Canadian team wins bronze at Mozart Cup

SALZBURG, Austria – Team Meraki from the Leaside Skating Club in Toronto won the bronze medal Saturday at the Mozart Cup synchronized skating figure skating competition.

Marigold Ice Unity from Finland was first with 19031 points, Miami University from the U.S. was second at 164.49 and Meraki followed at 151.21 out of 13 entries.

The Canadians were third after Friday’s short program and hung on to that position after the fourth best free skate of the day.

‘’The team is thrilled to have skated a solid free program,’’ said Meraki coach Cathy Dalton. ‘’The skaters are very proud to be on the podium at their first international this early in their skating career as Team Meraki, especially with Mozart Cup being one of the largest International competitions on the synchronized skating calendar this season.’’

This is the first international assignment for the 2015 Canadian bronze medallists. Meraki are coached by Cathy Dalton and Lyne Forget.

Canada has two entries at the event which features 52 teams from 15 countries, in senior, junior, and novice.

In junior competition, Les Pirouettes from Laval, Que.,also jad the fourth best free skate which allowed them to climb from sixth to fifth overall out of 19 teams They were just over four ppoints from third spot. Teams from Russia, USA and Finland were 1-2-3.

The three-time consecutive Canadian junior bronze medallists are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie. Les Pirouettes were third here last year and won gold in 2014.

More information: 2016 Mozart Cup

Canadian synchronized skating teams prepared for 2016 Mozart Cup

OTTAWA, ON:  Canada will have two teams competing at the sixth annual Mozart Cup in Salzburg, Austria. The international synchronized skating competition takes place from January 22-24, 2016, and features 52 teams from 15 countries, in senior, junior, and novice. Canada will have entries in the senior and junior categories.

Representing the Leaside Skating Club, Meraki will be the Canadian entry in the senior category. This will be the first international assignment for the 2015 Canadian bronze medallists. Meraki are coached by Cathy Dalton and Lyne Forget.

Les Pirouettes, representing CPA Laval, will be the Canadian entry in the junior category. They have previously competed at this event winning bronze last season and gold in 2014. The three-time consecutive Canadian junior bronze medallists are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie.

Jennifer Betts of Bragg Creek, Alta., will be the sole Canadian official at the event.

For more information on the event please visit the event website.

Year-end recap: Synchro

NEXXICE was on top of the world in 2015.

With the eyes of the synchro world on Hamilton, Ont., in April for the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, the Burlington, Ont. based powerhouse, competing just a few kilometres from their home base, thrilled a raucous hometown crowd with a nail-biting win for their first world title in six years.

Nexxice on the podium.


With an electric atmosphere inside the FirstOntario Centre, NEXXICE dethroned defending champion Marigold Ice Unity of Finland by a miniscule .67 of a point. Russia’s Team Paradise took bronze, that country’s first medal in the history of the world championships.

Quebec’s Les Suprêmes, Canadian silver medallists, finished sixth.

Les Supremes. 2015

Les Suprêmes

Earlier in the season, NEXXICE claimed the Trophy d’Ecosse in Scotland while Les Suprêmes won the Mozart Cup in Austria. Days later, NEXXICE Senior took gold at the Spring Cup in Italy, and the NEXXICE junior squad claimed silver at the same event.

Weeks before the World Championships, Canada’s best synchro teams met in Quebec City for the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships. NEXXICE won their ninth consecutive senior crown and Les Suprêmes took the junior title before going on to win bronze at the ISU world junior championships.

Other teams to leave Quebec City with gold were NOVA (Open), Évolution (Intermediate) and Les Suprêmes (Novice).

Coming up tomorrow: Men’s, Women’s, Pair and Ice Dance (July to December)

How Ice Intrepid went from Synchro Startup to University of Manitoba Mainstay

The year was 1999 when Megan Maxwell and her friend Ashley Renard, both students at the University of Manitoba, decided to put together a Synchro team as a way to get people together and enjoy skating.

It was a bumpy start. How do you attract members? Who will coach? What are the goals … the costs ..? What about a name?

With both women understanding that forming a team would take hard work and daring, Ashley came up with the name, Ice Intrepid, characterized by the “fearless fortitude” they both knew it would take to make the team successful.

