Who will be the pairs breakout stars of 2014-15?Icenetwork's writers predict which teams will step up their game this season
In the second of a four-part series previewing the 2014-15 season, Icenetwork asked its contributors to select one U.S. team and one non-U.S. team as breakout stars in pairs.
This is certainly the most difficult category to predict for a non-U.S. observer. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have won a coveted world gold medal, at the 2013 World Junior Championships. They have ended fifth at the U.S. championships each of the last two seasons. They should keep up with the dynamic pace of progress that has taken them to where they are.
Most of the top contenders from the last Olympiad have decided to either end their competitive careers or their partnerships. With 2014-15 looking like it will be a transition season, Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang of China could claim a spot among the elite teams on the world stage -- especially with the world championships scheduled to take place in their home country. Zhang would not be considered a breakout skater, however, as he won the Olympic silver medal in 2006. Peng could then be considered as the potential "breakout" half of the team!
Due to the large number of "divorces" in pairs, it is difficult to predict a breakout team here. If I must pick one, I will say Mervin Tran and Marissa Castelli.
This discipline looks really depleted this season. However, I name Russia's Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov as potential world leaders.
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage started the season well, winning the free skate at the Colorado Championships. This elegant, young team has already been together for four years, and they are just what the U.S. pairs program needs.
With so many new pairs, none of which have yet competed, it's tough to say who is going to have the total package. Given that, perhaps Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China will step up and take their spectacular technical skills all the way to the top.
It has been utter chaos for the U.S. pairs scene since Sochi. Who benefits the most? That's the romantically involved team of Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, whose off-ice relationship is proving solid ground for on-ice success.
Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, pairs skating's odd couple (she's 17, he's 30), were a quiet force over the last two years, and they are primed to become a louder one in a discipline that is anything but stable after the Olympic season. He throws her a mile high, and she (usually) sticks it with blinding grace.
The entire pairs landscape is a breakout scene, with so many teams breaking up, but that means doors might open for Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea. The duo finished sixth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and earned the silver medal at the Four Continents Championships. Having teamed up in 2012, they're practically grizzled veterans. Under the guidance of Jim Peterson, who has led teams to the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Sochi, this team could do big things. (Editor's note: This was written before the announcement was made that Kayne had undergone hip surgery in July.)
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han finished sixth at worlds and won Four Continents, but since they did not compete in Sochi, they still are not receiving a lot of attention entering this season. On the ice, however, they do anything but fly under the radar, as they are one of the most powerful teams in pairs skating today. It also helps that they train with one of the greatest pairs skaters in history in Hongbo Zhao.
More consistency on big elements, including side-by-side jumps, and a stylish free skate choreographed by Renée Roca will help 2013 world junior champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier make their mark on the senior level.
This will be a big season for Chinese teams, with either Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, or Wenjing Sui and Cong Han being more than capable of making the world podium. I'm hesitant to label either team as a "breakout" candidate, however, since Sui and Han have been so impressive for so long, and Zhang is an Olympic silver medalist. I'll go with Chinese world junior champions Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin, who combine athleticism with a budding, unique style.
Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier - 2
Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran - 1
Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage - 1
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim - 1
Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea - 1
Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang - 2
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han - 2
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov - 1
Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin - 1