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Weaver-Poje, Gilles-Poirier shaping up to be a battle at national figure skating championships

With the exception of the women's singles, none of the other disciplines at this week's national figure skating championships has a returning champion and the title in any category won't be handed off without a fight.

Gabrielle Daleman, Keegan Messing are the favourites in women's and men's competition

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are two-time Canadian national champions. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
It's kind of fun to consider that, according to Skate Canada archives, the Saint John, N.B. area, home to the this week's national figure skating championships, is the site of the first skating club in Canada.

The archives read: "In 1833, British officers in New Brunswick brought the concept of skating club from Scotland to Canada and founded a club centring on the natural ice of Lily Lake near Saint John, N.B.

As interesting as that little history tidbit is, it is nothing compared to what is coming up on the ice.

With the exception of the women, none of the other disciplines has a returning champion and the title in any category won't be handed off without a fight.

That fight will be particularly intense in ice dance.

The very talented Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have two national titles and three world medals among their many accomplishments. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are six-time national medallists and are Weaver and Poje's closest rivals.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier's Vincent free dance has been drawing rave reviews. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The competition between the teams this year is notable because Weaver and Poje took the fall season off from competing to pursue other opportunities, most notably appearing in the Thank You Canada Tour, while Gilles and Poirier competed.

Will the competition muscle memory kick in for Weaver and Poje, or was the time off a risk they won't be able to overcome? Both teams can dazzle under the bright lights of competition, with Gilles and Poirier's Vincent free dance as beautiful as it is bold and playing to rave reviews across the skating world.

The women's 2018 champion, Gabrielle Daleman, is looking to defend and add a third national title. What we do know is that Daleman is a fierce competitor who has a world championship bronze medal and Olympic team gold medal under her belt. What we don't know is if Daleman has had enough time to prepare; having also taken time off to heal from a concussion and anxiety and depression issues. 

In 2016, Alaine Chartrand became national champion, and she also has three additional senior podium finishes. Left off the 2018 Olympic team after a fourth-place in that season's nationals, Chartrand is looking for redemption and will be battling both Daleman and 2018 Olympian and national bronze medallist Larkyn Austman for the top spot.

All eyes will be on Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro in the pairs event. As national bronze medallists over the last two seasons, Moore-Towers and Marinaro are always in the mix internationally, with three Grand Prix medals and consistent top-10 finishes at the world championships.

Their comfort zone has been as part of the team; what they will be doing in Saint John is taking on the mantle of national champion and the added pressure that entails. Both mentioned over the course of the first half of the season that wrapping their brains around being considered Canada's top pair team has been an adjustment.

What will the men bring?

Former national champion, Nam Nguyen, who has been ranked as high as fifth in the world, had been floundering but appears to have gotten his competition legs back under him this season. Nguyen has the talent and in a bold and mature move has assumed all responsibility for his skating this season, including paying for it. This sense of ownership could mean the difference in Saint John.

Nam Nguyen looks to have returned to his top competitive form. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

The senior men's favourite is Keegan Messing, who never fails to delight with performances that are as charming as they are packed with content. He is poised to take his first national title. 

A potential spoiler sits with recent junior Grand Prix final champion Stephen Gogolev. Gogolev is widely regarded by skating insiders, including me, to be the face of the future of men's figure skating in Canada. Like Nam Nguyen before him, Gogolev has already won the pre-novice, novice and junior national titles and it is just a matter of time before he will undoubtedly earn the senior crown. Could it be this year? Not bad for someone who just turned 14.

Pj's Podium Picks

  • Men: Keegan Messing
  • Women: Gabrielle Daleman
  • Pairs: Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro
  • Ice Dance: Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier

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