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Fresh ice: Shpilband teams don't miss a beat

Displaced dance coach brings in wide array of coaches, specialists to assist him in new rink

Igor Shpilband has gotten a helping hand from Barbara Fusar-Poli.
Igor Shpilband has gotten a helping hand from Barbara Fusar-Poli. (courtesy of Igor Shpilband)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/06/2012) - When Igor Shpilband and coaching partner Marina Zoueva parted ways in early June, Shpilband left his longtime training home, the Arctic Edge in Canton, Mich. And that created a dilemma: where to find ice.

"It wasn't my idea," was all Shpilband would say about the abrupt rupture in Canton. "The biggest thing was, make it as convenient as possible for my skaters and don't lose any time."

Within days, he began negotiations with the Novi Ice Arena, about 20 miles north of Canton. In a week or so, a deal was struck, and Shpilband and his skaters -- including Madison Chock and Evan Bates, fifth in the U.S. last season, and Lithuanians Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas -- hit the ice in Novi.

"It already feels like home," Bates said.

Italian champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte joined the group early this summer and plan to combine training in Milan with coach Paola Mezzadri with trips to Novi before major competitions. Russians Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, fifth at the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships, are spending the summer with their coach, Alexei Gorshkov. That's in addition to junior couples planning to represent Canada and Poland as well as a South Korean junior couple still in the tryout stage.

"There was a little problem with [getting] ice in the beginning, because I approached them quite late and some ice was already sold, but now I have it starting at six in the morning [and going] into the afternoon," Shpilband said. "There are two [NHL-size] surfaces -- I'm using one of them -- and there's a sports center next door with all kinds of off-ice training available. There's a pool, tennis courts, gym, yoga, Pilates, you name it. I have as much time as I need and coaches I like to work with, so it's good."

Among those coaches: Marina Klimova, a three-time Russian world ice dancing champion and the 1992 Olympic champion (with husband Sergei Ponomarenko), and Italy's Barbara Fusar-Poli, who won the 2001 world dance title with Maurizio Margaglio.

"I am very happy I'm working with Igor," said Fusar-Poli, who brought two of her teams with her from Milan: the recently re-teamed German silver medalists Tanja Kolbe and Stefano Caruso and new Italian junior team Carolina Moscheni and Adam Lukacs. "I have a good feeling with him.

"Igor's wife, Adrienne [Lenda], is very nice, so we can work very well together. I am working with all of the couples. Of course, Igor did the choreography, but I'm helping with the choreography of the arms in the step sequences, the faces [expression] and, of course, I have some other ideas. I've known Igor for many years, but I have never worked with him before, so everything is new. I am staying at their home, and everyone is so sweet with me. I feel like a queen."

With a husband (former Olympic short track competitor Diego Cattani) and two children in Milan, Fusar-Poli does not plan a permanent move to Michigan, and she will stay only until mid-August. Shpilband hopes she can return later in the season.

"Everyone is enjoying working with Barbara," Shpilband said. "I was also very lucky Marina Klimova was able to come and help me for a few weeks, and hopefully she will be coming back later this month. She worked with all of our teams, on all kinds of different things. She's such a talented coach."

Gorshkov has been working with all the senior couples on the Yankee Polka.

"I'm really happy with how that is going," Shpilband said. "Maddy and Evan were the only team in Lake Placid to get a Level 3 on the first half of the polka [in the short dance]".

Everyone seems to be pitching in. Lenda works on lifts and other elements, Valentina Barsukova holds twice-a-week ballet sessions, and actor/mime Michael Lee was brought in to give the skaters lessons in expression.

Chock and Bates, who opened their season with wins at the recent Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, don't think they have missed a training beat.

"I live three or four minutes from the Novi rink," Chock said. "I walk over a hill, and I'm there."

Bates has a slightly longer commute: He must drive 35 minutes from his home.

"It's a big credit to Igor to move forward so quickly," Bates said. "We were on vacation when Igor and Marina split, and obviously where we would train was a huge concern. But Igor just turned around and landed right on his feet.

"The setup here in Novi is terrific. They have two ice surfaces, like Canton, and they are not overwhelmed with hockey tournaments. We get the same amount of ice time [as in Canton], four hours a day in the morning."

Tobias and Stagniunas have moved to the same gated community where Chock resides. The three ride their bikes to and from the rink.

"Leaving Canton was a huge adjustment and very, very unexpected, but we're very comfortable here now," Tobias said. "Working with Marina [Klimova] was just fantastic. I'm a great admirer of hers, plus -- and I know this sounds cheesy -- she is one of the nicest people. She worked with us on the Yankee Polka; it's a fast dance, and she helped us get the rhythm."

Last Wednesday, the Novi rink held Customer Appreciation Day, and two of Shpilband's couples -- Chock and Bates, and Marina Barova and Allan Stoll, who competed at Lake Placid and placed fourth in their free dance group -- performed their short dances.

"Maddy and Evan did it even better than they did at Lake Placid," Shpilband said. "So things are coming along."

Reporter's notebook: Like other ice dance teams, the Lithuanians are turning to musical theatre for their polka short dance, using selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma: "Deividas is a cowboy; I'm a lady -- it's a really fun dynamic, and I'm excited to perform it at Skate America," Tobias said ... After skating together for less than two months, 2010 U.S. novice ice dance champion Jean-Luc Baker debuted a new partnership with Kaitlin Hawayek in Lake Placid. The couple, which trains at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC) under a group including Pasquale Camerlengo, Anjelika Krylova and Massimo Scali, won its junior free dance group: "My previous partner [Joylyn Yang] developed back pain two years ago, and I waited for it to get better, but after it did and she came back to skating, [the pain] returned," Baker, 18, said. During a visit to DSC in late spring, Baker teamed with Buffalo native Hawayek, who has trained in Detroit for three years. Her previous partner, Michael Bramante, is now competing as a senior with Isabella Cannuscio.

Alexandra Stevenson contributed to this article.