As for who would take on coaching duties, all signs pointed to Megan who had been coaching recreational Synchro for two years in her hometown of Oakbank, Manitoba, east of Winnipeg. At first the thought of coaching the new university team was overwhelming … until her former coach Krista Hanson stepped in to help, agreeing to share choreographic responsibilities, something that helped build Megan’s confidence and opened the door for her to set some ambitious goals.

Megan Maxwell

Megan Maxwell

In the 16 years since Ice Intrepid was born, Megan has been its cornerstone, coaching the team, planning its progress and leading the way in its continued development. At the same time she also earned a Bachelor of Physical Education degree while continuing to dedicate herself to synchronized skating. She is an NCCP Level 3 certified coach in Synchro, a Synchro Technical Specialist and sits on the Synchro Committee for Skate Canada Manitoba. In her “spare time”, she works full-time for Parks Canada.

After three years on the team and graduating in Exercise and Sports Science, Ashley moved to the States where she too has become a leader and Master Coach. She is the originator of the first youth synchronized skating team in Philadelphia and now, as Director of Synchro at the Wissahickon SC, she is overseeing 100 skaters on 8 teams.

These two dynamic women shared a vision.

Thanks to them some 125 skaters have passed through the Ice Intrepid organization, most while pursuing a university degree, each one sharing their founders’ enthusiasm and learning from Megan’s ever-evolving coaching education and philosophy.

“I believe integrity is important.” says Megan. “I aim to be honest, fair and consistent in an effort to provide a place where my skaters can trust and know what is expected of them. From a team perspective, integrity is key to our unity, solidarity and strength.”

While Megan concentrates on developing great skating, her team’s training also includes the opportunities to learn many of life’s important lessons … and she is the consummate role model.

“I believe in being professional. As a coach, I arrive prepared at each practice and event with a plan. I aim to be competent in identifying errors and providing constructive corrections. As a team, I expect members to become skilled and polished skaters. I also aim to create an inclusive team environment where all team members are respected and valued.”

As the organization has grown, the team has taken on new ideas and expanded their goals. What began as a recreational activity for most participants has now evolved into a serious commitment where members are motivated to compete at the highest levels.

To get there, Megan knew some tough decisions had to be made despite the hurdles of geographic distance and costs associated with access to top teams and coaches from Ontario and Quebec.

“Over the last 4 seasons, we’ve had Nexxice skaters, in particular, Lee Chandler and Jennifer Critchton (Beauchamp) to help us with program lay-out. Their world-level quality skating has taught and inspired us to improve our knee bends, flow and artistry. Adding to those skills has been Wendy Coates who was living in Winnipeg in 2007-2008 and helped us realize the importance of designing programs that build momentum and speed.”

On the artistic side, Kayleigh Nichol of London, Ontario joined the team in the fall of 2010, skating for one year and then volunteer coaching for 3 years.

“With her Synchro experience and her background in theatre, Kayleigh has been a great addition,” offers Megan. “Kayleigh really developed the interpretative and expressive side of our team and helped us believe that more was possible.”

Megan has left no stone unturned in the search for the tools to improve by encouraging each member to take ownership of their individual progress. She requests monitoring feedback from Technical Specialists in Alberta via video footage, asks team members to evaluate weekly videos of practice sessions posted on-line, and has the team involved in regular stretching and yoga programs.

Remarkably, as the team began to believe in itself and embrace the idea that performing difficult routines with quality skating skills was truly possible, their move up the Synchro ladder to one of the top teams in the country has been sure and steady.

Over the years, their love for Synchro has continued to climb too. When World Synchro events are held in North America, many team members take advantage of the opportunity to watch Synchro at its best … and learn. This year in Hamilton at Worlds, seventeen past and present Ice Intrepid members were on-site to celebrate the sport.

“It was fantastic to look around and see how many current and former skaters from the team were watching,” says Megan. “After so many years, we were all thrilled to be together seeing new ideas unfold … and with Canada winning the gold medal, I felt like a proud parent!”

Not only have their individual Ice Intrepid experiences been positive, members all claim that Synchro has added to their lives. Of the 17 skaters photographed in Hamilton, (see photo: from left to right, members lined up in order of their time on Ice Intrepid), at least 12 are still actively involved in Synchro, either competing, coaching or directing programs.

Ice Intrepid
What is it about the sport that ties people to it for life?

The Hamilton delegation was quick to respond. Making best friends, travelling, building confidence, learning organizational skills, teamwork, cooperation, goal setting and leadership were some common themes.

