Listening to her coach paid off for Joannie Rochette.
The world silver medalist scored a personal-best 70 points in the short program at Skate Canada on Friday, putting her in front of Americans Alissa Czisny and Mirai Nagasu. Rochette gasped when she saw the marks, which drew a huge cheer from the red-clad crowd at The Aud.
"I still can improve with this, but I'm really excited. It's my first time in the 70s," Rochette said. "It shows me that this program can take me where I want to go."
Czisny, the reigning U.S. champion, scored 63.52 points, while Nagasu earned 56.34. The free skate is Saturday.
Also Friday, American Jeremy Abbott won the short program with 79.00 points. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi was second with 76.30, and Kazahkstan's Denis Ten third with 75.45.
World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany took a commanding lead in the pairs competition, while ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada built a solid lead with the compulsory dance.
Rochette's performance was quite a turnaround from her awful short program at Cup of China, where she botched a triple-triple combination she wasn't even supposed to do. It left her all the way down in seventh.
"I kind of changed it without my coach's consent," said Rochette, who rallied to win the bronze medal. "I really wanted to challenge myself and I did not follow the plan. So I think that's when I learned the importance of a plan and sticking to it."
Rochette has a triple-triple in her free skate, and routinely lands them in practice. But with no room for error in the short, where skaters must do a set of required elements, coach Manon Peron said it's not worth the risk.
On Friday, Rochette opened with a clean triple lutz-double toe loop combo and later did a triple flip and a double axel. All of her jumps were done with polish and ease.
"She doesn't need it," Peron said of the triple-triple. "In the short program, you cannot make a mistake, so be safe, use the elements that you already have and go and pick up all the points that you can."
Despite the personal best, Rochette said her saucy tango can score even higher. She didn't earn full marks for her spins or spiral sequence.
"My goal tonight when I stepped on the ice was to feel more calm and more relaxed and I think I achieved that," she said. "I still think I can do better, so it's encouraging for the rest of the season."
Wearing black-and-white makeup on their faces and traditional mime costumes, Savchenko and Szolkowy's "Send in the Clowns" program was a definite crowd-pleaser. They scored 74.16 points, almost 10 ahead of Russia's Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov.
"I think the performance today was not bad. Actually it was quite good, not perfect," Szolkowy said. "It was little bit slow, kind of tired, but very concentrated on the elements."
Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison of Canada were well back in third (57.90) after Dube singled a planned triple salchow. The pairs free skate is Saturday.
Virtue and Moir, surprise bronze medalists at worlds after missing most of the season because of injury, lived up to their favorites title. The Canadians scored 40.69 points, more than five better than France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.
The original dance is Saturday and the free dance is Sunday.