AMHERST, N.S. – Nova Scotia’s figure skating team is just about ready for Red Deer and the 2019 Canada Games.
The road to Red Deer came through Amherst on Dec. 29 and 30 as 10 of the 12 members of Team Nova Scotia came to town for a weekend of training in preparation for the national event that brings the best young athletes in Canada together for two weeks of competition.
Nova Scotia hosted the Canada Games in 2011.
For skaters Jacob Cote and Alyssa Cross, the excitement is beginning to build.
“The experience of going there is going to be amazing,” said Cote, who will be competing in pre-novice men along with Cameron Boulter. “It’s going to be great to meet some new people.”
Cote, 13, has been skating a lot in early mornings and after school. His aim is to set a personal best and skate to his full potential.
“I want to make sure I’m ready and my aim is reaching my personal best,” said Cote, who has been skating since age six. “The big thing is to stay confident and be positive.”
Cross, whose mother Leeanne (Hart) Cross competed in the Canada Games in 1991, skates out of Bedford.
“My mom skated in Canada Games before and I want to follow in her footsteps,” Cross said. “I’m looking forward to the experience of competing and the pin-trading, of course.”
Like Cote, the 15-year-old Cross spends hours each week on the ice working on her routine.
“It’s my passion,” she said. “My goal is a personal best.”
She said her mother’s advice has been simple: “She told me to do what I know I can do. I like to doubt what I’m doing. She said don’t think just do it.”
The group of Canada Games athletes were joined by younger skaters who could be part of Team Nova Scotia in 2023 in Prince Edward Island. The camp featured some of the top skating instructors in the region as well as visiting instructor, technical specialist Jen Jackson of Hamilton, Ont.
Jackson has worked with the Nova Scotia Canada Games skating team for several years. She brings an outside perspective and she continues to build on what she has taught the skaters at previous camps.
“We’ve asked our current Canada Games team to lead them in hopes of inspiring them and who knows we could see some of these skaters competing for Nova Scotia the next time the Canada Games comes around,” Knowles said.
The camp included instruction on jumps and jump technique as well as polishing routines. There were also classroom-like sessions that included setting goals and reviewing those goals. The younger skaters also got to learn what it’s like to be an official at a national event with Team Nova Scotia practising their routines.
“They get to see that being an official is not as easy as it looks,” Knowles said.
While practice and working on the technical aspects of skating may not sound exciting, Knowles said they’re essential to self-improvement. The skaters, she hoped, each took something away from the two-day camp that will help them in future competitions.
On Dec. 28, the team headed to the Canada Games got to stay by themselves – away from family – to simulate the situation in Red Deer. They also had a no cell phone policy after 10 p.m.
“We go to Red Deer on Feb. 23 so we’re trying to break them in gradually, so they’ll know what to expect during the Canada Games,” she said. “It’s a one step at a time process.”
The team also includes two coaches, a manager and a Special Olympics coach for the two Special Olympian skaters.
Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are the traditional powerhouses in skating, but Nova Scotia has fared well at past Canada Games. One of those was Jon Mattatall of Tatamagouche, who competed in Corner Brook in 1999 and coached in Prince George, B.C. in 2015.
He was in Amherst offering his assistance.
“The best advice I can give them is to enjoy themselves, it’s like no competition they have ever attended,” Mattatall said. “I’ve never been, but it’s as close to the Olympics they’ll come. At the same time they have to focus on their job.”
He said it’s great to bring the team together prior to the games because it helps them prepare while at the same time doing some bonding as a group so the members are prepared when the time comes to leave for Red Deer.
The team has also spawned another generation of skaters from previous Canada Games. Three members of this year’s team had parents go to the Canada Games, one in curling and two in figures skating – one of which brought home a gold medal in ice dancing in Sydney.
Knowles said Skate Canada Nova Scotia has sort of made Amherst its second home thanks to the support of the town and its no fee youth ice time program. The program provided 13 hours of ice time on Dec. 28 and 29, saving skaters $95 each in registration feels.
As well, 80 local hotel room nights were used.
“Amherst has been a great host for us, it’s very generous with the no fee youth ice program that keeps fees down for the skaters at a very expensive time of the year,” Knowles said. “This allows us to put lots of kids on the ice and it’s a great location in proximity terms because we have skaters from Prince Edward Island here as well.”
It was one of two major events at the Amherst Stadium that weekend. On Dec. 30, some of the top ringette teams in the Maritimes were in town for a one-day tournament.
“Skate Canada, through Jill Knowles of Skate NS, have been huge supporters of the Town of Amherst, the stadium and our goal to be the most active healthy community in the province,” Amherst’s recreation director Bill Schurman said. “We are pleased to host Skate Canada. Stadium staff love them as all of their events are so well organized, participants are respectful of the facility and are very appreciative of the support received from the town.