Ice Network

On the mend: Denney plans August return to ice

Reigning U.S. pairs silver medalist hopes to compete at U.S. champs
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While Haven Denney continues to rehab in Florida following surgery on her torn knee, Brandon Frazier is in Canton, Michigan, working with Marina Zoueva and her coaching team to enhance his skating skills and body movement. -Getty Images

Haven Denney's knee injury cost her and partner Brandon Frazier the first half of this season, but they're hopeful it won't cost them the second.

The young pair had success last season, winning silver medals at Skate America and the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and they placed 12th in their worlds debut. The duo, along with coach Ingo Steuer, had high hopes for 2015-16, with plans for new elements including, perhaps, a throw quadruple jump. As Denney remembered, they were "checking off the list of goals" when progress came to a halt on April 22, during an off-ice warm-up.

"We were in a lesson with Ingo and walking through technique of the throw jump," she said. "We were on the gym floor and I did a simple, big throw double flip, and I just came down where my foot stuck on the floor, and my body kept rotating.

"We all heard a very loud two pops. They thought it was my sneaker that made the noise, but it was my knee."

Denney tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and meniscus. On April 26, she flew from her home in Florida to Vail, Colorado, where Dr. Robert LaPrade, an internationally recognized complex knee specialist, performed surgery at the Steadman Clinic on April 28.

Since then, Denney and Frazier have been hard at work, determined to return stronger than ever. They're doing it 1,300 miles apart: While Denney pursues a safe but aggressive course of physical therapy in Florida, Frazier is in Canton, Michigan, working with Marina Zoueva and her coaching team.

Both skaters hope to compete at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, but understand Denney's recovery must not be rushed. She is in physical therapy Monday-Saturday, and does aquatic therapy three times a week, as well as Pilates and ballet.

"With all the therapy and fitness training, I can tell how strong I am getting," Denney, 19, said. "I'm very optimistic."

She's not doing it alone. U.S. junior men's champion Andrew Torgashev, recovering from ankle surgery, has been with her every step of the way.

"Andrew is one of the most determined athletes I know," Denney said. "We motivate and share our small recovery victories together. It's like our skating schedule was just replaced with recovery and therapy."

According to Denney, the hard work is paying off. She may return to the ice soon.

"Overall, my trainers, therapist and doctors are very pleased with my recovery," she said. "Because of my progress, I am hoping to be cleared to begin very simple skating at the end of August."

Meanwhile, Frazier has been going back to the basics in Canton, working to enhance his skating skills and body movement.

"We made a decision that, when Ingo went back to [his home in] Germany to have [knee replacement] surgery done, I would take this time to really improve my weaknesses," Frazier, 22, said. "I definitely wanted to go to one of the big dance camps in Michigan, and Ingo nudged me in the direction of Marina Zoueva."

Working with Zoueva, Massimo Scali and Oleg Epstein has opened Frazier's eyes to the finer points of performance.

"Marina has me on a six-hour [daily] schedule with off-ice ballroom, modern, hip hop -- a lot of great things I'm not used to," he said. "Oleg and Massimo are really drilling me in the basics -- turns and speed and power -- for two full months now. There's so much I've learned and so much more I want to do."

Now famous for training ice dancers, Zoueva has also coached pairs, including two-time Olympic champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.

"It is very smart for Brandon to use this time to work on his skating skills," Zoueva said. "Pair elements take so much energy; skaters don't always have the time to do this. We work for basic skills -- more edges, knee action -- and also for his general style."

Frazier is inspired by the ice dancers in Canton, including Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and 2014 world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who trained in Canton for two weeks this summer.

"This is something that's a whole new world for me: pushing, stepping on glides without movement, and just expression," he said. "When my partner comes up, we're going to really take time easing into the competitive scene again. We want to show up at our first competition knowing we've got a whole new look, we're a whole new team, like Ingo wants."

Although Frazier is anxious to get back to training with his partner, safety comes first.

"Nationals is the goal and, right now, it looks very possible, not a long shot," Frazier said. "But we can't start rushing things. The doctor was very strict; he said, 'It may feel good in September, and you may want to start [throw jumps], but you can't feel the weakness and then you're looking at something that could be career-ending.' So we're being smart and methodical about it all."

"Yes, our short-term goal is to be able to compete at nationals, but our long-term goal is to qualify for the 2018 Olympics," Denney said.

The team is undecided about a permanent training home following this season. In the fall of 2012, they moved to Coral Springs, Florida, to train under three-time U.S. champion John Zimmerman and his wife, Italian champion Silvia Fontana.

Steuer, who coached Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy to five world titles, was added to the coaching team in the summer of 2014, and became Denney and Frazier's sole coach after the 2015 U.S. Championships.

"Right now, we're using Canton as 'a place to calm down from the circus,' is how Ingo likes to put it," Frazier said. "As we get back on a full training day, we'll start talking about a new [permanent] location, but if we re-locate, it probably won't be until after the season. There is still a lot of discussion. Everyone is super supportive of us, and there are rinks out there that want to have a high-level pairs team."

When Denney and Steuer arrive in Canton, talk will turn to choreography.  

"Marina and Ingo are going to do our programs this year, and we're going to spend the first month just doing the choreography [before adding jump elements]," Frazier said.

Zoueva emphasized she and Steuer have not yet discussed choreography.

"I cannot say about the future," she said. "Of course, we are open to working with them. Haven needs to do the same kind of work Brandon is doing now. I think they will benefit from training with ice dancers, because an ice dancer has to be more open to movement."

Frazier and Denney were able to see each other earlier in the summer.

"I went down to Coral Springs to visit Haven on the Fourth of July, and she looked great," Frazier said. "No one thought she would be able to get on the ice until November, and now it looks like she will be able to get on the ice in August.

"Once we get going, Ingo is going to do everything he can, and we're going to do everything we can. He's very excited to get started, and we are, too."