Evgenia Medvedeva is facing a big test at Skate Canada
After kicking off last weekend with Skate America, the Grand Prix of Figure Skating makes its annual Canadian stop this week.
Here's who to watch in each competition at Skate Canada in Laval, Que.
Men: Cha, Messing take aim at Uno
The men's field is an interesting one boasting lots of talent, including world and Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan. In theory, this is Uno's competition to lose.
That doesn't mean it'll be a walk in the park for the 20-year-old. Several talented skaters will be looking to take the top spot. The first name that jumps out is South Korea's 17-year-old Junhwan Cha — another talented skater in the Brian Orser stable who was strong enough to win the free program at the recent Autumn Classic event, ahead of two-time Olympic champion and training mate Yuzuru Hanyu. Impressive.
Other men looking to make their presence felt include a trio of Canadians, led by national silver medallist Keegan Messing. He's known for consistency and an ability to lay down powerful jumps in a charismatic style, reminiscent of three-time world champion Elvis Stojko.
Women: Medvedeva trying to bounce back
Way back in 2011, a tiny 14-year-old named Elizaveta Tuktamysheva walked into the media room after winning her first and only Skate Canada women's title. It seemed at the time like the dawn of a new age of Russian skating supernovas, and Tuktamysheva would go on to win the first world title in 10 years by a Russian woman in 2015. But injury, a growth spurt and inconsistent results prevented her from fulfilling the promise she showed early on.
There is something to be said for patience, though, and I see Tuktamysheva as a real title threat this week, even though she'll be going up against Olympic silver medallist and fellow Russian Evgenia Medvedeva. Medvedeva's pre-season competition at the Autumn Classic, her first since moving to Toronto to train with Orser, was sub-par, resulting in a silver medal behind American champion Bradie Tennell.
Skate Canada will be the test to see if Medvedeva has regained the unstoppable style that earned her two world and two Grand Prix Final titles.
Pairs: Moore-Towers and Marinaro back in form
Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, the world pairs bronze medallists from France, are headed to Canada for a second time already this season. On their first trip, in September, they took the Autumn Classic title ahead of Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. The rematch is on and I fully expect both teams to be in top form.
Moore-Towers had struggled with a foot injury that prevented her from doing certain pairs elements from the end of worlds in March until August. But, watching Moore-Towers and Marinaro skate at the Autumn Classic, you wouldn't have known she'd been hurt.
The month between that event and this one will no doubt have helped to boost their confidence. Look for the Canadians to not accept any step lower then the top of the podium without a fight.
Dance: Gilles and Poirier ready to challenge
The name of the game in ice dance is improvement. American champions and world silver medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are living proof of that after rising to a silver medal at this year's world championships. Polished and prepared with beautiful material, Hubbell and Donohue walked away with the Skate America title last weekend.
The American pair wrapped up a strong showing at Skate America as they took home the ice dance title after posting the best score in both the rhythm dance and free dance programs. 8:34
On paper, Hubbell and Donohue have the lead in terms of scores this season, but that doesn't mean I'm not expecting big things from Canada's four-time national silver medallists, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. With beautiful and innovative material of their own, Gilles and Poirier are looking to add to their Skate Canada silver and bronze medals in their fourth trip to this Grand Prix event.
Pj's gold-medal picks:
Men: Shoma Uno (Japan)
Women: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Russia)
Pairs: Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France)
Ice Dance: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (United States)