadvantage as they are here.
"Three points isn't insurmountable. This is doable," Shpilband said. "I'm constantly amazed at how Scott and Tessa handle themselves. I'm very pleased with the way they skated and they are well-prepared for the free dance."
That Moir-Virtue win in France was a wakeup call to Matthews and Zavozin, who desperately want to close out their junior career with a world title tonight.
Zavozin, a transplanted Russian, turned 20 on Wednesday and the American team held a party in his honour.
They'll have an extra reason to celebrate if they can hold off Moir and Virtue.