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Fantasy preview: Best bets for Skate America

Davis and White, Czisny among good choices

Alissa Czisny is a top fantasy option among the ladies at Skate America.
Alissa Czisny is a top fantasy option among the ladies at Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/18/2011) - The leaves are changing frantically, pumpkin spice lattes are regaining popularity, and turtleneck sweaters are finding new life. This can only mean one thing. Fall? Sure. But more importantly, the international figure skating season is just days away!

While the skaters make last minute adjustments to programs and costumes, you can make a few last minute decisions of your own. If you haven't registered your 2011-2012 Fantasy Team at usfigureskating.org, there's still time. And I've got a quick version of who's who for this weekend's 2011 Hilton HHonors Skate America in Ontario, Calif.

Ladies first!
Pool A: Alissa Czisny brings last year's confidence into this season, but that's not all -- she also has a new triple-triple combination. Czisny has also gone to a seven-triple free skate. With first rate footwork and spins, she is the most complete package.

The competition from last season's world bronze medalist Carolina Kostner could prove challenging, but only if Kostner reigns in the consistency she rediscovered last season.

My "A" pick is Czisny.

Pool B: Elene Gedevanishvili and Viktoria Helgesson faced off at Nebelhorn as well, with the Georgian fireball taking the first round and finishing second. Elene's jumps seem to be back in order, and she skates her programs with great confidence. If she falters, however, Helgesson will be hot on her heals. Because it's still early and Viktoria has some polishing to do, I give the "B" edge to Gedevanishvili.

Pool C: Haruka Imai begins her second season on the senior Grand Prix circuit in Ontario. She finished sixth and fifth in her assignments last season, and has much to offer both technically and artistically. In this group, she'll face the younger Helgesson sister -- Joshi. Helgesson finished a solid third at Nebelhorn, but perhaps her most impressive event to date was her fourth place finish at Skate America last season.

Imai is on the climb...I expect her to have a strong season debut here and take this group.

Moving on to the men
Pool A: Florent Amodio and Michael Brezina face the tough task of taking on the reigning world silver medalist, Takahiko Kozuka. He won both of his Grand Prix events last season and finished third at the Final. He is the clear favorite.

Pool B: Italy's Samuel Contesti is always a joy. He comes armed with big tricks, and an even bigger personality. This time around, though, he has to hold off the young American -- Richard Dornbush. This will be the senior GP debut for "Ricky," but his top ten finish at Worlds last season proved that he has what it takes to play with the big boys. He's a little bit of a sleeper here, but still, he's my pick for Pool B.

Pool C: Daisuke Murakami has skated almost in the shadows of his Japanese countrymen, last year finishing fifth at Skate America but only seventh at Japanese Nationals. Armin Mahbanoozadeh, too, had a flash of brilliance last season -- at the same event -- skating to a GP bronze medal. Both will be looking to best their own highest placements, but I give a slight advantage to the American, based on his growth last season and the home ice.

Pairs answer questions
Pool A: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy come in with the greatest advantage after last year's undefeated season. Without a doubt, they should top this group.

Pool B: Caydee Denney and John Coughlin look to place themselves in the medal discussions early and often, starting in Ontario. If the size of their tricks gives any indication, they mean business.

Canadian champs Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch will try to stand in their way, though. After stealing the silver as last minute replacements at Skate America last season, they'll have a lot to live up to. But the experience will pay off. Both teams may be in the medal hunt, but I expect the Canadian duo to out-do the Americans ... at least for now.

Pool C: It's the battle between countrymen. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker impressed by finishing fourth at last year's Nationals in their first major competition together -- and Marley's first as a pairs skater. But, there's still much work to do.

If Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin have an edge, it's their experience with previous partners. Plus, they have already put this season's programs on competitive ice at Nebelhorn. It might be close, but Vise and Baldwin should end up on top.

Ice dance hotly contested
Pool A: Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the cream of the crop in this field. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat put together a dandy of a season last year, but couldn't quite match the Americans. They'll be pushing to prove themselves, but until further notice, the Americans are the team to beat, and thus, my "A" pick.

Pool B: This group is a rematch of the medalists from Nebelhorn. The newly formed American team of Maddison Hubbell and Zach Donohue were quite impressive in their debut. They bring out the best in each other and that worked -- they won the event. The Germans, Nelli Zhigansina and Alexander Gazsi, were a close second and the young Canadians, Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill took third. With strong programs and even stronger chemistry, Hubbell and Donohue are the stand outs. I expect them to repeat their success against these two teams in Ontario.

Pool C: Alexander Paul and Mitchell Islam finished fourth in their only assignment last season, but they wowed the Canadian crowd in the process. In the deep Canadian ice dance field, they finished third at Canadian Nationals. Of the young ones in this group, they have the experience -- and the talent -- to come out on top.

Early season predictions are always tough, but after this weekend, we'll have a much clearer picture of what to expect. But, if you kick off your fantasy season well, it can only lead to great things!

Good luck, and enjoy.