Heather Baron who competed with Ice Intrepid for 4 years while completing a degree in Agriculture adds, “I loved all the daily laughs … and ‘secret buddies’, the selfless acts from one member to another to make their day a little brighter.”

Meghan Sprung, a 5-year member while earning a degree in Human Ecology, continues “It was my first trip to Nationals when my eyes were opened to the broader Synchro community and to all the possibilities that come with training and hard work.”

During her 6 years on Ice Intrepid, Jessica Watson worked toward her degree majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Math. For her it’s the cherished memories. “Lots of traveling, lots of random inside jokes, all the traditions, breathing exercises, hand stamps, hugs and ‘Can I get a woot, woot?’ …”

Human Nutritional Sciences grad, current Synchro participant and skating coach, Joelle Enns, sums it up perfectly. “Along with the skills, I also gained life-long friends and memories that will stay with me forever. All of that fueled my passion for the sport of Synchro and brought me to where I am today. Without Intrepid, I wouldn’t have made it this far in my skating career.”

Ice Intrepid, the University of Manitoba legacy lives on …

Waterloo to host 2016 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships

OTTAWA, ON: Waterloo, Ontario will be the host of the 2016 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships. The event will take place from February 19-21, 2016 at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex.

“Skate Canada is pleased to bring this event to Waterloo. After hosting the successful 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships just down the road in Hamilton we hope to build on the excitement this sport has to offer Canadians,” said Dan Thompson, Skate Canada CEO. “This event brings fantastic skating and electric crowds. We know that with Waterloo’s vast skating community and great hosting infrastructure this championship will be another success.”

“We are delighted to host the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in one of our premier sports facilities,” said City of Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky. “This community embraces sports, fitness and recreation, and we hope the athletes, coaches and spectators have a great time here. Best of luck to all competitors!”

The 2016 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships will bring approximately 40 teams and over 800 skaters from across the country to Waterloo.

Teams will compete for national titles in the senior, junior, open, intermediate and novice categories. The top two senior teams will represent Canada at the 2016 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships.

Nexxice and Bezic in Synch

Noted choreographer Sandra Bezic went looking for a novel element for her Niagara skating show last January and struck the motherlode.

She discovered Nexxice.

“I knew they were good,” Bezic said. “But I didn’t realize how good they were until I stepped onto the ice with them.”

Right from the first blush, when Bezic was with them at their training base, the Appleby Skating Centre in Burlington, Ont., she was “blown away” – just by their stroking exercises.

Watching them do this 30-minute, Anne Schelter-led work, in formation, 16-strong? Goosebump worthy. Watching them win the world synchronized skating championships several months later at home, in their own neck of the wood, in front of a throng of screaming, red-shirted, flag-waving people? Priceless.

Bezic was in the audience for the free skate, a spellbinding routine to “Rhapsody in Blue.” Dressed in black from head to toe, with the light sparkling subtly from their smoky shirts, a flip of deep cobalt blue kicking up from skirts as they moved, Nexxice finally executed the complex routine the way they wanted to all season. And now the world knows who they are, too: world champions of the highest order.

Their performance at the world event in Hamilton, Ont., in mid-April is perhaps a watershed moment not only for Nexxice, but for the synchronized skating world in general as it waits breathlessly for the International Olympic Committee to vote on its inclusion in July.

“I think we are maturing,” said Nexxice coach Shelley Barnett. “Our sport is maturing. We’ve been knocking on the door for a long time. But I also think we are getting more respect from other skating disciplines. That is something I didn’t see before, certainly not after 2007.”

Barnett was speaking of the year that the world championships last came to Canada in 2007, when the team finally won its first medal (bronze), in London, Ont. It was noisy there, too. But what happened in Hamilton was beyond compare.

People who had never watched synchro skating before tuned in. So did many of Canada’s elite mainstream skaters. Barnett noticed increased turnout for their team tryouts, and also registration for youth and beginner programs has tripled since the world championships. “Many of the younger skaters had never seen anything like this at this level,” she said. “And there is more enthusiasm and interest from parents who maybe didn’t quite get the full picture of what the sport could do for their children.”

Yes, Nexxice won, but it was the way they did it that sends shivers to the bone. Barnett said Schelter created choreography for the free skate that was complicated and required nuances of expression. “It had so many complexities and intricacies in the music that had to be brought out,” Barnett said. ”The team was challenged all year to find those nuances and to be able to control their movement enough to music.”

