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You say hello, I say goodbye

Comings and goings of the Canadian team

Three-time Canadian champion Emanuel Sandhu wants to  sit out the Grand Prix season.
Three-time Canadian champion Emanuel Sandhu wants to sit out the Grand Prix season. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin / icenetwork.com
(10/10/2007) - The hellos and goodbyes were flying so fast among Canada's elite figure skaters in the offseason, it was hard to keep up with the comings and goings.

Between retirements and partner changes, not to mention Emanuel Sandhu's and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon's timeouts from competition this season, Team Canada has a decidedly different look as the 2007-08 campaign begins.

For fans who have been on vacation from the sport since the world championships ended last March, here is what you might have missed:

Ice Dance

Shaken and stirred best describes the myriad changes which took place in Canada's ice dance ranks. Only two of the top-seven couples from the 2007 Canadian championships remain in the mix for the upcoming season. World silver medalists Dubreuil and Lauzon, the five-time Canadian champions, announced they would sit this season out before deciding whether to shift back into competition gear and set their sights on Olympic gold in 2010.

Lauren Senft and Leif Gislason, fourth-ranked nationally last season, parted ways but each quickly launched new partnerships with U.S. skaters. Senft is now with Augie Hill and Gislason with Morgan Matthews, but U.S. Figure Skating's decision not to grant either American an immediate release to compete for Canada means the new pairings' international debuts are a ways off. The two-year hold levied on Matthews has that couple looking for a foreign country that will grant them citizenship quickly, thereby expediting their return to international competition in advance of the 2010 Games. Azerbaijan is one avenue being pursued. Senft and Hill must wait until next season before they can compete for Canada abroad but will be at the 2008 Canadians.

Chantal Lefebvre and Russian-born Arseniy Markov announced their retirement from competition in the summer. They had dropped back to fifth-place at the 2007 nationals, which perhaps influenced their decision to turn to coaching.

Canada's sixth- and seventh-ranked couples in 2007 also split, with Siobhan Karam forming a new pairing with Kevin O'Keefe and Liam Doherty teaming up with Mylene Girard, who had been fifth in Canada in 2006 with Bradley Yaegar.

Left to carry Canada's colors in Grand Prix competition are 2006 world junior champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, sixth in their senior worlds debut last season, and the out-of-nowhere Canadian and junior world bronze medalists in 2007, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. Coincidentally, she is also an American who was released without delay by U.S. Figure Skating last year.

Pairs

The big surprises in the pairs ranks were announcements by three-time Canadian champion Valerie Marcoux and former national bronze medalist Sean Wirtz that they no longer wanted to compete. Marcoux's partner, Craig Buntin, quickly found a new partner in Meagan Duhamel, a singles skater who had tried her hand at pairs a few seasons earlier before refocusing on her solo career.

While Wirtz turned his attention to coaching, his former partner, Elizabeth Putnam, went home to Vancouver and plans to give singles competition a shot.

The third couple among Canada's top six from 2007 to call it quits was Utako Wakamatsu and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau. Their retirement was expected.

The Canadian team will be counting on reigning Canadian champions Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison and now second-ranked Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay to continue Canada's reputation as a force to be reckoned with in pairs skating. Duhamel and Buntin recently claimed silver at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, which bodes well for their future.

Men

Sandhu, a three-time Canadian champion, asked to sit out the Grand Prix season to focus on his singing and acting career. He is registered but has not confirmed his intention to compete at the Canadian championships in January.

Other than Sandhu, the other men among Canada's top seven are all slated to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, including reigning champ and Olympic bronze medalist Jeff Buttle; Chris Mabee; Shawn Sawyer; Patrick Chan, the 2007 junior world silver medalist; Joey Russell and Vaughn Chipeur.

Women

The status quo held among Canada's five top-ranked women. Joannie Rochette, Mira Leung, Lesley Hawker, Cynthia Phaneuf, and Myriane Samson are all back for the new season.

Coaches on the Move Too

The Canadian athletes weren't the only ones making moves this summer. 1988 Olympic silver medalist Liz Manley and 1977 Canadian men's champion Ron Shaver left posts in the U.S. to return to Canada and new coaching jobs in Ontario. Meanwhile, long-time Canadian coach Neil Carpenter headed off to Holland to share his vast experience with skaters there.