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Newcomer Miner wins junior men's short program

Messing, Mahbanoozadeh sit 2-3, roughly seven points back

Ross Miner earned 66.62 points for his cowboy-themed short program on Wednesday.
Ross Miner earned 66.62 points for his cowboy-themed short program on Wednesday. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(01/21/2009) - With a junior men's field full of familiar faces, few expected newcomer Ross Miner to steal the show so quickly. Yet, the 17-year-old, who finished second last year in the novice division, was focused on fulfilling a personal goal. He earned a nearly seven-point lead after the short program for which he garnered 66.62 points.

"My thing this year is not worrying about my competition but just worrying about getting off the ice and being happy with how I skated," Miner said. "And I could not be happier right now."

Skating third to last in a cowboy costume and to music from the TV series Bonanza and the Raging Cajuns' "Cotton-Eyed Joe," Miner put on a nearly flawless performance, which featured three triples, including an opening triple flip-triple toe, which earned a 1.14 Grade of Execution (GOE), and a nice double Axel. Two of three spins earned a Level 4, and his 28.35-point program component score was the field's highest.

"He had just the right amount of nerves to make him skate well," said coach Mark Mitchell, who, with Peter Johansson, has coached Miner for nearly six years.

"I had a lot of adrenaline," chimed in Miner. "But, you know, you have to keep it in check."

Reigning junior bronze medalist Keegan Messing is in second place with 59.80 points. He wowed the crowd with his "Fundamentum" short program after opening with a triple Axel in a class of its own.

"They just come naturally to me," the 16-year-old said of the jump.

After failing to advance to the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, Messing has all the more reason to seek a podium spot this week. Yet, he is trying to recover from a fresh back injury, which could cost him.

"Last week, my back was hurting so badly, we were talking about possibly withdrawing," Messing said. "But we have been working it here, trying to get it better. Hopefully, we can get it better by Friday, and I can put the two triple Axels in [the free skate]."

In addition to the triple Axel, Messing's short program featured a triple Lutz and two Level 4 spins. His only, but costly, error came early when he missed a planned triple flip-triple toe that received a -2.43 GOE.

"When he did the turn, I saw he wasn't totally in the right spot, so I was thinking something was going to happen," said coach Ralph Burghart. "But those things happen, and you can lose focus after that. That little lapse in concentration hurt him a little bit."

In third place is the 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist, Armin Mahbanoozadeh, with 59.29 points. The 17-year-old feels he's grown in many ways since last year, when he finished eighth at the 2008 U.S. Championships, but attributes a lot of his progress to experience accrued in his second season on the international circuit.

"I trained really well for [the Junior Grand Prix Series]," Mahbanoozadeh said. "I worked really hard, so I just skated like I had been practicing. The experience has helped, because skating on an international stage is different than at a national level."

He, too, has been trying to heal. He has a contusion on his knee, received from a bad fall a couple weeks after the JGP Final.

"I had to take a week off and do some physical therapy two weeks before here," said Mahbanoozadeh. "I knew I didn't have the practice time. I felt prepared, but there was obviously more I could have done."

In his short program to "Dark Forest," Mahbanoozadeh landed a triple flip-triple toe and a double Axel. He popped a planned triple Lutz but received good levels on the majority of his spins and step sequences. His 27.53-point program component score was the second highest in the field -- something he said he has worked hard to improve.

He also had something to say about the last-minute withdrawal of fellow competitor and the 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, Richard Dornbush, who has been fighting the flu all week.

"I was sad to see him withdraw. I knew he was really sick coming into this, and I didn't see him at the warm-up this morning, so I just hope he gets better soon."

In fourth place, after a 58.76-point short program, is last year's junior bronze medalist Andrew Gonzales.