They wanted something challenging for the team, because Nexxice members were strong skaters, and the core of the team had been together at least five years. “They were capable of handling quite a bit,” Barnett said.

Bezic, known as the choreographer for folk like Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning, Tara Lipinski, Chen Lu and for years, Stars on Ice tours, went looking for Nexxice because she wanted local talent for her new Niagara ice show. She also wanted to mix things up in the show, putting new skaters with legends (Nam Nguyen and Kurt Browning), and mainstream skaters with synchro.

But when Bezic actually started to work with Nexxice, she was stunned by their skating ability. ”Their fundamentals are just unbelievable,” she said. “And their cohesiveness as a team, and their musicality, and their professionalism. They are in a class by themselves.”

In return for taking time away from a very important season for her show, Bezic returned to Burlington several times to help with Nexxice’s competitive programs. She saw the team work four or five hours at a time, with short breaks for ice-making, without a complaint.

“They are so respectful of the process,” she said. “They were completely delightful and fun and excited.” She found Schelter’s program composition so musical and it “made so much sense,” she said. “It was all balanced and beautiful and it had the restraint and sophistication and yet [the short program to MUD] was still fun.”

Bezic thinks Nexxice played a huge role in the success of her own show. “We never really get to see that calibre of skaters all together,” she said.

As for Nexxice, for the first time, at Bezic’s show, they felt a sense of inclusion. “It was really an honour to be recognized at the same level,” said Nexxice co-captain Lee Chandler, the lone male on the team. “We don’t have an Olympic sport yet, so to be recognized as elite athletes along with the big names like Kurt Browning and Tessa and Scott, it was really an honour.”

The two skating worlds traded stories about their experiences at rehearsals and the worlds collided with great cheer. Chandler heard Browning’s sage advice: to stay in the moment, to enjoy the training and the journey, to enjoy every single moment of the ups and downs through a long season.

The world synchro championships gave team members memories that will last them a lifetime. “It was kind of a whirlwind,” Chandler said. “That was probably the biggest crowd I’ve skated in, probably the most energetic crowd, in my skating career.”

The crowd, which numbered about 7,600 for their “Rhapsody In Blue” routine, started to scream as soon as Nexxice appeared from behind a curtain. They were on their feet, and waving the flags. “We were trying to stay as focused as we could,” Chandler said. “It was so loud. It was kind of just indescribable. The noise wasn’t really something that you heard. I was something that you felt. You could just feel the energy and the vibration right through the rink, when we were standing on the ice. It was an electric feeling.”

Then, they skated. “We worked countless hours to make sure that we did it justice and we skated it with maturity and poise,” Chandler said. “I think we can all be pretty proud. We went out and we owned it. We really didn’t hold back at all.”

Much of the team has committed to staying together for next season. Chandler says he’s finished, although he says if the IOC votes synchro skating in, he doesn’t want to close the door. He has a future as a coach and choreographer.

And it seems as if Bezic will never be the same again, like many, after having seen what a Canadian synchro team can do. “I felt like it was a shot in the arm for me to tag along,” she said.

How Judges Decide Who Takes Home Synchro Gold

The four S’s – synchronization, spacing, speed and strength – were on championship display at the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships at FirstOntario Place in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday, April 10 and Saturday, April 11th. Relive the short and free program performances from the world’s premier synchronized skating teams, including the gold medal performances from Canada’s NEXXICE of Burlington, Ontario.

Read below to learn how the judges determined who deserved to take home the gold medal.

Synchronized Skating – The Secret Weapon

After slightly more than 30 years as an official discipline, synchronized skating is still relatively unknown outside the circle of skating. With the world’s best synchronized skating teams competing for the global title in Hamilton in April, the sport is quickly finding its place in the spotlight … and hopefully someday soon into the Olympic Games.

Skating fans have been so entrenched in the traditional disciplines of singles, pairs and ice dance that it has taken time for this fifth on-ice member of the skating family to gain recognition and credibility. Thanks in part to huge interest here at home, Canada has been a giant force in helping develop synchronized skating and bringing it to the international stage.

So what exactly is “synchro” and how does it differ from the other forms of skating we already know and love?

Think team skating.

