Blues star to play at Skate America

25 Oct

Fans who attend Sunday’s final day of the 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America are in for a special treat before the event even begins.

Billy Branch, one of Chicago’s great blues stars, will be playing the harmonica near the main entrance of the Sears Centre, alongside one of his renowned guitar players from his five-piece Sons of Blues Band.

Branch attended his first figure skating event on Friday night, along with wife Rosa. They were there to watch U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown perform his short program to the song “Juke” by the late Chicago blues legend Little Walter.billy branch

“Juke is the quintessential blues harmonica piece of all time,” said Branch, who will play from noon to around 1 p.m. on Sunday at the concourse entrance. “It’s maybe the first blues song I completely learned almost note for note. It’s still a challenge today, even after about 40 years, I hear something different in that song.

“Juke was really a milestone in blues recording history. There had never been a blues harmonica instrumental of that caliber before Juke.”

Joining Branch and his wife for the Friday night performance were Little Walter’s daughter, Marion Diaz Reacco, and the director of the Little Walter Foundation, Phil Moy. Diaz Reacco, along with Brown’s choreographer Rohene Ward, were interviewed on the AT&T Ice Desk on Friday night by Tanith Belbin.

Branch, a three-time Grammy nominee, sees his performance on Sunday as a great opportunity to tie in the Chicago blues scene with ice skating.

Branch’s Sons of Blues Band, which features Branch playing the harmonica, a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, a drummer and a pianist, regularly plays at Chicago’s famed blues clubs Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends Club and Rosa’s Lounge.

“We are one of the staples here in Chicago,” Branch said. “We also travel internationally. I just got back from Finland and the week before that we were in Italy. This is what we do and we are serious about it.

“We did a wonderful tour of six weeks in Turkey about two years ago. It was one of the most eye-opening tours we could have ever gone on. It was really amazing.”

To hear music from Branch and the Sons of Blues Band, go to or go on YouTube. He will have CDs available for purchase at the Sears Centre.

Saturday at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America

25 Oct

The second day of competition is upon us at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America, and we’ve got your behind-the-scenes look at all the action.

To follow everything as it happens, watch LIVE on icenetwork, and follow U.S. Figure Skating on our many social channels: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | Vine  Follow today’s conversation on social media here, and participate by using the hashtag #SA2014 or mentioning U.S. Figure Skating.

Want to feel like you’re in the stands? Follow the event on icenetwork while you flip through the 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America event program.


Team USA Results | Full Results

Pairs Short Program

3. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier – 61.08
4. Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim – 60.61
5. Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage – 58.41

Ladies Short Program

3. Gracie Gold – 60.81
4. Samantha Cesario – 58.96.
10. Mirai Nagasu – 49.29


This evening’s schedule….

Short Dance

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus – 7:30 p.m.
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani – 8:00 p.m.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates – 8:07 p.m.

Men’s Short Program

Douglas Razzano – 8:37 p.m.
Jeremy Abbott – 9:37 p.m.
Jason Brown – 9:43 p.m.


What Team USA had to say:

Max Settlage: “It just felt like more of a show to me. When we stepped out there, the energy was building and building. I thought, ‘this is a nice change from the JGP.’ It was really exciting to have an audience.”

Brandon Frazier: “Today was a really good start to the Grand Prix Series. That was a personal best for us, which is something to be very proud of. We just want to keep moving forward from here.”

Alexa Scimeca: “We have a lot of goals, but first we’d love to win nationals this year and every year after leading up to the 2018 Olympics.”

Samantha Cesario: “Here in practice and getting it out there in the competition, every time you do it, it builds confidence. It wasn’t my best flip landing and I still went for it so that’s something that will definitely help me build confidence in the jump.”

Gracie Gold: “Missing a combination spin in a short program, points-wise, is very unfortunate. It’s kind of funny embarrassing and a little bit embarrassing to do such a good program and to miss on such a little thing. Camel spins, I feel, are way harder than people give them credit for and if you take them for granted, like I did, you’ll end up missing your last element box.”

