Grand Prix: The Big Matchups

 Skate America

Ladies
2010 World Bronze Medalist Laura Lepisto makes her season debut after sitting out all last season with an injury.  She’ll face 2011 World Bronze Medalist Carolina Kostner.  Alissa Czisny will also be looking for a medal on the way to defending her Grand Prix Final title in front of the home crowd.
TBD Slot: There are a few ladies who could fill this slot including Melissa Bulanhagui, Amanda Dobbs (1 Grand Prix last year) and Alexe Gilles (2 GP last year).  My hunch is on Gilles, especially if she does well in the summer comps under her new coaches.

Men
Michal Brezina will enter his first Grand Prix event since 2009 after sitting out the fall last season with an injury.  Also in the mix are European Champion Florent Amodio and World Silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka.  Evan Lysacek is also scheduled for this event and it would be his first competition since winning the Olympic Gold Medal.  He is also the 2009 Grand Prix Final champ.
TBD Slot: The USFSA could go a few ways with this pick.  They could select Armin Mahbanoozadeh to give him a second entry and a chance at the final or go with Max Aaron, Grant Hochstein (2 GP last year) or Keegan Messing.
New entry: Peter Liebers was recently injured and has been withdrawn.  He was replaced by Denis Ten.

Pairs
World Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy start their season at Skate America.  They’ll be up against 4th place finisher Bazarova/Larionov.  Moore-Towers/Moscovitch also start their season here after a trip to the Grand Prix Final last season.  Zhang/Zhang also make their debut after sitting out last season due to injury.  As proof of the decimation of US Pairs teams in the off-season, two teams make their GP debut at Skate America: Marley/Brubaker and Vise/Baldwin.
TBD Slot: USFSA could assign this slot to either Castelli/Shnapir or Cain/Reagan to give them two assignments for the season or go with Davis/Leftheris or Donlan/Speroff.  Given the teams they’ve already selected, my bet is they’ll go with one of the newer teams to try and see how these teams stack up internationally.  Denney/Coughlin could also receive this slot, but they may still be too new to be ready to compete at the first event.

Dance
World Champions Davis/White start their title defense at Skate America.  They’ll be joined by Pechalat/Bourzat who just missed the World podium.  Hoffman/Zavozin earned a trip to the Grand Prix Final last season.  This event also marks the Grand Prix debut of World Junior Champions Monko/Khaliavin.
TBD Slots: The first TBD slot was filled by the new team of Hubbell/Donohoe.  Kriengkrairut/Giuletti-Schmitt and Lichtman/Copely each have one assignment.  Other options include Cannuscio/Lorello (2 GP last season) and Cannuscio/McManus.
Potential Opening: Hoffman/Zavozin have retired and their spot would be filled from the ISU’s substitution list.

Skate Canada

Ladies
This is a deep ladies event.  Alena Leonova headlines after her impressive showing at Worlds.  She looks to head off her young countrymate, World Junior Silver medalist Elizaveta Tuktamisheva in her Grand Prix debut.  Akiko Suzuki will look to return to the Grand Prix Final and earn back her spot on the Japanese World Team.  A trio of talented US ladies will also compete, including Ashley Wagner, Rachael Flatt (2010 Grand Prix Final) and Mirai Nagasu (2011 Four Continents Bronze Medalist)
TBD Slot: I am fairly confident this spot will go to Myriane Samson (2 slots last season) who did not receive a Grand Prix assignment, unless she chooses to not compete.

Men
This event features a pair of Canadian World Champs.  World Champion Patrick Chan will face off against Junior World Champion Andrei Rogozine.  They’ll be up against 2010 World Champion Daisuke Takahashi fresh from his knee repair.  Also competing will be World Junior Bronze medalist Alexander Majorov and US team members Adam Rippon and Ross Miner.
TBD Slot: Elladj Baldé finished 5th at Canadian nationals and is the highest ranked man eligible to compete.  World Junior competitor Liam Firus is another option.

Pairs
World Silver Medalists Volosozhar/Trankov make their Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada.  They’ll face off with Canadian up and comers and Four Continents Silver Medalists Duhamel/Radford.  Lawrence/Swiegers, the Four Continents Bronze Medalists enter their only scheduled event of the series.  In one of the biggest surprises, Grand Prix Final Bronze medalists and two-time World Junior Champions Sui/Han have only been assigned to this event. World Junior Bronze Medalists Takahashi/Tran and Grand Prix Finalists Iliushechkina/Maisuradze will also compete.
TBD Slot: Canadian Pairs Jones/Gaskell, Purich/Schultz and Steele/Schultz all currently have one slot.  One of these teams will likely receive a second slot here.