With teams of eight to twenty skaters on the ice performing fast-paced and intricate moves side-by-side at the same time, the sport requires nerves of steel, adaptability, control, confidence and teamwork. Just like in other skating disciplines, speed, power, edge work, skating skills and choreography are important but so are additional technical elements like accuracy of formations (see below), transitions, and precision of movement within the team. Consider how difficult all those goals are to achieve with only two people on the ice in pairs and dance, then add in additional skaters and more hard stuff to do … and you’ll have a much clearer idea what the sport is all about, why it’s so difficult and why it’s growing in popularity around the world.

Many involved countries have their own version of a synchro program which starts with introducing young skaters to the experience and benefits of belonging to this specialized area of the sport. As part of a team, every skater can enjoy the thrill of competition and the success that comes from participating. But be warned! Like skating anywhere, once the synchro bug gets hold, what may start out simply as wanting to learn to skate for fun can become seriously competitive!

To attract members, Canada’s synchro program starts early through a gamut of stages of expertise, Beginner through various levels to Junior, Senior and Adult, each one based to some extent on age and ability. Teams may form merely for fun and recreation, like for an appearance in an ice show, or they may take a more serious route with competitive goals, auditions, fund-raising, long-range commitment and extensive training on and off the ice.

To align high level synchro competition with other skating events, junior and senior teams must compete in short and free programs, each with required elements to ensure a well-balanced program. Performances are judged using the International Judging System where the Technical Score is based on the difficulty of the element and the quality of its execution, and the Program Components score reflecting the quality of skating skills, performance, choreography, transitions and musical interpretation.

Sound familiar?

As similar as the structure of these events may be to traditional competition, you won’t see triple jumps or complicated spins during synchro … or at least not yet. Although these elements will likely come to the sport eventually, what you will see today is some of the most technically demanding skating and creative choreography on the planet.

In synchro, keeping in mind that every element should be skated in unison with speed, power and control and with maximum ice coverage, here are the basic formations to look for.

Line: one line, parallel lines or diagonal lines

Block: a rectangular formation with a minimum of three parallel lines covering the length of the ice with lines close together and skaters evenly spaced

Circle: a consistently round shape rotating for at least 360°, skaters evenly spaced with no pulling or tugging between individuals

Spin: solo spins performed in unison with a minimum of 3 revolutions

Intersection: one half of the team intersects individually with the other half

Wheel: formation must rotate at least 360° where all skaters rotate around a common point, like spokes of a wheel

Group Lift: two or more skaters will lift one or more skaters to any height and set them back down

Creative: innovative movements, free skating elements or moves that reflect the music, performed individually, as pairs or as groups

Moves: a flowing sequence of at least 3 different skating movements, e.g. spirals, Bauers, spread eagles, etc. skated with strong edges and linking steps

No Holds: similar to a block formation except the skaters are not connected – team must hold the block of 4 or 5 lines and maintain spacing while skating turns and linking steps in unison over the entire length/diagonal of the ice surface

The first step to enjoying synchro is being able to ID the above formations. Once you have a taste for those, next you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions to determine the quality and difficulty of the move.

  • Is every skater doing exactly the same thing during formations?
  • Are skaters close together and equidistant from one another? (Closer is much harder!)
  • Do elements appear easy and comfortable without pushing or pulling (tension) between skaters?
  • Are the formations clear and accurate?
  • Are they held for the required amount of time or ice coverage?
  • Are the transitions between moves seamless?
  • Are lines straight?
  • Is the performance skated smoothly and with confidence?
  • Has any element been made more difficult by the addition of footwork, changes of direction, pivoting or by choreography that makes the element harder to skate well or the formation harder to hold?

There you go … now you have the basics.

While the athletes test their skills … with these guidelines … now you can test yours too.

Synchronized Skating – Tracing Back

Compared to other skating disciplines that have been around for nearly 150 years, synchro is the new kid on the block.

Historically, as early as 1838, there are references to something in England called “combined figure skating” practiced at the Oxford Skating Society, but after that, reports of organized group skating dry up. Over a century would pass until the 1950s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when the sport would get its first foot-hold as an official skating pursuit in North America.

It was called “precision skating”.

Les Supremes. 2003.The activity began rather innocently as a fun hobby in which more recreationally-based athletes could concentrate their efforts on team skating, groups of skaters performing moves in unison across the ice. Initially those performances were full of cutesy moves … toe tapping, hand clapping and hip slapping … more attuned to glitzy show biz than to quality skating.

