Patrick Chan and Nam Nguyen bumped into each other in the dressing room at the Canadian championships. It was the briefest of meetings between the present and future of figure skating in Canada, but it left a big impression on the pint-sized Nguyen.
"(Chan) asked me where the clock was," Nguyen said with a wide grin. "I told him it was around the corner."
While Chan, the reigning world champion, blew away the field Sunday to claim his fifth Canadian title Sunday, the 13-year-old Nguyen — who stands all of five feet tall and 85 pounds — was impressive in his own right, finishing seventh in his first appearance in the senior event.
"He's one of my heroes," said his coach Joanne McLeod. "This was his first year in senior against the big guys, he's dealing with an injury that he had to his calf, and he's been very sort of not letting people know about it. But he fought through, he didn't have 100 per cent full strength at the start of the week, so I'm extremely proud of him."
Nguyen suffered a cut to his calf muscle that required 10 stitches when collided with Vancouver skater Jeremy Ten in practice just over a week ago.
"The pain was like terrible, but thankfully my parents, they were doctors before, and they gave me a couple of exercises to prevent the pain coming back," Nguyen said. "And here I am, talking to you guys."
The skater from Burnaby, B.C., made history last year in Victoria by becoming the youngest competitor to win the Canadian junior men's title at the age of 12. He made the leap to the senior ranks this season, and was literally a boy among men at the Moncton Coliseum, half the size of his competitors.
"He's pretty nervous, but that's how I was when I started in the seniors," Chan said.
"I guess I should try a little harder to say hi to him and stuff, other than just ask him what time it is," Chan added laughing. "But that's a start. He's a good kid, and he skated well and that's what's most important."
Chan turned heads when he was seventh in his Canadian senior debut as a 15-year-old, and Nguyen was impressive in Moncton, reeling off triple jumps with ease, and earning a standing ovation from the crowd. He pumped on fist in the air when the music stopped, and danced in his seat when his scores were announced.
"The experience is great, I'm learning to be mature now," Nguyen said. "Junior I would be the top dog, but now I'm looking up to really skaters like Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds and Jeremy Ten.
"I admire (Chan's) artistic performance, his jumps — they're really good and really big — and his spins, they're really fast."
While Chan rose up the international ranks on the strength of his all-around skating abilities, McLeod said Nguyen is also the full package.
"He's just so musical, he's got the X factor," she said.
The coach kept close tabs on the Nguyen, who squirmed a couple of times while speaking to a half dozen reporters. McLeod said his family is making sure to keep the young skater grounded.
"His parents are very involved in his skating, there's a lot of good things being done at home, and he gets a lot of support from our provincial body," the coach said. "He's surrounded by a good system ... he's a really neat kid, and he's pretty smart."
Moncton isn't Nguyen's first time in the spotlight. He was a big hit when he performed in the Gala — figure skating's traditional wrap-up event — at the Vancouver Olympics.
Nguyen is the son of Vietnamese immigrants Sony and Thu, who are both engineers. He started skating when he was five, and also played hockey briefly. He also studied piano seriously until he recently gave it up to focus on skating. He has his own website, and attends a public school in Burnaby, going to morning classes and training in the afternoons.
Nguyen won Canadian titles at the intermediate, pre-novice and novice levels, always competing in older age groups.
He said he didn't have any expectations going in to the weekend, and was using the event more to gain experience.
"I didn't think about the other skaters so I wasn't really intimidated."