A Burnaby pair took a big step towards a possible fourth Canadian ice dance title.
Burnaby's ZhaoKai Pang, 17, and Port Moody teen Madelaine Edwards won the junior dance final with career-best scores in the short and free programs at the Skate Canada Challenge in Regina on Sunday.
Pang and Edwards led after the short dance with a 60.56 score. They extended that lead over eventual runner-up Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen of Eastern Ontario with an 81.77-point score, skating to The Artist theme in the free dance.
"We were really happy we walked away with two solid performances. It gives us confidence for the rest of the season," said Pang.
The two Burnaby Centre of Excellence skaters are coached by the successful former Olympic medallist dance pair of Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe.
In the five years since Pang and Edward have been a competitive pair, they have won a national title at every level, beginning with a juvenile gold medal in 2009 and pre-novice and novice crowns the following two seasons.
Last year, Pang and Edwards won the silver medal at the nationals.
"When we step onto the ice, we want everyone to be watching us," said Pang. "We really enjoy the performance part of ice dance. We do enjoy interacting with the audience and interacting with each other. It's an important part."
This season, the two skaters impressed judges on the junior Grand Prix circuit with back-to-back bronze medals in two international events.
In August, Pang and Edwards garnered 113.73 points at a junior dance competition in Courchevel, France. Two months later, the duo improved their final number to 135.01, just one point shy of a silver medal at a Grand Prix event in Istanbul, Turkey.
Sunday's seven-point improvement from their last competition was further evidence that the on-ice chemistry between the two continues to bear fruit, despite the fact the dance partners narrowly missed making the six-team junior Grand Prix final, finishing as a second alternate.
"So far, thank God, their growth is the same, it's a hurdle that we have overcome. There is something special with this team - they get along," Lowe said, adding the two could have scored even higher numbers but for some injury issues two weeks before the Challenge.
A win at the upcoming nationals in January would ensure Pang and Edwards of a berth at the world junior championships in Milan, Italy early next year.
Lowe and Wing were also delighted with the results of the novice dance competition, where Burnaby pair Danielle Wu and Spencer Soo defeated the Quebec pair of Christina Carriera and Simon-Pierre Malette-Paquett, a team that had beaten them soundly in an earlier competition.
"It was a good shock," said Lowe, who helped coach three other Burnaby centre novice teams to top-seven finishes.
Alexa Linden and Tyler Miller came from ninth place in the short program to finish on the podium in third place.
Brianna Delmaestro and Graeme Gordon finished sixth and Andie-Lynn Gingrich and Liam Kinrade were seventh overall.
"We want this school to be thriving with results," Lowe added. "We haven't had a senior champion yet, but we're steadily improving. Right now, we're in the early stages."
But the end game for Lowe and Wing is to take one of their dance pairs to the Olympics and win a medal one day.
"That's where we were, and we hope to take teams beyond what we did," he said.