Denney, Frazier seek fresh start in Chicago areaFormer world junior champions commence training under Brubaker, Berton
Just over a year ago, Haven Denney's career took a very unwelcome U-turn. Denney, the younger sister of U.S. champion and Olympian Caydee Denney, had won silver medals at Skate America and the 2015 U.S. Championships with partner Brandon Frazier. After finishing 12th at the 2015 World Championships, the team was on everyone's radar as one to watch for the future.
Then, on April 22 of last year, Denney and Frazier were walking through a throw jump off the ice.
"When I landed, my foot stayed and my body kept rotating, and a couple of loud pops later, I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and my lateral and bilateral meniscus," Denney said.
Denney had surgery on her injured right knee six days later, and she has spent the year since on the long, slow road to recovery. She says that the ligaments have now healed completely, although she and Frazier are still working their way back to the level they want to reach.
To help them get there, Denney and Frazier recently moved from their training base in Florida to the Chicago area to start working with Rockne Brubaker and Stefania Berton, and they have brought on Marina Zoueva to choreograph their programs. Their new free skate is to "Somewhere in Time;" they say they are still working on the short program and won't announce the music for another few weeks.
"It was a long year for them," Brubaker said. "To get to the level of second at nationals and have to take a step back is hard for an athlete. She's on the ice, she's jumping, she's throwing; we're still being very conscious of the injury. Especially with them being young athletes, we want to be very careful about the future, make sure we're not overdoing it."
Denney said that the hardest part of her recovery was the first six weeks, when she wasn't allowed to put any weight on her right leg.
"It was so boring, not being able to walk!" she said. "After that, I did a lot of physical therapy. I was off the ice basically until October."
While he was waiting for his partner to recover, Frazier spent some time with Zoueva's team in Detroit. He enjoyed the chance to skate with ice dancers and work on skating skills with Zoueva and Johnny Johns.
"It's no secret that that's one of my weaknesses," Frazier admitted. "There's never an end game for my skating skills and my edge quality. I learned a lot from the other athletes there. I had a lot of time to talk with Charlie White and the Shibutanis, and their knowledge was a great learning curve for me. Not being able to compete was very tough, but I think I was able to make the best of my time."
In October, Denney and Frazier went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for some serious strength and conditioning work. On the ice, Denney was limited to basic stroking and crossovers for several weeks.
"It was really slow, just one day at a time," she said. "In late November, I started doing little baby jumps and lots of jumps in the harness. I've been jumping on my own since January. It's a process!"
Denney is still wearing a knee brace for jumps and throws.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent recovered as far as my ligaments," she said. "As far as skating goes, we're still finding our timing. I haven't been jumping for a long time, and I just started back up with it. ... I'm learning to be patient. I'm so lucky I have Brandon with me, because we go through our ups and downs together. I'm super lucky to have a partner like him."
Once they decided a change was necessary, Denney and Frazier visited different training centers around the country in the early spring, trying to find one that suited them best.
"Every location was great, but this was a really big fresh start for us," Frazier said. "Within the first few days, we knew it was going to work. We have known Rockne and Stefania for a long time; we have loads of respect for them, and they're motivated for success. They have a great facility. When we sat down and went through each place, looking at the pros and cons, we couldn't find any cons here. It was a very easy decision for us."
Brubaker is the skating school director at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois. Berton, his wife, is the assistant director.
"Their work ethic is absolutely amazing," Denney said. "They're very motivating. We respect them so much as competitors. And they're fresh out of competing, so they understand what it's like in a competitor's mind, mentally."
"They're going to be a great asset for us," Frazier said. "They're on the younger side, but it seems like they've been doing this for a long time. The best thing about them is we really don't have to tell them what's going on -- they know what's happening; we share the same brain, almost. They know whether to push us or taper off. They're very aware of everything."
While their future plans include adding some new lifts and difficult entries into some elements, and eventually going back to work on the throw triple axel and throw quad salchow, which they were training early in the 2014-15 season, for now the skaters just want to get back to where they were before Denney's injury.
"We're working on the technique of the triples and thinking about the size we'll need," Frazier said.
"Ultimately, we want to get to two side-by-side triples consistently and two throw triples," Brubaker said. "You look at the top teams and a lot of them are trying quad throws or quad twists, triple-triple jump combinations. At some point, down the road, it might be necessary."
Denney and Frazier plan to compete once or twice this summer as they look ahead to the coming season -- one they hope is injury free.