A light shines on novice pairs

VANCOUVER

Brooke McIntosh just turned 13 years old five days before the National Skating Championships. She hasn’t wasted her time in this life, plucking daisies or fluffing pillows. She’s a speeding torpedo on a mission.

A blurred vision in pink, McIntosh scorched the competition with her 15-year-old partner, Brandon Toste, winning a gold medal in the novice pair event by more than 10 points on Wednesday.

She and Toste out-footed, out-lifted, out-spun, out-twisted and out-threw 10 other teams. Last year, only five duos even competed at this event.

This victory signaled a rebirth of pairs in Canada, perhaps. The best thing about it was that McIntosh and Toste didn’t come from the usual pair schools that have developed so many of Canada’s top skaters in past years. Their coaches? Andrew Evans, a 29-year-old former Canadian junior pair champion, and Brian Shales, a 32-year-old former novice and junior pair champion, working out of the Ice Skating Academy in Mississauga.

Evans used to skate with Julianne Seguin and with Kirsten Moore-Towers, too, both now medal contenders at the national championships this week.

As coaches, Evans and Shales have a tiger on their hands. Evans has coached McIntosh since she was a youngster. She was small and feisty and fearless. In short, a pair girl.

A year ago, Evans brought in Shales to handle the technical side of things. That not only has helped the program, it has helped to bring a measure of calmness to Evans. He’s a pacer, back and forth, hard when his skaters are out. Now he can stand still and take it all in. And a second set of eyes really helps the cause.

Shales, who retired from competition in 2009, is at his first national championship as a coach. “I’m loving it, “ he said. It’s his dream to teach young skaters and now he’s living it.

Evans said he knew he had something special from the time McIntosh and Toste were “babies.”

“You have a very athletic little girl and a boy who is absolutely in love with skating,” he said. “But so many other things have to fall in place.”

In the past year, Toste has grown about eight inches and put on 30 pounds. “He’s got some serious strength,” Evans said. He doesn’t believe Toste has ever lost a lift in practice, so consistent is he. For sure, he’s a power lifter. And McIntosh is very athletic when it comes to throws and twists.

She loves throws, she said. So there they were this week, landing a throw triple Salchow in their Pinocchio free skate, astonishing at this level.

Truth be told, McIntosh may be the boss of the two – although neither is saying this is true – but the matchup of personalities is perfect. Evans said McIntosh is “beyond driven and focused.” Toste is the steel mast behind it all, consistent and stable and being everything McIntosh needs to keep her on track.

“When you are that good, it can get a little erratic at times,” Evans said. “Some really powerful skaters can start to slip. I think he is the rock that she needs.”

Evans and Shales are trying to pass on what they know to this next generation of budding pair skaters. Evans always looked up to coaches such as Lee Barkell, Bruno Marcotte, Kris Wirtz, Josee Picard. They all had a big influence on him. “These other coaches were freakin’ good at what they do,” Evans said. ”And until you are on the other side of it, you really don’t know just how good they are.”

They were always told, Evans said, that the boy in the pair was like a frame, and the girl was the photo. They were not to be the centre of attention, but good enough to show off the woman.

Toste is “the epitome of a pair boy,” Evans said.

He’s also the “easiest kid to coach,” Evans said. “He’s always happy.” He takes direction well.

The next task is further development. Evans had already carefully prepared her for her pair career. “She knew every element in the book before she stepped on the ice with Brandon,” he said.

She started skating later than some, at age eight, when Evans began to work with her. After teaching her some CanSkate lessons, when “she was a cute little thing,” he suggested to her mother that McIntosh would make a good pair skater. “So they dedicated themselves very quickly,” Evans said. As pair coaches have found, the earlier the skaters take on pair skills, the better.

Already, McIntosh has a sense of how to do a triple twist. “And not a small triple twist,” Evans said. “A honker of a triple twist.”

It will be the next step, to teach this team this formidable trick. “There are two groups of pairs: ones with a twist and ones without one,” Evans said. “And you know what? With how strong that boy is and how fast she is, there is no reason they are not going to do a triple twist.”

They learn so readily and so easily, that Evans said he has problems challenging them enough. ”I start to wonder how much more aggressive can I be with my coaching? Let’s try new elements.”

It’s clear that McIntosh can do throws. And she can jump. She shows up to the rink, all business. Her mien? Warmup time is not the time to talk to friends. It’s a time to warm up. “When she steps on the ice, there is no second that she is not working,” Evans said.

In fact, Evans sometimes has to kick her off the ice. “She’ll go and go and go.” At times he has to send her home.

Pair skating comes almost intuitively to these two. And finally, this coming season, they will be just old enough to take part in the Junior Grand Prix circuit. In fact, they will have eligibility for a good many years.

McIntosh has skated with a few other lower-level partners. Toste has skated pairs only with McIntosh. They head to the Ice Academy by 6:45 a.m. to train before school starts at 9 a.m. Because they attend a high-performance school, they attend it only in the mornings, then skate singles in the afternoon. McIntosh is currently in grade 7, Toste in grade 10.

And in their young lives, who would they emulate? Toste loses no time in saying: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, the Chinese world champions, one of the favourites to win an Olympic gold medal next month.

“I’m a big fan of them,” Toste said. “I really enjoy their artistry. All of their elements have this wow factor to them.”

Indeed. What a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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