Canadian skaters can't afford slip at home

Meagan Duhamel (L) and Eric Radford of Canada skate during a practice session at Skate Canada...

Meagan Duhamel (L) and Eric Radford of Canada skate during a practice session at Skate Canada International in Windsor, Ont. October 25, 2012. (REUTERS)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

WINDSOR, ONT. - Mulligans aren't exclusive to the golf course.

Patrick Chan produced the figure skating equivalent of a 25-yard worm-burner three weeks ago at the Japan Open warmup event. The back-to-back world champ fell four times, finished last -- behind his short program choreographer Jeffrey Buttle -- and described the whole ordeal as a "slap in the face" wake-up call he wouldn't forget.

His fellow Canadian counterparts in global excellence, Olympic champs and two-time top ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, didn't make it to the first tee, skipping a trip to Finland after Moir experienced pain in his neck during a practice lift.

Add that to some off-season coaching drama and suddenly, there's a bit more nail-biting and stomach-churning in the early stages of the ISU Grand Prix circuit, which makes its Skate Canada International stop at the WFCU Centre in Windsor starting Friday.

This is no season to stumble with a world championship at home (London, Ont.) and a Grand Prix final slated for Sochi Russia, site of the 2014 Olympics.

"It's a long season, it's a constant progression," Skate Canada technical director Mike Slipchuk said. "The programs aren't going to look the same in January as they do now. It's good the skaters get out there early on to see where they're at and try to get in front of the audience and judges.

"Patrick, from reading his quotes coming back from Japan, is motivated by his experience, and Tessa and Scott are fine."

Virtue and Moir's chief competition hasn't changed. When they hit the worlds next March, they will have yet another showdown with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Chan, though, looks like he'll be quad-jumping into an unknown field of challengers. The thought of the approaching Olympics has started to rouse a few of the old competitive bears from their slumber.

Russian veteran Evgeni Plushenko was in the Japan Open field and Chan indicated he was intimidated at how prepared he and rival Daisuke Takahashi looked in practice.

"We really don't know which men are going to be in London yet," Slipchuk said. "Plushenko has been out competing, so you expect he might, but he has to, like everyone, get through his nationals and Europeans, too. With the Americans, Evan (Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek) hasn't been out and Johnny (Weir) just started competing again.

"We'll have to wait and see what happens with them at U.S. nationals. You never know."

Chan has taken control of his own destiny.

He split with coach Christy Krall after the worlds in France last spring and bid adieu to choreographer Lori Nichol. Virtue and Moir are still training with Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., but she's no longer with long-time on-ice partner Igor Shpilband.

"We stay out of coaching decisions," Slipchuk said. "We believe the skaters know what's in their best interests in terms of preparation and what they need to do to be ready to compete. We're there for them if they want advice and that's it. This happens, not just in figure skating, but every sport."

Virtue and Moir will skate their free dance this season to the familiar strains of "Carmen". They know it's an old standard, but that hasn't swayed their decision to use the music.

Interestingly enough, the Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (now coached by Shpilband) will also use the Carmen theme.

"I know Tessa and Scott will make it their own," Slipchuk said, "and I'm looking forward to their interpretation of it. They've never stopped improving and they continually set the bar higher."

Ice dance remains a considerable Canadian strength. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will again challenge for a spot on the world podium this season.

"We're six teams deep right now," Slipchuk said, "and I think that's from having Tessa and Scott on the scene for a while now."

Canadian pairs champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford will have a chance to measure themselves against the world's best -- Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy -- in Windsor.

In the women's event, 15-year-old Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva has a chance to defend her Skate Canada crown from last fall in Mississauga.

Amelie Lacoste will try to protect home ice along with up-and-coming Katelyn Osmond, the Sherwood Park, Alta., native who won the Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this season.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/RyanAtLFPress

SKATE CANADA INTERNATIONAL

(Fri-Sun at Windsor's WFCU Centre)

MEN

Should win: Patrick Chan, Canada. Time for a confidence boost.

Watch for: Javier Fernandez, Spain. Brian Orser-coached entertainer won short program in Mississauga last year.

WOMEN

Shoud win: Akiko Suzuki, Japan. World bronze medallist.

Watch for: Gracie Gold, United States. The 17-year-old from Illinois was second at last year's world juniors.

PAIRS

Should win: Four-time world champs Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Germany. Bronze medallists at 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Watch for: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada. Fifth in the world last year.

ICE DANCE

Should win: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada. Start of home-ice domination.

Watch for: Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier, Canada. Poirier won Canadians in 2011 with Vanessa Crone.

LAST YEAR'S CHAMPS

Men: Patrick Chan, Canada. 253.74 points.

Ladies: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Russia. 177.38 points.

Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, Russia. 201.38 points. *

Ice dance: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada. 178.34 points.

* - not entered in 2012


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