Patrick Chan hadn't felt quite right the past few months since claiming his world championship title in spectacular fashion last spring.
So he allowed himself a bit of breather — a quick trip to Vegas to celebrate his 21st birthday — and clearly the mini-vacation did the trick.
The skating star from Toronto blew away the field — and his own world record score — to win the short program Saturday at the Canadian figure skating championships and stake his claim for his fifth senior title.
The score won't be counted as an official world record as it was recorded in a domestic competition, but the jazzy skate to "Take Five" was, in Chan's opinion, his finest short program yet.
"It may not have been the most solid, the jumps were a little off to me, but I worked the hardest in this program and I had the finesse, I had the best of both worlds," Chan said. "Those points were deserved because I worked quite hard, it wasn't easy, it wasn't a walk in the park ... "
Chan scored 101.33 points for his program that included a clean quadruple toe loop and three triple jumps, and takes a whopping 20-point lead over Kevin Reynolds (80.81) of Coquitlam, B.C., into Sunday's free skate. Vancouver's Jeremy Ten is third with 70.81.
Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reclaimed their Canadian title, winning with a score of 180.02 points. Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., missed most of last season — including the Canadian championships — while Virtue recovered from surgery on her legs.
"That was definitely one of our goals this week, to get our title back," Moir said. "It was a little bit of a gruelling week for us, there's a lot of new stuff in our programs, the pressure of competition was pretty intense actually for us this week. But we came out today and skated really well, and we're extremely happy with the growth of that program."
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., scored 174.53 to win silver, while Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., won bronze with 163.54.
A new women's champion was crowned. Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., captured her first Canadian title to upset last year's champion Cynthia Phaneuf of Sorel-Tracy, Que. Sixteen-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond of Sherwood Park, Alta., was third.
Megan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., also claimed their first pairs title. Jessica Dube of St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, Que., and Sebastien Wolfe of Terrebonne, Que., were second, while Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., won bronze.
Chan's 93.02 in the short program at last April's world championships will still stand as the world record, but his coach Christy Krall said, in her opinion, he clearly had a world-record skate Saturday.
"Definitely. That was fun," Krall said. "That was seamless, beautifully executed, delightfully presented. That was first class."
Chan went undefeated last year, but faltered through his Grand Prix performances in the tail-end of 2011.
Clearly something has clicked since he last competed, at the Grand Prix Final in December. Krall said he came back reinvigorated from his Vegas birthday celebration — he spent four days of playing cards and seeing shows.
"A: He turned 21, and B: he took a holiday," Krall said. "I think that was it, I think he needed to relax and have fun and that's basically what that holiday was about.
"I think he enjoyed himself thoroughly, he went to Las Vegas and had a good time, and I think that's really a critical component in his training is how he rests and how he recovers and how he rehabilitates himself. He came back a happy guy."
Chan earned a standing ovation at the Moncton Coliseum, and New Brunswick Premier David Alward came down to the media area to congratulate the young skater.
"I love coming back to nationals, this is what makes me want to come back every year," Chan said. "Even though I win by 20 points or whatever, it's coming here and getting that vibe, just that energy, when they announce my name before I've even started skating and hearing the cheer after landing the quad.
"It's just great for the soul, I guess you can say. It's a good feeling to have."
Virtue and Moir skated to music from the music "Funny Face," Virtue as Audrey Hepburn in a dress, and Moir as Fred Astaire, his hair combed into a neat sidepart.
"We watched a lot of Audrey and Fred, especially at the beginning of the season, just getting into character," Virtue said. "We worked with a lot of specialists, ballet coaches, ballroom people, just trying to get all the nuances and details of the program, and I think those will continue to evolve as the season progresses."
With Virtue back at full health after last season's surgery, the two are gunning to reclaim the world title they lost last season to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They know that with lofty expectations comes more pressure.
"Given the last few seasons we've had, we're back in the position where we have a lot more expectations and we're putting a lot more pressure on ourselves," Virtue said. "It's not just getting through the program or hoping we can make it to the end. We expect a lot of ourselves and at this point in the season, we want almost perfection. We have to welcome that pressure, because we're so happy to be in that place."
Lacoste, skating to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," scored 159.51 points to win the women's title. Phaneuf moved up from a disappointing fourth-place finish in the short program to finish second with 157.94. Osmond was third with 155.47.
"It feels good, it was my goal to win nationals, it's not beating the national champion, it's just to win nationals, to achieve what I wanted since I was a little girl," Lacoste said. "It's like a step closer to my real dream, to be on the Olympic team in 2014. I'm working to that new goal."
Canada can enter just one skater in women's singles at the world championships in March in Nice, France, and Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said there's a chance they'll wait until after the Four Continents Championships to determine whether they'll send Lacoste or Phaneuf.
Phaneuf was fifth at the 2010 world championships but her international results have dropped off, and in November she left her longtime coach Annie Barabe and moved to Toronto to train with Brian Orser.
"I just hope maybe they're going to wait for another skate to choose who's going to go to worlds, because I think I deserve my place there and I'm going to work very hard to be going there and to be skating very well there," Phaneuf said.
"I've been out there, I've been fifth in the worlds, in the top-10, and I think I can do it again. I believe in myself and in what I can do."
Duhamel and Radford, who've been partners for less than two seasons, scored 190.11 for the pairs gold. Duhamel jumped up and down the moment the music stopped, and was overcome with emotion when the score was posted.
"Oh my god, I can't imagine feeling happier than I am right now. I'm going to have no voice tomorrow," she said. "Eric moved away from home when he was 13 years old and I moved away when I was 14 for the sole purpose of winning a national title and it took 12 years. It took a long time, but we never lost hope."
The Canadian champs skated a nearly flawless performance to music from Coldplay's "Viva la Vida."
"When I first started skating, it was this moment I was dreaming of, and it's all happening right now," Radford said. "It's what every athlete dreams of, these moments like this, it's an incredible feeling."
Dube and Wolfe scored 171.60 for silver, while Lawrence and Swiegers finished with 168.84 points for bronze.