Mirai Nagasu: “It was all mental and I was so confident going into this program that I think when things didn’t work out it caught me off guard. And I wasn’t on my game today, it happens to everyone. Tomorrow’s a new day so I guess I’ll focus on tomorrow.”

Friday at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America

24 Oct

As the first day of competition at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America comes to a close, we’ve got your behind-the-scenes look at all the action, including news, photos, tidbits and more.

As always, you can watch the event LIVE on icenetwork, and follow U.S. Figure Skating on our many social channels: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | Vine

Be sure to follow today’s conversation on social media by clicking here. To participate, use the hashtag #SA2014 or mention U.S. Figure Skating.

Want to feel like you’re in the stands? Follow the event on icenetwork while you flip through the 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America event program.


Team USA Results | Full Results

Short Dance

1. Madison Chock & Evan Bates – 68.96
2. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani – 64.14
5. Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus – 55.14

Men’s Short Program

Douglas Razzano – 66.23
Jeremy Abbott – 81.82
Jason Brown – 79.75


Here’s what the Americans had to say today:

Anastasia Cannuscio: “(Our short dance score is) a huge improvement technically from Finlandia, where we were just one week ago. Being able to get that much of a difference in the score, six points higher, in a week is just incredible.”

Evan Bates: “These competitions are extremely important. Obviously the long-term goal is a 2018 Olympics and this year is really important for us. What we really saw and learned from Meryl and Charlie was a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be the elite team in the world.”

Maia Shibutani: “This performance was a little disappointing for us. We feel like we have really improved since our senior B. We were happy we went to Slovakia this year. But at the same time we had a slight mistake in the twizzles. That’s a costly mistake. It was at the beginning of the program and we had a really strong recovery.”

Douglas Razzano: “I’m disappointed. I’ve been practicing well, I’ve been training well. I thought my spins were good, my steps were good and I did my best performance despite being irritated. That’s what you have to do, you can’t let the performance fall off because it is, at the end of the day, a performance.”

Jeremy Abbott: “(This is) a brand brand-new short program. I love performing it and I love the music and I love the feeling of the program. I felt very comfortable and very at home tonight. It was a great audience and it’s always great to perform on home ice. I was really pleased with the starting point so only up from here.”

Jason Brown: “I’ve been skating clean programs every single day. Sometimes you do fall and you hope that you don’t, but I think once I … [I told myself] I’m going to get up, I’m going to finish strong and I’m going to make sure I hit every note after this and really just focus on every single detail so I can make up points on the way, and I really feel I was able to do that.”


Looking Ahead….

Saturday will not only feature the dance and men’s finals in the evening, but also the pairs and ladies short programs in the afternoon.


Chalk mural celebrates Friends of Figure Skating

24 Oct

Fans attending Hilton HHonors Skate America this week will be treated to several interactive elements on the Sears Centre concourse, including the Friends of Figure Skating Lounge, located outside section 119. The lounge, open to all in attendance, features a chalk mural hand drawn over two days by local artists from Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio.

“This is the first time we’re doing anything like this,” Emmaline Repp, Coordinator, Giving Programs at U.S. Figure Skating, said. “It was going to be exclusive to Friends, but we decided to open it up to everyone and encourage them to ask questions and get involved. We wanted to give all of our Friends some recognition and help others understand the benefits of Friends of Figure Skating and what it celebrates.”

“The chalk board was already painted on the wall here, so we wanted to do something unique to utilize the space and give fans the opportunity to experience a visual and interactive experience,” Lindsay McAllister, Manager, Marketing at U.S. Figure Skating, added. “It’s a great space. It’s got some comfy couches, tables and chairs, and some materials about the Memorial Fund and Friends of Figure Skating. It’s a great place for people to relax and enjoy the ambiance during the session breaks.”

The mural, which features two-time Olympic champion Dick Button, as well as 2014 Olympic ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Team USA’s Olympic Team Event bronze medalists, was started yesterday and will be completed before competition begins this evening. Chalk artist Brandin Hurley, who has been a visual artist and muralist for nearly 10 years, says that watching the skaters practice has been helpful in creating the piece.