But all of that was about to change. As experts began to recognize the young sport’s potential for promoting good skating in a new and different form, precision skating started to get some well-deserved attention.

Up until then, outside of tests up to the gold level, there were few places for non-traditional competitors to go, no competitive arena to build those skills that helped promote goal-setting, perseverance, creativity and artistry. If you weren’t in the elite competitive stream, skating was a dead end for many participants. With precision skating, suddenly there were new opportunities to advance, bringing fresh life to the sport and welcoming a whole new community of individuals, including athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers.

During the 1960s the sport spread in popularity in Canada and the US bringing with it competition and new ideas. It was an exciting time of growth and rapid development when teams were pushing precision skating boundaries by performing more creative and innovative routines. Gradually, focus on the types of choreographic content was evolving too, identifying and discarding more clichéd moves in favour of adding difficulty and skill … in other words … with the goal to develop quality skating.

Synchronized Skaters Podium.

Finally in 1977, the Ilderton Winter Club in Western Ontario hosted the first ever Canadian Invitational Precision Skating Competition and in 1983, next door in London, the first sanctioned National Precision Skating Championships were held. Overall, there were 60 teams registered to compete … 22 teams made it to the finals. Just one year later, the U.S. followed Canada’s lead and established its own National Precision Skating Championships.

By the end of the ‘80s, Canada was dominant on the international stage sweeping the podium in the senior category at the first international precision skating competition in Sweden. With such remarkable success and the resulting international attention, more and more enthusiasts were interested in joining the blossoming precision movement.

Black Ice. Synchronized skating team. 2000.Precision skating was becoming the rage! As a result, countries had to move fast to expand membership, develop more categories for a greater variety of participation and agree on clearly defined rules and standards of competition.

Despite the growth in Canada and the US, it would take the International Skating Union (ISU) another decade to recognize precision skating as an official discipline of figure skating and in 1994 to sanction international competitions. Back here at home in 1995, Canada hosted its first ever ISU international precision skating event, the Precision Canada International in Toronto.

Perhaps the biggest change came off the ice a few years later in 1998 when the sport officially changed its name to “synchronized skating” to adopt more internationally understood terminology. After that, growth was so fast around the world that just two years later in 2000 at the very first official ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there were 21 teams competing from 17 countries. Canada’s team, black ice, made history by winning the silver medal.

Nexxice. 2007.Since then, Canadian teams have been on the podium ten times including in 2009 when Canada hit another milestone. After years of finishing in third place, Canada finally struck gold. NEXXICE, from Western Ontario and the Burlington Skating Club, coached by Shelley Simonton Barnett and Anne Schelter, won Canada’s very first gold medal, the only gold Canada has won to date against the currently dominant Nordic countries.

At this year’s World Championships in Hamilton at the FirstOntario Centre April 10th and 11th … and with home ice advantage … NEXXICE will once again carry Canada’s banner into competition along with Les Sûpremes from Quebec’s CPA St Leonard.

To claim that honour, both teams competed recently at the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in Quebec City where NEXXICE won an unprecedented ninth consecutive senior title. Along with Les Sûpremes, those two teams are considered role models for the 800 other skaters on forty of the country’s best teams competing at nationals.

It’s no surprise that to have that kind of national and international success, synchro runs deep in Canada.

This year 6500 skaters were registered on 467 teams at all levels of expertise across the country. From beginners to experts, for fun or for medals, skating at home or abroad, participating in synchro is good news for everyone! It can be as light-hearted or as competitive as the motivation of the individual skater.

While teams around the world concentrate on continuing to push the level of skating to amazingly high standards; while more countries and more skaters become involved, the sport is approaching another major turning point.

The dream to compete in the Olympic Games may be coming into focus.

Irish Kiss: Nova synchronized skating team pays tribute to cherished manager with emotional Celtic program

Just before the music starts, Nadine Tougas glances skyward and blows a kiss towards the heavens.

It’s become the choreographed signature of the season for the Nova Open synchronized skating team. This kiss, this sentimental Irish kiss, for their own Linda McGirr.

“Every time we did that, in every program, it was in Linda’s memory,” says team captain Tougas.

“It is for her.”

