A contingent of Peace Region speedskaters made a strong statement for the area at the Canada Cup 2 Long Track competition this past weekend in Calgary, AB.
Dawson Creek speedsters Jacob Graham, Braden Clouthier and Pauline Sutherland were among the field, as well as Fort St. John's Connor Johnson.
"All and all there were four skaters from the region and they all skated well and got some great times," said Fort St. John Elks Speedskating Club head coach Richard Stickel.
Canada Cup 2 serves as a time-trail event for senior and junior skaters, and is a main qualifier for Canada's national speedskating teams.
Graham, 16, who trains with the Elks, made a bid for the junior national team as a sprinter with top-ten finishes in both the 500 - and 1,000 m races
"Overall he [Graham] did very well. He had some very good times, he didn't hit his personal bests, but he is right on them – off by a tenth of a second," said Stickel by phone on Monday. "We are really happy with that, it just shows the consistency he has to make those times, time after time, and that's a big step."
Graham, the youngest skater to crack the top ten in both categories, placed seventh in the men's 1,000 m with a time of 1:14.03; and finished eighth overall in the 500 m over two races with times of 36.80 and 36.86. However, Graham was not the top junior skater. That honour went to Stefan Dilger who topped the field with a personal best time of 36.11, making him a likely candidate for the national team.
Whether or not his performance at the Canada Cup was good enough to give Graham a spot on the national team is dependent on whether Speed Skating Canada decides to take two sprinters to the Junior World Championships in late February. In which case Graham would be on the bubble.
"We knew that there were some really good skaters that he was skating against, and if he doesn't make it this year he's got two more attempts," says Stickel, who noted the junior team being open to skaters as old as 18.
Dawson Creek Speedskating Club alum Braden Clouthier, who now attends school and trains in Calgary, also had a good showing at the Canada Cup. Clouthier posted personal bests in three separate categories with a 36.91 in the 500 m, a 4:03.89 in the 3,000 m and a 7:06.45 in the 5,000 m. His time in the 3,000 m was the sixth best of the weekend for that distance.
The Elks' Johnson, who Stickel expects to become a competitive distance-skater, showed some promise in the sprint categories setting personal records in the 500 and 1000 m. His 39.93 was the first time Johnson, 16, cracked 40 seconds in the 500 m; he also posted a 1:20.52 in the 1000 m and a 2:08.76 in the 1,500 m.
"He's [Connor] starting to really come together, and we're really starting to see good things from him," said Stickel. "He and Pauline [Sutherland] are alike in that we are starting to see big improvements from both of them right now, and it's really exciting to watch those two skate."
Sutherland took four tenths of a second off her personal best in the ladies' 500 m clocking a 43.46 on the final day of competition. Her time put her in 23rd place among 40 skaters – many of them much older and more experienced.
The skaters will now begin preparing for provincials to be hosted in Fort St. John at the end of January, where they will skate against B.C.'s best for a spot at Canadians in Winnipeg, MB next month.