Dance
2010 Olympic and World Champs and 2011 World Silver Medalists Virtue/Moir will enter the Grand Prix for the first time since 2009.  They’ll face off against countrymates Weaver/Poje and Pechalat/Bourzat.
TBD Slot: Paul/Islam and Ralph/Hill have one slot already.  Harvey/Gagnon competed on the Grand Prix last season but have no slots assigned.  My money is on Paul/Islam since they’re the ones most likely to make the World Team this season and I’d love to see the battle between Virtue/Moir and Virtue/Moir 2.0!
Potential Opening: Mysliveckova/Novak have been removed from the entry list.  Another team from the ISU substitution list will take this slot.

Cup of China

Ladies
In one of the most anticipated events of the season, World Junior Champion Adelina Sotnikova will make her Grand Prix debut.  She’ll try to hold off World Bronze Medalist Carolina Kostner, Four Continents Bronze Medalist Mirai Nagasu and Grand Prix Final Bronze Medalist Kanako Murakami.  American Christina Gao will also make her Grand Prix debut.
TBD Slot: I could see this slot going to Zijun Li who placed at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season.

Men
This event looks to be a trio of veterans vs a trio of youngsters.  World Bronze Medalist Artur Gachinski will go head to head with 2010 Junior World Champion Yuzuru Hanyu and 2010 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion Richard Dornbush.  They’ll be joined by 2010 Grand Prix Finalist Nobunari Oda, 2008 Grand Prix Final Champion Jeremy Abbott and Brian Joubert.
TBD Slot: I believe this slot will go to Nan Song, the top ranked Chinese skater, who is currently only assigned to one event.  Junior skater Yan Hang could also be given his Grand Prix debut at this event.

Pairs
Kavaguti/Smirnov headline against youngsters Sui/Han who will be looking for a return trip to the the Grand Prix Final.  Also in the mix are 2010 Grand Prix Finalists Moore-Towers/Moscovitch and 2009 World Silver Medalists Zhang/Zhang.  Evora/Ladwig make their season debut as the only U.S. team with two slots on the Grand Prix.
New Entry: Pang/Tong have withdrawn from the Grand Prix season and were replaced by Sui/Han.

Dance
World Bronze Medalists Shibutani/Shibutani will look for their first Grand Prix Gold medal at this event.  They’ll face 2010 Grand Prix Finalists Bobrova/Soloviev and World Junior Champions Monko/Khaliavin.  They’ll be joined by World Junior Bronze Medalists Lichtman/Copely in their Grand Prix debut.
TBD Slot: Huang/Zheng only have one slot and could be given this for their second assignment or Wu/Zhang could be given their first assignment of the season.

NHK Trophy

Ladies
Alena Leonova enters her second event of the season against former World Champion Mao Asada.  Grand Prix Finalist Akiko Suzuki will also compete.  Americans Ashley Wagner and Agnes Zawadzki are also in the mix.
TBD Slot: If she’s not returning to the Junior Grand Prix, I could see this slot going to Risa Shoji.  Another option would be to give the slot to veteran skater Fumie Suguri.

Men
Japanese powerhouses including 2011 World Silver Medalist Takahiko Kozuka and 2010 World Champion Daisuke Takahashi will battle it out for gold.  They’ll be joined by Grand Prix Finalist Tomas Verner and a trio of Americans including Brandon Mroz, Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Ross Miner.
TBD Slot: Daisuke Murakami could get his second event of the season here.  Takahito Mura and Tatsuki Machida could also get a shot at the Grand Prix at this event.

Pairs
In one of the most competitive pairs events of the season, World Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy face off against 2010 World Bronze Medalists Kavaguti/Smirnov.  They’ll be joined by World Junior Bronze medalists Takahashi/Tran, Grand Prix Finalists Iliushechkina/Maisuradze and Americans Castelli/Shnapir.  The new pairing of Denney/Coughlin will be looking to make a splash in their first season together.
Potential Opening: Pang/Tong have withdrawn from this event and have been replaced by Denney/Coughlin.