Call it the longest goodbye in this most emotional of seasons for the Quebec-based Nova squad, an enduring tribute to their longtime manager who passed away so suddenly one year ago. Linda McGirr

No one ever saw it coming. Hours after Nova returned home from the 2014 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in B.C. with a fourth straight Open title, McGirr, a beloved teacher who had dedicated her spare time to Nova for more than a decade, told her family she was feeling unusually tired.

“At competitions, she was always the last one to bed and the first one up, she was always doing something for the team,” says team coach and choreographer Marie-France Sirois. “It was just who she was. We thought that was why she was tired. We never thought it could be anything else.”

McGirr went to the doctor for what she thought would be a routine check-up.

Instead, what followed was the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer, and she did not have much time left.

Linda McGirr never went home again. Instead, she went straight to the hospital. A month later, she was gone, at just 51 years of age.

“The last thing she did in her life was with this team,” Sirois adds. “That is how much she loved us. That is how much she loved this team.”

“We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. We honestly thought we still had lots of time with her…”

McGirr seemed to have a profound effect on everyone she ever met, whether it was her students at Champlain College Saint-Lambert, where she taught for over 30 years, or her skating families at CPA Brossard and the Nova Synchronized Skating Club. Even after her daughter, Caroline, stopped skating with Nova a few years ago, Linda’s bond with the team only grew stronger.

In her final days, McGirr found comfort in the Celtic music she had listened to her entire life. Her battle was brief yet courageous.

And then she was gone.

At her funeral, several of McGirr’s favourite Irish songs were played, including Danny Boy. As she struggled to hold back the tears, Sirois found herself captivated by the music.

“It was such a sad day, but that music…” says Sirois of the funeral, before pausing.

“Beautiful music for a beautiful person. It was then I decided we would honour her with our program.”

Without a chance to bid a final farewell to McGirr, Nova created their own goodbye, set on their terms, to their music, their program and their season.

Sirois, looking to find that perfect balance for their four-minute routine, began listening to Irish music night and day. Once she decided on the songs, Sirois brought in Hugo Chouinard, renowned in skating circles for his music design mastery, to build a medley that opens with a moving Celtic rendition of Amazing Grace and culminates with a toe-tapping Riverdance number.

Once the music was cut, Sirois turned to esteemed Quebec designer Josiane Lamond to create the team’s Celtic-inspired outfits. She also enlisted the help of Montreal Irish dancer Martin Côté, who has performed all over the world, to work with her team.

The final product was an exquisite four-minute labour of love that kindled a year-long tribute, culminating with Nova claiming their fifth consecutive national Open championship two weeks ago in Quebec City.

Irish Kiss. Synchronized skating team.

“It was very emotional, and people came up and told us we were able to pass on that emotion to the story,” adds Tougas. “I will never forget this moment.”

“Linda inspired us right up until the end,” admits Tougas. “Each time we performed the program, we let her know, ‘This is for you. Enjoy.’”

“She loved to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and loved everything Irish,” says Sirois, adding she was always inspired by the famed Riverdance program of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. “Her sense of humour helped make her who she was. She always had us laughing.

“I just wish we would have done this program when she was still here with us.”

“It has been very emotional, but we want people to remember her, to talk about her and let people know what she meant to us,” Sirois continues. “I always tell the girls to skate for themselves – not for their parents, not for me – but for themselves.”

“This season it was different. Something was missing. They were also skating for someone else.”

In Quebec City for the national championships, their first without McGirr, Nova taped a photo of their beloved manager on each of the team’s hotel room doors.

On the final day of practice, as Nova went through one last dry run on their biggest stage of the season, a lone bird glided into the arena, circling high above the ice for a few minutes.

The moment was not lost on anyone.

“Someone said ‘it’s her. She’s here,’” says Sirois.

“It almost felt like a sign that she was still with us.”

Some things are just not meant to change.

Skate Canada names teams for 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ontario

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada has selected two synchronized skating teams for the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ont., from April 10-11, 2015 at the FirstOntario Centre.

Nexxice, from the Burlington Skating Club, and Les Suprêmes, from the CPA Saint-Léonard, earned their entries to the world championships winning gold and silver respectively at 2015 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships this past weekend in Quebec City, Que.

Representing the Burlington Skating Club, Nexxice senior earned the first Canadian entry to the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships winning their ninth consecutive Canadian title on Sunday. Nexxice is the only North American team to win the world championships, having won in 2009. The three-time consecutive world silver medallists are coached by Shelley Simonton Barnett and Anne Schelter.

