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Wellman's fantasy skating preview: Skate Canada

Group B in men's, ladies provide greatest challenge for prognosticator

Does Tara Wellman have the nerve to pick Gracie Gold in her Grand Prix Series debut against a more experienced field?
Does Tara Wellman have the nerve to pick Gracie Gold in her Grand Prix Series debut against a more experienced field? (Jay Adeff)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/25/2012) - One down.

From Kent, Wash., to Windsor, Ontario, we are set for a whole new round of Grand Prix debuts. With no repeat competitors from last weekend, it's a brand new game.

Men's

There are at least a handful of ways this men's event could break down. All that means in the fantasy world is that the predictions get even tougher.

Group A - Patrick Chan, Javier Fernández

Last year, this event was a breakthrough for Fernández, who beat Chan in the short program. While Chan won overall, it set Fernandez up as a contender.

Last month, Chan showed a lack of readiness at the Japan Open, turning in one of the poorest performances of his senior career. That said, he still comes in with the most pedigree. And while Fernández has the firepower to take down the reigning Skate Canada champion, he hasn't shown the consistency in his ability to do so.

I say Chan rebounds (although not flawlessly) and still takes Group A.

Group B - Florent Amodio, Artur Gachinski, Ross Miner, Nobunari Oda, Denis Ten

Certainly there are a handful of medal contenders in this group. But, with the history of potentially brilliant performances from Oda, as well as his recent win at the Nebelhorn Trophy, he seems to be back on track. Last season was a disappointment that ended with injury, but if he's back, he could win the whole event.

Amodio and Miner could factor into the equation, but Oda should claim the top spot in Group B.

Group C - Elladj Baldé, Liam Firus

Here, we get a glimpse of the future of Canadian skating. Firus competed at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City, compiling 168.95 total points for an eighth-place finish. Meanwhile, Baldé finished 14th at Nebelhorn with 171.83 points.

Neither has significant senior-level experience. Their personal-best scores are within five points of each other. And, it's early enough in the season that it's hard to tell who has what to offer. So, take your pick.

I'm going with Baldé.

Ladies

Group A - Kanako Murakami, Akiko Suzuki, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva

After two golds in two Grand Prix events last season, it's tempting to quickly turn to Tuktamisheva. But world bronze medalist Suzuki is a solid pick, too.

Tuktamisheva is coming off a minor knee injury and has not competed yet this season. On the other hand, Suzuki skated to a third-place finish at the Japan Open, with a 110+ in her free skate.

This is a tough one for me. Tuktamisheva proved her worth last year but was unable to compete at worlds due to her age. Suzuki medaled at every one of her five individual events last season.

Because of the experience factor, Suzuki earns my vote.

Group B - Amélie Lacoste, Elene Gedevanishvili, Ksenia Makarova, Gracie Gold, Caroline Zhang

Consistency is not the strong point of the ladies in this group. And where experience doesn't allow for a judgment on consistency, there is, well, the inexperience factor, namely for Gold.

Skate Canada will be her Grand Prix debut. She posted a 171.15 in her second-place finish at the U.S. International Classic to start the season -- a score that only one other Group B skater, Zhang, has achieved.

I hesitate to pick skaters in their debuts, but in this case, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Gold is the choice.

Group C - Kaetlyn Osmond, Polina Shelepen

Every season, there's a junior-turned-senior skater who shocks the world with his or her improvement over the offseason. Already this year, Osmond has done just that, besting Russian Adelina Sotnikova at Nebelhorn with a 170.19 total score, and also topping Shelepen by more than 22 points in the process.

Shelepen does have the higher personal-best mark, but if momentum plays any part, Osmond had the perfect start to her senior debut season.

Again, it's risky making a choice based on a small sample size, but I'm going with Osmond.

Ice Dancing

Group A - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte

The reigning world champs are clearly the class of the field. While Cappellini and Lanotte had a strong 2011-12 season, they're not at the same level as Virtue and Moir. As long as the Canadians are healthy, they will have no problem winning this event.

Group B - Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones, Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue

Russians Riazanova and Tkachenko's strongest performance last season came at the European championships, where they placed fifth. Beyond that, though, they were inconsistent.

The newest Canadian stars, Gilles and Poirier, give fans much to be excited about. Their potential is untapped, and they're coming off of a win at the U.S. International Classic.

Yet, the American duo of Hubbell and Donohue debuted strong programs at the Finlandia Trophy that left me thinking they have a legitimate shot at taking this group.

I've gone back and forth several times. Ultimately, I'm taking a chance on the Americans.

Group C - Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov, Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill

In head-to-head battles last season, the record was 1-1. Most recently, though, Zlobina and Sitnikov topped the Canadians by more than 13 points. And because that result came at the U.S. International Classic, I'm led to believe Zlobina and Sitnikov are a bit more seasoned as they kick off their Grand Prix season in Canada.

Pairs

Group A - Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

As impressive a season as Duhamel and Radford had last year, they're not quite at the level necessary to compete with reigning world champions Savchenko and Szolkowy. While neither team has competed yet this season, the Germans out-pace this field. Barring major mistakes, they should take gold.

Group B - Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek

In their first outing of the season, Berton and Hotarek placed second at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial with a 137.12. Lawrence and Swiegers opened their international season with a second-place finish at the U.S. International Classic, racking up 164.03 points.

The Italians had a stronger 2011-12 campaign, but the Canadians are skating at home.

I'm going with the hot hand -- the Canadians it is.

Group C - Daria Popova and Bruno Massot, Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig, Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin

This event marks the Grand Prix debut of Davis and Ladwig. Ladwig, who skated with Amanda Evora at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, certainly has international experience. But he and Davis have significant work to do before they're competitive on this level.

Fellow Americans Vise and Baldwin have experience as well as impressive skill sets. Consistency is an issue, but they easily have the highest personal bests among the three teams in the group. They took third at the U.S. International Classic (behind Lawrence and Swiegers) with a 143+ final score, earning them my Group C pick.