Dance
The Shibutanis headline this event against Canadians Weaver/Poje and 2010 World Junior Champions Ilinykh/Katsalapov.  Americans Kriengkrairut/Giuletti-Schmitt enter their second season on the Grand Prix.
TBD Slot: I would be shocked if the Japanese Federation did not give this slot to the Reeds as a second event.  There is one other dance team in the country, but Japan’s money is really on the Reeds.

Trophee Eric Bompard

Ladies
2011 and 2010 World Bronze Medalists Carolina Kostner and Laura Lepisto face off against 2010 Grand Prix Final Champion Alissa Czisny.  They’ll be joined by 2010 World Junior Champion and Grand Prix Final Bronze Medalist Kanako Murakami and 2011 World Junior Silver Medalist Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, both armed with triple-triple combinations.
TBD Slots: One of these slots will almost certainly go to Mae Berenice Meite who impressed at Europeans last season and will give her a second spot on the Grand Prix.  I could see the other slot going to Lena Marrocco who had two spots on the Grand Prix last season.

Men
This is a stacked event with one of the hottest matchups of the season between 2010 Olympic Champion Evan Lysacek and 2011 World Champion Patrick Chan.  Lysacek showed that you could win without a quad by focusing on great steps, spins and artistry.  Chan has all three of those plus three quads in his two programs including a quad+triple combination.  Former World Medalists Brian Joubert and Nobunari Oda will also compete for the podium with 2011 European Champion Florent Amodio. Michal Brezina and Adam Rippon are also podium threats.
TBD Slot: This will likely either go to Alban Preaubert as a second slot or to Chafik Besseghier who impressed in his short program here last season.

Pairs
Top Russian pairs will battle it out for the podium in Paris.  World Silver medalists Volosozhar/Trankov will face off with European Bronze Medalists Bazarova/Larionov and World Junior Silver Medalists Stolbova/Klimov.  Looking to break up the Russian party will be Duhamel/Radford who had a phenomenal first season together.  Americans Evora/Ladwig will also be in the medal hunt.
TBD Slot: There were only two other French pairs teams at their nationals last season, Melodie Chataigner/Medhi Bouzzine and Anne-Laure Letscher/Bruno Massot.  If they can meet the minimum score requirements at an international competition they could get this slot.
Potential Opening: Canac/Bonheur have split.  This could go to one of the French teams above, or if the Federation has no other pairs teams, could go to an international competitor from the substitute list.

Dance
World Silver medalists Virtue/Moir headline against European Champions Pechalat/Bourzat.  The young Russian team of Ilinykh/Katsalapov will be looking to challenge the leaders.
TBD Slot: This slot will most likely go to Orlova/Jost.
Potential Opening: Gorshkova/Butikov have reportedly split.  This spot would go to the ISU substitute list.

Rostelecom Cup

Ladies
Alena Leonova headlines this event at home, but she’ll have to fend off her countrymate, World Junior Champion Adelina Sotnikova.  Mao Asada is also a strong competitor for the podium along with Kiira Korpi.  The U.S. ladies face off against each other with up and coming skaters Agnes Zawadzki and Christina Gao battling with veteran Rachael Flatt.

Men
World Bronze Medalist Artur Gachinski will have an advantage in front of the home crowd, but he’ll be faced with World Junior Champion Andrei Rogozine and 2010 World Junior Champion Yuzuru Hanyu.  Veterans in the field include Czechs Michal Brezina and Tomas Verner as well as Americans Brandon Mroz and Jeremy Abbott.
TBD Slot–This slot will likely go to Evgeny Plushenko should he return to competition as he has stated.  Russian Champ Konstantin Menshov and Zhan Bush are also possibilities.

Pairs
Savchenko/Szolkowy and Kavaguti/Smirnov face off for the second time this season.  Joining them will be Gerboldt/Enbert who just missed the podium at Russian Nationals last season in a deep field.  The young American team of Cain/Reagan will make their Grand Prix debut.
TBD Slot: Most of the Russian teams have spots on the Grand Prix.  A team who impresses on the Junior Grand Prix could get this slot.

Dance
World Champions Davis/White will battle it out with Weaver/Poje and Bobrova/Soloviev in front of their home crowd.  Riazanova/Tkachenko will be looking to move up the ranks and challenge the top teams and earn their place in the Russian hierarchy.
TBD Slot: Gorshkova/Butikov or Pushkash/Guerreiro could get their second assignment of the season or Khoklova/Andreev could receive their Grand Prix debut.  They impressed at Russian Nationals with a 4th place finish in their first season together (she is a former World medalist, he a singles skater) and are coached by Zoueva/Shpilband.