In the annals of Canadian figure skating, there never has been such a buffalo-checked, adventure-seeking, resourceful, colourful, candid patineur of the north as Keegan Messing.
The 29-year-old skater proved it this week after a 33-hour trip to the Canadian skating championships from Alaska with his wife and child, only to find that his skates didn’t arrive at the final destination with him.
He had to adjust.
He waited 24 hours, bootless, hoping Air Canada would deliver the goods, at least so that he could practice. They did not. Quickly he and coach Ralph Burghart had to switch to Plan B. They had to do the unthinkable: get a new pair of boots and blades he had never used before so that he could compete in the most important competition of the year.
He ended up trying on white women’s skates. They certainly weren’t custom.
Messing competes with Jackson boots. A rep from the company headquarters west of Toronto picked out some skates of his size – and a pair of blades to go with them – tossed them in a car and drove all the way to Ottawa. They arrived 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the day before the men’s short program.
There, Messing had the blades mounted and fitted. It was a team effort, Messing said. He spent an hour and a half, adjusting, working, to get the skates to feel comfortable.
When he first went out in them, they felt too soft, he said. “But that was our plan, to get soft skates so I didn’t have a break-in period.” He taped the ankles to get stability. He did a quad toe – triple toe loop in them and thought: “You know what? I can skate now, if worse comes to worse.”
Ironically enough, Messing had been having troubles with his boots. They were causing him pain in a foot, but thought they had solved that problem back in Alaska.
It wasn’t the first time Messing has had to resort to using white boots at an event. At his first Canadian championship in 2015, he had to buy a pair of white skates off the shelf. “It was at a time when I was having boot problems,” he said. This is when he switched to Jackson’s.
“I put on a pair of Jackson’s, and all of a sudden, I could do triple Axels again,” he said. “So I’m like: ‘I’m sticking with these things.’” He finished fifth at that event, a new face in the era of Patrick Chan.
Messing said he had to check his skates in at the airport because of a new rule that forbids anyone from bringing on board skates with removable blades. All skaters’ blades are removable, held on by screws. He got caught earlier this year, missing a flight because of it, and having to pay an extra $1,000 for another flight.
“It depends on who you get as a TSA agent, but that’s why my skates were in my checked luggage,” he said. “I had a couple of bad experiences this year. This is the second competition in a row where my skates haven’t shown up. [Golden Spin of Zagreb was the other],
“I’d love to have my skates on my back again on the airplane, but until things change, I’m just going to be praying for the best.”
Almost miraculously, his own skates showed up at 9:30 p.m. the night before the short, and he didn’t have to compete with the white skates.
Through it all, Messing resolved to stay positive throughout the entire ordeal. He said the problems didn’t sway or change his mindset. “I’ve done this for quite a few years now,” he said. “This is my 19th year of nationals [nine in Canada], so really, your body knows what to do.
“You come to a competition, adversity hits and you just roll with the problem,” he said. “You take one problem, then you go to the next and nothing in your head changes. You keep a positive mindset. You look at your problem and you split it up into a whole bunch of small problems, and start solving one problem after the other.”
He admits that, out on the ice, he felt a “tiny bit shaky.” He ripped off his quad toe-triple toe loop combo, but then singled an Axel. “I think I relaxed just a little bit and that was just enough, with a little bit of doubt on the skates already, to make a mistake,” he said.
He got 2.38 bonus points for the big combo, and no points at all for the Axel. Still, he won the short program with 84.38 points over 16-year-old upstart Wesley Chiu, who landed a quad and flipped out of a triple Axel for 81.47. Chiu actually outpointed Messing technically.
Chiu admitted he was a bit nervous, skating at his first senior nationals. “But I’m very proud of what I did today,” he said. “I’m just learning to skate with the big guys and controlling my nerves.”
Joseph Phan, 20, skating his best routine this year with no quad, finished third with 78.14 points. Phan also had slightly higher technical points than Messing.
Others wobbled. Conrad Orzel attempted two quads and fell on both of them, and stumbled out of his triple Axel to boot. Things went awry for him. His shoulders got high. He finished only 14th with 59.13.
Roman Sadovsky, who won the last Canadian title two years ago (after a cancellation last year), turned out of his quad Salchow (“just a bit of a wobble,” he said. “Nothing crazy. That is something that is easy for me.”) and landed his triple Lutz on two feet, finishing fourth with 77.17.
Two-time Canadian champion Nam Nguyen, in his final season as a competitor, did a nice quad Salchow – triple toe loop, although he stepped out of the latter, and then fell on a triple Axel. He finished 7th in the short, going back to an old program “That’s Life” that rung a bell with him. He’s going back to an old free program today, too.
Corey Circelli, a junior champion a couple of years ago, finished fifth with 76.64 points, skating to a medley of Prince tunes that fit him perfectly. He used his long limbs to excellent effect, did a big luscious spreadeagle into a triple Axel, and then a triple Lutz -triple toe loop combo with his arms above his head for the second jump. That got him 1.92 bonus points.
In nine attempts, Messing has never won a Canadian title and he’s not thinking about it now. “I try not to think of it, honestly, this big Olympic year,” he said. “Butterflies are real and we’re just trying to keep things upstairs as simple as possible.”