|Canadian Patrick Chan skated to third place at Skate Canada on Friday night. (Reuters)
MISSISSAUGA - Patrick Chan is the king of men’s figure skating.
But to protect his crown at Skate Canada International Saturday night, he needs a come-from-behind victory against a Toronto newcomer now being coached by a Canadian legend.
Spanish skater Javier Fernandez, who set up shop at Toronto’s Cricket Club to study under Brian Orser four months ago, used his on-ice appeal and an effortless-looking quad toe-loop to lead the way with a stunning 84.71 points in the short program Friday night at the Hershey Centre.
Chan is in third (83.28) behind Japanese skater and fellow world champ Daisuke Takahashi (84.66).
“I’m so surprised,” the 20-year-old Fernandez said. “They are world champions. They are amazing. I’m going to have to be at the same level as them (on Saturday).”
Olympic champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir left no surprise in their short dance, closing the night to a standing ovation with 71.61 points — less than three points under their world record from last spring’s worlds. Fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were second with 63.31 heading into Sunday’s free dance.
Chan touched down his hand on his opening quad toe, then added a triple-toe at the end of a triple-Lutz later in the program. He didn’t appear rattled at having to surpass two contenders in the free skate.
“I have the confidence of a world title behind me,” the 20-year-old Chan said. “We have three skaters going for it and the points are close. That’s what the audience wants to see.
“(Saturday) is going to be a great gun show.”
Fernandez, who finished 14th as a teen at the Vancouver Olympics, has always had the necessary ammo. He simply doesn’t come from a traditional skating power.
“How many rinks does this complex have?” he asked, talking about the three-pad Hershey Centre. “I don’t think there are eight in all of Spain. My sister (Laura) is two years older and she skated (as an ice dancer). I went to the arena and I wanted to try it, too.”
He broke his ties with busy coach Nikolai Morozov because he didn’t want to be second fiddle to another skater. He has worked on his programs with input from former Canadian and world champ Jeff Buttle.
Parts of his style are reminiscent of his new coach.
“I’ve heard that and it’s very flattering,” Orser said. “The difference is he has a quad and I landed a couple in practice.
“He has the charm and the charisma. He’s Spanish and there’s something to that. This is a great thing for him because I think he’s always looked up to Patrick and Daisuke and (former Orser student Adam Rippon, currently fourth here). It gives him belief he belongs here.”
A while back, Orser received a call from the Spanish Federation asking if he had time to work with one of their skaters. It was perfect timing.
“Things were shifting at our club,” Orser said. “so it worked out. I didn’t know who they wanted me to coach, but when they told me it was Javy, I was happy. I had watched the boy for a couple of years. He obviously had good coaching before. You don’t want to change much. You just go in and tweak.”
But it could lead, if Fernandez tops Chan here, to an eye-popping shift in the men’s skate game.