Canadian silver medallists Les Suprêmes, will be the second entry. Representing CPA Saint-Léonard, they earned their fifth consecutive Canadian silver medal this past weekend in Quebec City. Les Suprêmes placed sixth at the 2014 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. They are coached by Marilyn Langlois, assisted by Pascal Denis, Amélie Brochu, and Amanda Gaiotti.

This will be the 16th edition of the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships with Canada having won medals at 10 of those previous events. Twenty-five teams from 20 different countries are expected to participate in the event in Hamilton.

Tickets are available and can be purchased online at, by phone at 1-855-985-5000, or in person at the FirstOntario Centre box office.

Earlier this season, entries for the 2015 ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, from March 13-14, 2015, were determined at Skate Canada Central Ontario’s annual Winterfest competition. The 2015 Canadian gold medallists Les Suprêmes (junior) from CPA Saint-Léonard and 2015 Canadian silver medallists, Nexxice (junior), of the Burlington Skating Club earned the two entries for Canada.

Synchronized skaters descend on Quebec City for 2015 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships

OTTAWA, ON: Synchronized skating teams from across Canada are en route to Quebec City, Quebec, for the 2015 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships, taking place from February 27-March 1, 2015, at the Pavilion de la Jeunesse.

The event will host approximately 800 skaters and coaches on 40 teams competing for national titles in the senior, junior, open, intermediate and novice categories. The top two senior teams will represent Canada at the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships being held in in Hamilton, Ontario, from April 10-11, 2015.

“The Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships never fail to amaze as athletes come together to deliver skill and strength with precise coordination. Quebec City is prepared and excited to host these incredible teams, coaches, officials, and fans,” said Dan Thompson, CEO Skate Canada. “With Canada as host of the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, there will surely be added excitement in the air as teams battle to represent our country on the world stage.”

Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or at the door at the Pavilion de la Jeunesse. Two-day passes can be purchased for $35 for adults or $25 for children, and individual day passes can be purchased for $20 for adults or $15 for children.

The competition will be streamed live for fans to watch the events from home.

Media looking to attend the event are asked to contact Allan Gordon, Communications Coordinator, by phone at 613.747.1007 ext. 2564 or by email at [email protected] and during the event at 613.697.1354.

Canada’s Nexxice wins gold and silver at Spring Cup

MILAN – Eight-time consecutive Canadian champions Nexxice from Burlington, Ont., collected its second consecutive gold medal this month on Sunday at the Spring Cup 2015 synchronized figure skating competition.

In senior level competition, Nexxice placed first in both the short and long programs for 208.81 points. Team Surprise from Sweden was second at 200.51 and Haydenettes from the U.S. third at 195.77.

The Nexxice team members were Shannon Aikman-Jones, Maria Albanese, Ellicia Beaudoin, Emma Bonafiglia, Kelly Britten, Courtney Broadhurst, Lee Chandler, Alessia Chiovitti, Carla Coveart, Samantha Defino, Courtney Gray, Yu Hanamoto, Renata-Delete Khuzina, Victoria Kwan, Kristen Loritz, Nichole Manahan, Kerrin Caitlin McKinnon, Victoria Smith, Kiersten Tietz, Gillian Tyler and Elizabeth Mayers.

Last season, the representatives of the Burlington Skating Club won silver at the 2014 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships and bronze at the 2014 Mozart Cup. The three-time consecutive world silver medallists are coached by Shelley Simonton Barnett and Anne Schelter.

In junior competition, Idel from Russia were the winners with 150.49 edging Nexxice in second at 148.60. Team Convivium from Sweden was third at 141.55.

The Nexxice junior squad members were Cassandra Ablack, Katelyn Blowe, Stephanie Collier, Alycia Giro, Celina Hevesi, Taylor Johnston, Caitlin Laskowski, Laura Lourenco, Caroline Marr, Emiko Marr, Carolyn Matheson, Jessica Morgan, Rachel Ng, Inka Sirkia, Johanna Smalen, Claudia Smith, Alessandra Toso, Kayla Walker, Erica White, Brooklyn Williamson.

The 2013 Canadian junior champions won this event in 2009. Last season, they placed fourth at the Mozart Cup, won silver at the 2014 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships, and placed fifth at the ISU Junior World Challenge Cup. They are coached by Trish Perdue-Mills and represent the Burlington Skating Club.