LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — A suddenly contracted Canadian men's ski team was adjusting to its new reality ahead of the season-opening World Cup downhill.
The retirement of Erik Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis breaking his leg at Lake Louise within days of Saturday's downhill followed the loss of Broderick Thompson to a season-ending knee injury a week earlier.
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., and super-G specialist Dustin Cook of Ottawa are what's left of the Canadian team's veterans.
"It was shocking," said Thomsen. "Two or three days, all of a sudden I go from a guy who is struggling to be on the start list in super-G to now I'm the number one guy, the oldest guy and veteran. Bit of a change."
It falls to Thomsen, 31, and Cook, 28, to provide guidance to Toronto's Jack Crawford, Calgary's Jeff Read, Vancouver's Sam Mulligan and Brodie Seger of North Vancouver.
The four have a combined 16 World Cup starts between them and their average age is 21.
"Everyone is still a little shaken up from the injuries of Broderick Thompson and Manny," Read said. "I think those were among the things that started moving Erik's decision."
This season was to be Guay's farewell tour, but the 37-year-old abruptly retired Thursday.
His health, young family and watching his Osborne-Paradis and Thompson suffer long-term injuries combined to accelerate the retirement of the most decorated man in Canadian ski history.
Guay won two gold medals at the world championship and owns 25 World Cup medals.
Both Osborne-Paradis, 34, and Thompson, the 24-year-old brother of 2014 Olympic ski cross champion Marielle Thompson, underwent surgery this week. Thompson was injured while training at nearby Nakiska last week.
"Lots has changed in the last two weeks," Thomsen said. "We lose Broderick and first training run Manny gets injured, it happens in ski racing.
"(Erik) was a total surprise and shock. It's a different feeling for Erik to retire as opposed to the other guys getting injured. It doesn't have that sadness to it. I'm a little bummed out I'm not going to have that teammate, that leader guiding us through the season, but just so happy and stoked for him.
"I hope it doesn't take a long time to break that record of his medals and podiums, but who knows? It might because it's outstanding."
Thomsen's career-best result was a World Cup silver in a downhill in Sochi, Russia, in 2012. He underwent knee surgery in the spring of 2016 and missed half of the following season.
Thomsen was the fastest Canadian in Thursday training in 41st.
But Guay and Osborne-Paradis dropping out of the field bumped Thomsen to a higher downhill ranking and thus a more advantageous start position for Saturday's race.
He'll get a bib number between 21 and 30 on Saturday, which means he'll have better course conditions than the 50 skiers racing after him on a more beat-up track.
"That's a huge advantage to have a good starting position, especially here in Lake Louise," Thomsen said.
Read, the youngest son of former Crazy Canucks skier Ken Read, will start just his third World Cup race Saturday after racing a combined last season in Wengen, Switzerland.
He's competed in many shorter Nor Am races at Lake Louise and was a forerunner for the men's downhill last year.
Read says the leg burn a longer course creates, plus the bumpier course a late starter experiences will be his biggest challenges Saturday.
"It's a whole different level of skiing with this speed in rough conditions," Read said. "It's not really something I've ever done before."
How many World Cup races Read and his young teammates get this season will be largely dependent on results starting Saturday in Lake Louise.
"In the speed disciplines, experience is huge," Read said. "Some of the top guys like Hannes Reichelt, he's 38 or 39 and he's run this track for 20 years. It's definitely adds up.
"As a rookie on the tour, normally it takes some guys a year or two to get into things and we're trying to push it to make it happen faster."
Friday's third and final training run for the race was cancelled. Snow and fog reduced visibility at the top of the course.
The forecast for Saturday's downhill is minus-4 and partly sunny with a light wind. A super-G race is scheduled for Sunday.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press