OTTAWA -- Patrick Chan said he was like a "puppy in puppy daycare" at the Vancouver Olympics four years ago, a wide-eyed teenager at his first party, where everyone was cool and everything was free.
"It was so exciting, like 'Oh my god, there are so many cool things. Cool clothes. And the gym's right here.' Everything is available to you," Chan said Thursday, on the eve of the Skate Canada national championships.
Chan only turned 23 on New Year's eve, but he's a veteran on a completely different comfort level from the "deer in the headlights" who finished fifth in Vancouver. A move to Detroit last spring that also meant a split with his mom Karen (they'd been living together in Colorado Springs) hastened the maturing process.
"Now it will be more normal (in Sochi) because I live on my own," Chan said. "I had the chance to have that excitement living on my own and going to the grocery store, and be like 'I want Oreo cookies today,' or 'I want ice cream.'
"I'm in complete control of what I want, so going to the Olympics will be more of a comfortable feeling as opposed to summer camp-kind of feel."
Chan, who will take aim at his seventh straight Canadian senior title this week, has become the skater to beat at Sochi since winning three consecutive world crowns. At the Trophee Bompard Grand Prix in November, he ran away with gold, smashing the world records in the short and long program, and for overall score, to finish a whopping 31 points ahead of closest pursuer Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
Chan predicts Hanyu, who trains in Toronto under Canadian coach Brian Orser, will be his stiffest competition in Russia. The 19-year-old beat Chan at the Grand Prix Final in December, and broke Chan's world record in the short program.
Still, Chan pointed out that Hanyu was skating on home ice in Fukuoka.
"It's his first Olympic Games and it's not in Japan. So Olympics is an even playing ground for all of us," Chan said. "But I'm not going to write off anyone. Daisuke (Takahashi of Japan) has had a rough season, but he can do something special. And so can Javier (Fernandez of Spain). So can Denis (Ten of Kazakhstan)."
Three-time world champion Elvis Stojko has been keeping an eye on the men's events this season, and predicts Sochi will be a two-skater race between Chan and Hanyu.
"There's an excitement level with Hanyu because he's got that unpredictability, that freshness to it. Then you've got the maturity of Chan," Stojko said.
"(Chan) is going to need to be focused because the competition is getting close to him now," Stojko added. "Right now for me, (Hanyu) is the guy to beat. He's at the top of his game. Patrick has the experience under his belt, he has the Olympics under his belt, he's the three-time world champion, he's going to have to stay focused and not allow the pressure to settle on him.
"It'll be a little easier, because it's not in Vancouver, it's not in Canada. But it's still going to be something where he's got to be very focused and not get caught up during the week."
Kevin Reynolds had hoped to be in the medal conversation for Sochi as well, but Canada's No. 2 male skater is only just now making his season debut after six frustrating months of equipment problems.
The 23-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C., had hoped to build on the momentum from the world championships last spring where he finished fifth. But his season came to a dead stop when he bought new skate boots that, despite custom fitting, were too wide for his narrow AA heel.
"They're still not 100 per cent but I'm feeling much better," Reynolds said. "I'm able to do the skills not at a level I'm comfortable with but hopefully I'll be able to manage through this week and manage through Sochi.
"It's definitely not an ideal situation, nationals being first competition and Sochi being so close, about 30 days away," he added. "I really would have liked some competitions under my belt for that experience."
Reynolds withdrew from both his Grand Prix assignments, and wasn't comfortable enough to do any of his big jumps in practice, which included his quads.
He estimates he's onto his ninth or tenth pair of Risport skate boots since his previous skates wore out last season. He even travelled to the manufacturer in Italy to be custom fitted in December.
"I was so frustrated at that point, I had withdrawn from my second Grand Prix and I wanted to do everything I possibly could in an Olympic year," Reynolds said.
He tried to go back to last season's skates, a pair of stock Risport skates that weren't custom fitted but happened to fit perfectly.
"They feel like tissue basically," Reynolds said. "There's no life left in them."
Canada has three Olympic berths in men's singles, ice dance and pairs, and two berths in women's singles, which make it the largest figure skating team in Sochi.
Skate Canada will name its Olympic team on Sunday.
Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will most likely be making their final competitive appearance in Canada at this week's nationals, as they're expected to retire following Sochi.
The tightest race to make the Olympic team will be in pairs. Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., won bronze at the world championships last spring and have set their sights on the podium in Sochi.
Other teams battling for an Olympic berth are Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, and Natasha Purich and Mervin Tran. Purich and Tran are in their first season competing together. Tran won bronze for Japan with former partner Narumi Takahashi at the 2012 world championships.