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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada skate during their pairs short program at the Skate Canada International figure skating competition in Saint John, N.B., October 25, 2013. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada skate during their pairs short program at the Skate Canada International figure skating competition in Saint John, N.B., October 25, 2013. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Canadians Duhamel, Radford lead after pairs short program at Skate Canada Add to ...

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have come to expect a few glitches early in the season as they prepare their programs for the Sochi Olympics.

But the biggest surprise for Canada's top pairs team, who were skating at their first international competition of the season Friday, came off the ice.

Sitting at a press conference after placing first after the short program at the Skate Canada International grand prix in Saint John, NB, a pipe burst above Duhamel, leaving Canada's reigning national pairs champions under a shower of water.

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"That's what you get when you miss your triple lutz," quipped Duhamel, who managed to skirt most - but not all - of the downpour.

The pair, who are among Canada's leading contenders for the podium in Sochi, stumbled on their triple lutz, and and on a throw, but said they were pleased with the performance over all, gaining points from the judges for difficulty and executing the rest of their elements.

Heading into Saturday's long program, Duhamel and Radford sit at 69.57 points, followed by the Italian pair of Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek (69.38) in second place, and China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (69.02) in third.

Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., said it's common for him to not feel comfortable this early in the season.

"I think both Meagan and I felt very prepared in terms of the structure of the program. But in terms of the execution and at an event like this, once we got out there, it  was just a little bit of a lost feeling. And it's something as the season goes on that we know about ourselves that it starts to come together and just be a little more automatic for us," he said. "But to go out there and execute what we did is a good first step this season."

Indeed, Duhamel, who is from Lively, Ont., admitted that if they would have been flawless this early, it might have left her a little "spooked."

It was an emotional performance for Radford who was skating for the first time internationally to the music he composed in honour of former coach Paul Wirtz, who died of cancer in 2006.

"It's kind of difficult to put into words," he said of hearing the notes to the song, Tribute, over the sound system at Saint John's Harbour Station arena. "In general I'm always a little bit nervous when we take our starting position, but when I hear my song playing and at specific moments throughout the program... it just creates a little bit of a deep feeling. And that's all I can describe it as, it's like a deep feeling."

The lead Duhamel and Radford take into the long program is slim, with all three teams in a tight battle ahead of Saturday's finale. The burst pipe, however, wasn't the only unexpected glitch ahead of Friday's first day of competition. Italy's Hotarek, travelling from Detroit to Saint John, lost his skates in transit after checking them with his luggage. In Europe, skaters often take their skates as carry-on items, but airlines in the U.S. are less flexible. At one point Canadian men's skater Patrick Chan was going to lend him a spare pair of blades, but eventually Hotarek's skates were located - in Chicago, Hotarek said.

"And we didn't go there - ever," his partner, Berton, said.

Having missed practice, skating officials allowed them an extra 15 minutes to prepare once the skates arrived. "We didn't' skate for 2 days but thanks to those 15 minutes we were back," Berton said.