ICE DANCE/HOCKEY

Call them on-ice “dancers”, as people sometimes do: hockey players flashing silver blades like icy lightning while making the red light glow.

Of course it’s nice to get the medal too. But I think it’s more about improving. Because you can’t control what place you get.

Caitlin Chan

But take away the quotes and Wave Hockey sophomore Caitlin Chan really is just that. And coach Jamie Tropsa likes the results.

“I met her hockey coach, and he came to me and said, ‘are you Caitlin’s ice dance coach?’ And he’s like, ‘thank you so much!’” said Katya Gvozdkova, Chan’s figure skating coach of five years. “Because she’s so good on the ice.”

Chan scored half a dozen goals her rookie season for the Wave and threatens to do much more.

“I guess it’s like the whole weight transfer and moving your feet thing,” said Chan. “Definitely, in some of the dances, there are a lot of fast ones where you have to move your feet. And I think it helps with hockey.”

Her promise, though, was fully achieved this month when Chan won the gold medal in the Novice Combined event at the National Solo Ice Dance Series Finals.

The 15-year-old skater, who also helped Darien High win the girls’ state title last winter, finished in first place for Silver Patterns and first place for Novice Combined in the Eastern Section at the championships held in Colorado Springs.

“Oh it’s very different,” Chan said of her matching sets of skates. “I love doing both. With ice dancing, it’s like all graceful and pretty, where as hockey is all aggressive; all the checking and stuff.”

“It’s amazing to participate in both sports, fully,” said Gvozdkova. “It’s so much time, it’s so much energy. She’s just really, really strong girl.”

And the way she’s managed her time, has kept the transitions from one sport to the next smooth as new ice.

“When it’s hockey season, it’s hockey season,” she said. “My focus is just on hockey.

“And during figure skating season — it’s quite a long season — I always find time to do hockey, whether it’s a private lesson in the morning, or going downstairs and just stick handling and shooting with the ball. And I keep up with clinics too. That’s how I find a balance to do both, and not just stop doing one.”

“(Ice dancing) helped her hockey, because it’s all technical and because of her edges and all this,” added Gvozdkova.

It is Chan’s fourth year in qualifying for the National Solo Dance Series, and for finishing in the top 10.

She is coached by Gvozdkova and Oleg Voyko, both former world-class Russian and Ukrainian Ice Dancers, respectively.

“It was super exciting,” said Chan. “It was a really great experience and nice to be (back) in Colorado Springs.”

It was something of a round trip. Chan’s first nationals was held in the same locale. This time she punched her ticket home with her first gold.

“She is very, very hard worker,” said Gvozdkova. “It’s very easy to teach her. She picks things up right away. She’s just wonderful girl.”

She’s been skating since she was four and is in her fourth year of competing in the solo dance series.

“This year (her routine) really suits her personality,” Gvozdkova said. “And at the national competition she did her best. And that’s why she got the gold medal, she deserves it.”

What the judges saw, they could not miss.

“She is a very powerful skater,” said Gvozdkova. “She has a lot of speed. And she has good edges. And her whole personality on the ice is very powerful, which is very good and important in skating.”

Power and syncopated skates

“The program was a (latin mix rumba and) cha-cha, so that’s like the free dance,” Chan said. “You can do anything; the coaches have the power and ability to choreograph anything.

“And then there’s the pattern dances. Those are like the set dances that were created many years ago, and everyone has to follow the same set of steps.

“But with the free dance you have more of the freedom to kind of do what ever you want. You get to pick your own music and find your own style within that.”

She’s added a degree of intensity to the motion.

“I would say this year is different than in previous years. It’s very energetic, a lot more dancing was involved.”

As well as commanding her edges, Chan has an edge in her commander Katya, in that the bond between them goes beyond the basics.

“We understand each other,” said Gvozdkova. “Because, English is my second language, and sometimes when I’m tired, my English is not good at all. But she understands me even if I am saying something wrong; she’s like, OK, Katya, I understand.

“So we have that connection. It’s very important that the student and coach, have that connection that clicks. Not with every student you can have that; but me and Caitlin we have that. It’s very strong.”

Gvozdkova has a strong history in and connection to the sport.

She competed for the Russian National Team, representing her country for more than nine years on the ice, her career ending in 2004 when she was invited to work in the United States as a coach.

She competed in all the Grande-Prix competitions at the highest level leading up to the Winter Games, before retiring for personal reasons.

“Unfortunately,” she said of missing the Olympics, “it was too young to finish career. I was almost there, but what can we do? And I just started working as a coach here.”

Missing out on a chance for Olympic medals didn’t crush her spirit. She has prospered on the ice ever since. And neither are medals what boost her charge’s spirit when she glides onto the ice.

“It’s not just about winning the medal,” Chan said. “Getting first place, then getting the national title is great and all. But I think, I’ve just improved so much in my skating. I think this is the best year as far as skating skills and improvement has gone. Because the coaches see it and I’ve seen it myself. I think that’s all that matters.

“Of course it’s nice to get the medal too. But I think it’s more about improving. Because you can’t control what place you get.

“Just going out and skating for the judges and the crowd and your coaches, is just such an amazing feeling.”

It’s not all about the applause either.

“I wake up every morning at five to go skate at six,” Chan said. “And to have, like the empty sheet of ice, is really nice. It’s really nice and it’s really empowering to just go out and skate by yourself. And I think that’s one of the most inspiring things.”

She’s a twice-inspired and doubly blessed teen in the rink.

“And definitely, for hockey it’s like that too,” said Chan. “Because sometimes during skating season I’ll squeeze in some hockey too. And just  going out with the coach and getting a private lesson on the quiet ice, is really nice; because you can hear like the ripping of your skates and the sound of the puck hitting the crossbar; whenever you take a shot you can hear the net kind of go whoosh.”