Ice Network

Hubbell, Donohue seek new style, vision in Québec

Ravensburger on the menu; Dubreuil: 'We're going to start with the heart'
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are hoping that Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon can spin the same magic with them as they did for world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. -Getty Images

When you help raise an ice dance team from 13th in the world to the top of the sport in a single season, everybody wants you.

"We were the flavor of the month," Marie-France Dubreuil said. "We got many requests."

So after guiding Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron's meteoric rise, Dubreuil and her husband, Patrice Lauzon, faced a new challenge: Who could they add to their group at Montreal's Gadbois Centre while still maintaining that delicate balance between esprit de corps and healthy competition?

Their eyes were drawn to Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the U.S. bronze medalists.

"First of all, they're adorable people, which is important to me," said Dubreuil, whose team also includes the French world champions' primary coach, Romain Haguenauer, and Pascal Denis. "I like to have a very positive and very friendly ambiance on my ice. That's what I look at first.

"Second, they are American, and since we have no (other) American teams, we don't have anybody who can compete against them at U.S. nationals, which also helps to keep a good atmosphere."

And then there is the skating itself. Dubreuil watched Hubbell and Donohue up close at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, where the long-limbed couple placed 10th, and liked what she saw.  

"I think we can work with their natural essence and make them push even further into what they are," she said. "They are obviously very athletic, and I want absolutely to work on their lines, to make them even taller in the way they move on the ice. With their height, they should be one of the fastest teams and one of the most stretched-out teams."

The move wasn't easy for Hubbell and Donohue, who were teamed in May 2011 by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC). But after two seasons marked by injury struggles and occasionally disappointing marks, it was time for a shake-up.

"Anjelika and Pasquale helped Zach and me to find each other, and to develop our partnership and passion for this sport," Hubbell said. "We will always be grateful to them for their work with us, but we felt that it was time to explore a new coaching style."

Like DSC, Québec offers a staff with complementary talents.

"We are four head coaches, and we are all very competent in everything, but we all have our specialties as well," Dubreuil said. "Patrice is the technical mind. He analyzes for key points and levels; he is very analytical. I do a lot of the choreography, the styling and packaging, all of that.

"Romain is very good at making the lines look longer and the guys look very tall," she continued. "He is very good at placing the body so it's very aesthetic."

All of the ingredients were perfectly combined in Papadakis and Cizeron's sublime free dance to the adagio from Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 23." Accolades, along with astronomically high program components scores, poured in for the program all season.

Dubreuil is quick to point out that Hubbell and Donohue have unique gifts of their own.

"Not everybody is Gabriella and Guillaume, and that's great," she said. "Madi and Zach, I think their goal is to get to another level with their interpretation and their elegance in some parts of their skating. And I want to push their interpretation a little further, to make them really connect with the audience and connect with their music."

Just days after their arrival in Québec, Hubbell and Donohue were already confident in their decision.

"So far, we love the set-up, the atmosphere, the city of Montreal," Hubbell said. "What we know already is that Marie-France and Patrice, and their whole team, are very organized."

"We think the team in Québec can help us refine our skating into something a little more mature and polished," Donohue said. "We've always been a team to explore different dance styles, and Pasquale is a genius choreographer, especially for trying new ideas. We wanted to work with coaches who could see us with a fresh perspective and a new vision, and we're excited to see what they will create for us."

When Hubbell and Donohue arrived earlier this month, they hit the ground running. Their early focus is on the Ravensburger Waltz, an elegant, Viennese-style pattern dance that comprises two required sections of the 2015-16 original dance.

In this area, Dubreuil yields to her husband.

"Patch (Lauzon) has the patience of cutting every little thing in half. He has a very precise eye, and he is also able to look at only the blades and not the whole image," she said. "I cannot do that; I always end up looking at the whole image."

"Sometimes I think it's good, and Patch will say, 'Yes, Marie, it was very pretty, but it was Level 1.' Sometimes he makes me mad, he is so precise with what he needs to see."

Lauzon is already making a strong impression on Donohue.

"He looks like a kid in a candy store," Dubreuil said. "He is having a lot of fun working with Patrice. Neither Madi nor Zach skated Ravensburger before, so we can start from scratch, which is awesome."

Finding the right free dance vehicle will take time and consideration. Dubreuil has a few ideas, but she's in no rush. Her goal is to have Hubbell and Donohue ready for U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in late August, and for them to debut their programs at an ISU Challenger event in late September or October.

"We started to listen to some pieces, and I think they agree with the direction, but it's too early to say," Dubreuil said. "It all starts with the heart and the music and each other, and then you can connect with the audience. So that's where we are going to start -- with the heart."