TORONTO — Dylan Moscovitch arrived in Detroit last summer for a two-day tryout with Russian pairs skater Lubov Iliushechkina.
Two days quickly turned into six weeks.
"The tryout was so good we cancelled our flights home," Moscovitch said.
Moscovitch had just split with Kirsten Moore-Towers, with whom he finished fifth at the Sochi Olympics, and was searching for a new partner.
Fast forward five months and Moscovitch and Iliushechkina will make their competitive debut this week at the Warsaw Cup in Poland.
"It’s been a lot of fun, and an interesting process in terms of all the extra stuff we’ve had to figure out in terms of immigration and her release from Russia and all of that, but the skating’s been great," Moscovitch said. "I’m really enjoying skating with Lubov, she’s an excellent partner, and we’re learning a lot from each other’s different styles of skating."
Moscovitch and Moore-Towers announced the split last spring after five seasons together that included two fourth-place finishes at the world championships.
Moore-Towers said she wanted to compete for three more Olympics. Moscovitch couldn’t commit to that, but wasn’t ready to leave the sport.
"I wasn’t done. I wanted to go another four years," he said. "And the situation kind of left me spinning a little bit. I wasn’t exactly sure what my options were, where to turn, I turned 30 in September, and it’s hard to start over. I didn’t really think I wanted to start with someone who hadn’t done pairs, and so I wasn’t really sure what my options were."
He decided he wouldn’t retire before at least trying out other partners, and approached Iliushechkina on Facebook.
She won gold at the 2009 world junior championships and then gold at Skate Canada International a year later with Nodari Maisuradze. That partnership ended in 2012.
She’d been frozen out since then as the Russian federation refused permission to switch allegiance to compete for France with Yannick Kocon.
The Russian federation finally gave Iliushechkina a release to compete with Moscovitch, announcing the decision last month.
The two had been training together, hoping for the release, since that tryout in mid-May. They trained alone in Detroit, because Iliushechkina had a U.S. visa, for six weeks.
When the 23-year-old obtained a Canadian visa, they moved to Toronto, where they’re coached by Lee Barkell, Bryce Davison and Tracy Wilson.
While Moore-Towers and her new partner Michael Marinaro competed at Skate Canada and will compete this week at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France, the Russian release came too late for Moscovitch and Iliushechkina to compete on the Grand Prix circuit.
They’ll compete at the national championships in January and if they finish in the top three, will represent Canada at the world championships.
Iliushechkina will have to obtain Canadian citizenship before they can compete at an Olympics, but changing allegiances is fairly common in the sport. Ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Piper Gilles are both Americans who received Canadian citizenship to compete with Canadian partners.
"We started the immigration process," Moscovitch said. "We’ve got a bit of time and have some people working on it with us, so we have positive feelings about it."
The veteran pairs skater is happy to have a fresh start with Iliushechkina.
"The best thing about it is everything is new. I don’t feel like I’ve just taken what I had before and moved it over to a new partner," Moscovitch said. "It’s a new look. I’ve learned new lifts, I’ve learned different things with Lubov.
"She’s very flexible which enables us to do some pretty interesting lift positions, and different entrances, and she’s very creative, so I’ve learned a lot in that way. Hopefully just being in a different environment and having different coaches look at my skating, I feel like my overall skating skills have changed a little bit, in matching her skating."