Monday, June 4, 2012

Team Canton - Thanks for the Memories

On the heels of the shocking news that uber-successful ice dance coach Igor Shpilband was fired from the Arctic Edge rink in Canton, Michigan, I thought it appropriate to take a moment and reflect on the greatness that has been Team Canton for the past decade.

With the apparent split of Igor and his coaching partner Marina Zoueva, it appears Team Canton is in a state of flux. What remains to be seen is whether some of the teams will also leave the rink and follow Igor to his new home, wherever that will be. If there are defections, it will be a sad end to one of the most successful camps in figure skating and the current powerhouse in ice dancing.

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were the pioneers of Team Canton. After Igor and Marina moved to Canton from the Detroit Skating Club in 2003, they added even more teams to their stable of ice dancers, and Tanith and Ben were the leaders of the pack. They picked up their first national title in 2004 and then put American ice dancing back on the map with their silver medal at Worlds in 2005. It was their title-winning performance at 2005 Nationals that I'll always remember, though.

The 2006 Olympics brought Team Canton its first Olympic medal, a silver won by Tanith and Ben. I'll never forget the night of the Original Dance, when a record number of teams tripped and flopped all over the ice. Tanith and Ben were last to skate, and my heart was in my throat as I thought about all the disastrous skates that had preceded them. But they rose to the occasion and gave their best performance of their fiery Latin OD.

Tanith and Ben picked up two more World medals as members of Team Canton, but it was the young teams that started to make waves. In the fall of 2006, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were the first team to earn level fours on all of their elements in a free dance. And at 2007 Worlds, Davis/White and Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir both finished in the top seven, an unheard of result for two teams fresh out of juniors. Tessa and Scott blew me away with their Valse Triste free dance.

After Tanith and Ben left Team Canton in 2008, Davis/White and Virtue/Moir really stepped up and put themselves at the top of North American ice dancing. Meanwhile, the junior teams in the camp were having their own successes. In 2009, Madison Chock/Greg Zuerlein and Alex Shibutani/Maia Shibutani went 1-2 at Junior Worlds, showing just how deep the talent level in Canton was.

Then came 2010, the first of two banner years for Team Canton. Virtue/Moir earned the first Olympic gold medal in ice dance for North America, and Davis/White joined them on the podium with their silver. The teams and their coaches couldn't look any more joyous as they celebrated on the ice together.

Just when you thought they couldn't achieve any more firsts, Team Canton swept the podium at 2011 Worlds for the first North American sweep in ice dancing. Davis/White became the first American world champions in ice dance with their stunning and complex tango free dance. Every time I watch it, I marvel more at how intricate and difficult the program was.

Virtue/Moir picked up the silver medal, and the Shibutanis shocked everyone, including themselves, with the bronze. Their reaction when Igor told them they won a medal ("Don't have a heart attack.") is one of my favorite Kiss and Cry moments of all time.

Team Canton's success continued in 2012 with Virtue/Moir and Davis/White again finishing as the top two teams in the world. The camp seemed to be headed toward another year of victories in 2013, but with the firing of Igor, everything looks to be a muddled mess now. I just hope that all the teams can find the best situation for their personal and professional needs, and ice dancing in the U.S. can continue to thrive.

And now for a few of my favorite Team Canton photos . . . 


  1. Who are the skaters in red?

    1. Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas (they skate for Lithuania)

  2. *facepalm* Didn't he used to have long hair?

    1. I don't think his hair was ever long that I can remember. When he skated with Katie Copely it was short IIRC.

  3. What a moving tribute you paid to the team. It's always sad and shocking when someone moves on, especially when it was unexpected.