Potential to medal

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

They've only just begun.

Yet here Brooke Paulin and Nathan Last are, headed off to their first Skate Canada Junior Nationals together, already surrounded by giddy talk about their future potential.

It isn't a big stretch to suggest the Nepean Skating Club novice pairs team could bring home a medal from this week's national competition, which begins today at the Tim Hortons 4-Ice Centre in Moncton, N.B. They start competing Friday.

"On paper, we should be fifth, sixth or seventh," said David Graham, who coaches the first-year team with Barb Mullen. "The reality is, they have the potential to be a pleasant surprise."

Paulin and Last have done plenty of that already this season. They won the Eastern Ontario Sectionals, and were second by less than a point at the Skate Canada Eastern Challenge in Mississauga in December. The Nepean duo won the free program there and totalled 96.44 points, a gain of nearly eight over their overall sectionals score.

The goal in Moncton is to crack the century mark.

"We'd both like to be in the top three," said Paulin, 16. "But if we come in fourth or fifth with a personal best score, we have to be happy with that.

"It's a tough competition."

Last previously skated pairs with Emily Jamieson but when that partnership ended after last season, he pondered a season concentrating on singles skating (he's also entered in that event in Moncton). But when Last decided pairs was still in his blood, Graham quickly set him up with Paulin last April.

"Brooke had done pairs a long time ago (when she lived in Toronto) ... We knew she had the potential to be an exceptional pairs skater," said Graham. "It was a tryout, but it wasn't. It was a no-brainer, really. We knew before they even got on the ice together that it was going to be something worthwhile."

Said Last: "It worked out really well and here we are."

For the moment, at least, both will continue to pursue a double life as singles and pairs skaters. Paulin placed 18th in the junior women's event at the Canadian championships at the Civic Centre last month.

'TWO LONG DAYS'

Last, meanwhile, is facing "two long days" of competition in Moncton, a task made tougher by the groin injury he's currently fighting.

"It's good to do both ... I'll do it as long as I can," said Last, 17.

"Singles does help pairs."

Graham agrees.

"It would be a mistake to (make them stop)," he said. "They're both still developing as singles skaters."

But it's their potential as a team that has one and all truly excited. They might be the only team in Moncton with two sets of double Axels in their free program.

"Pairs is my favourite. I love doing it," said Paulin. "I thought we had the potential to do well, but we didn't know how fast it would happen."

Faster than anyone expected.

"I couldn't ask them to do more than they have done," said Graham. "We'll only be disappointed if we don't do what we can do."

SKATE CANADA JUNIOR NATIONALS

Who: Top novice, pre-novice and juvenile skaters in Canada.

Hardware time: Juvenile event medals will be handed out tomorrow; pre-novice finals are Friday; novice free skates wrap up the competition on Saturday.

Some facts about the BMO Financial Group Skate Canada Junior Nationals, which begin today:

When: Today-Saturday

Where: Tim Hortons 4-Ice Centre, Moncton, N.B.

Capital content: Nepean -- Nathan Last, novice men; Last and Brooke Paulin, novice pairs; Lisa Casselman and Ryan Behnia, pre-novice dance; Ayrton Parkinson, juvenile men; Minto -- Dana Zhalko-Tytarenko, novice women.


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