Patrick Chan had received a simple piece of advice recently and he skated Friday night with it forefront in his mind: strive for success, not perfection. That's exactly what he did.
He wasn't picture-perfect, but the two-time world champion made a convincing leap toward a likely sixth Canadian senior title this weekend at the Hershey Centre by obliterating the competition to take the lead with a score of 94.63 in his short program.
The 22-year-old Toronto native was coming off a disappointing third-place finish at December's Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Sochi, Russia and before that a surprising second at Skate Canada International. They were the first two major international competitions from which Chan didn't emerge the winner since mid-way through the 2010 season.
The last to perform Friday evening, dressed in a navy ruffled shirt and black pants, Chan didn't fall, much as he has throughout this season.
"This was a perfect example of that [advice] -- it wasn't perfect, it wasn't the best landing on all the jumps, but I got my job done and I stayed on my feet," said Chan. "This is a great boost for worlds in London."
Kevin Reynolds sits in second place (85.32) and Liam Firus (75.33) is third.
The event will help determine which skaters will earn the Canadian berths earned for the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, which will take place in London, Ont. this March. Canada has three spots for men and ice dance, two in pairs and just one in the ladies' event.
Friday night also included a blast from the past. Emanuel Sandhu, a three-time Canadian champion and 2006 Olympian who at the age of 32 is making a comeback to competitive skating, sits ninth with a score of 60.55. Sandhu had walked away from the competitive side of the sport six years ago but skated his way through sectionals to earn a shot in this weekend's national event.
The six-foot Sandhu pumped his fist and shrugged his shoulders playfully after his skate as many in the crowd stood in ovation. He performed in one of his old costumes from some 15 years ago, posing and laughing in the white puffy shirt while chatting with reporters afterward, making sure to note that he could still fit into it.
"For me, it was super exciting," said Sandhu, who has since danced on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance, taken part in skating exhibitions and done odd jobs like landscaping. "[Tonight] underscored the reason I still want to do this now -- the joy of it all, the excitement and rush I feel from competing and from everyone else watching."
If Sandhu is the elder statesmen of the event, lively 14-year-old Nam Nguyen represents the future. Nguyen is the youngest competitor in the field by two years, a rising star coached by two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. The youngster won Canadian titles as a junior, novice and pre-novice. He sits in sixth spot after Friday's skate with a score of 67.90 in just his second go at the senior nationals.
Chan felt like he was back the groove, saying his mental approach seems better in this competition. He said the performances of the young skaters in the competition have made an impression on him, like Nguyen who he complimented for showing youthful pizzazz, getting right up after a fall, and skating an energetic program that reminded the champ a little of himself at that age. He also watched 17-year-old leading ladies' singles skater Kaetlyn Osborn with admiration.
"I would say that this season has nothing to do with physically, it's always about the mental game for me," said Chan. "I was watching Kaetlyn skate on TV from my hotel before I came here. I think I admire her because she goes out and just has a blast. She doesn't care about the results. it's good to be young. I had that mentality when I was young. She's singing before she goes out to skate, lands her jumps no problem, tons of flow. That's something I want to learn to do more, to put myself in that mental space, even if I feel nervous."
The competition resumes on Saturday with free skates in the pairs, men's and ladies' disciplines, while ice dance skaters open competition with their short dances.