“This is the first time I’ve drawn skaters,” Hurley said. “I’m not necessarily a devoted fan, but we’ve been watching the practices the last few days and it’s so beautiful. They’re really graceful and elegant, which gives us lots of inspiration. We watched a lot of the figure skating during the Olympics and we just heard that Meryl and Charlie are going to be here signing autographs today. We’re all pretty excited about that.”

Launched in 2001, Friends of Figure Skating has provided financial support to U.S. Figure Skating programs and athletes through annual membership giving. These contributions support programs such as Basic Skills and provide financial assistance to skaters at all levels with the goal of helping athletes compete successfully at the local, national and international levels.

All members receive a subscription to SKATING magazine and have the opportunity to attend members-only events and meet the athletes who are benefiting from their support. Additional benefits, depending on membership level, include priority seating options at U.S. Figure Skating events, official Friends of Figure Skating gear, complimentary hospitality passes and all-session tickets to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I don’t think a lot of people know about Friends of Figure Skating,” Repp continued. “I think it’s something that people just happen to stumble upon. The lounge is a nice way to get the word out there and answer any questions about member benefits, events and things of that nature. It’s a wonderful opportunity and every penny goes so far in supporting these athletes and their dreams. To be able to promote that cause in such a fun and unique way is really special.”

For more information about Friends of Figure Skating, or any of U.S. Figure Skating’s giving programs, contact Emmaline Repp at

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Catching up with Fantasy Skating Challenge Participant Sarah Hughes

24 Oct

We sat down with 2002 Olympic Champion Sarah Hughes to talk about the 2014-15 season, her involvement in the Fantasy Skating Challenge and her current ventures. Here’s the interview! Be sure to follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahHughesNY.

What are you currently up to?

I live in New York City and I’m still very involved in the figure skating world. A large part of my time is spent working on the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx. It’s a 750,000 square foot facility. For the past several years, I’ve been part of the team working on redeveloping it into the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which will become the world’s largest ice center. It will have a five thousand seat arena surrounded by eight practice rinks. It’s an exciting project to work on. As a Senior Vice President of Business Development, my job there entails working with city planners, politicians and investors. It’s a lot of different people from varied fields who are smart, insightful and interesting. I’ve been learning a lot and am always thinking of new, unique ways to incorporate programming for figure skating, synchronized skating, theatrical skating and exhibitions.

I’m also one of the representatives on the USOC’s Athlete Advisory Council as well as a Board Member of The Skating Club of New York. On Nov. 5, I’m hosting a show with my sister Emily that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of where we both learned to skate in Long Island, NY.


We’re really excited that you’re playing the Fantasy Challenge this year. Have you ever played any fantasy sports before?

Nope! This is the very fantasy league that I’m doing. I’m excited!


What are you looking forward to about his weekend?

I skated a little with Samantha Cesario this summer, so I’m looking forward to seeing her skate. I saw Mirai [Nagasu] in Lake Placid this summer and I’m really rooting for her to skate well and start her season strong. And of course Gracie, who I think everyone is waiting to watch!


How do you feel about lyrics being allowed? Would you have used them?

I probably would have used lyrics. At first I wasn’t really sure, but then I watched Gracie [Gold]’s performance at Nebelhorn and I really liked it. I’m looking forward to seeing how skaters use them. It adds another avenue where they can express their creativity. There’s obviously a lot of personal preference and taste but I look forward to seeing how they use them.


What is the biggest difference between when you competed and now?

The biggest difference is the code of points and the scoring system. Before, skaters would do what they excelled at most, whereas now it’s more mandatory to do what will score the most points. It’s very much a math game. A difference that I really like is that a lot of skaters are back-loading their programs because they get a bonus for elements executed in the second half. Skaters used to like to front-load their programs because that’s when they were the freshest. Now you see the strategy of adding difficult elements later in the program. It helps keep the programs exciting and to also build the program. The skaters have to stay in tip-top shape.


What’s your favorite memory from your competitive career?

Hard to pick, but one would have to be my first U.S. Championship in 1998. After sever unsuccessful attempts, I finally made it as a Junior competitor. Going to the U.S. Championship for the first time and seeing the Senior Ladies compete was inspiring. It was an Olympic year and seeing the competitors I had watched on television was just incredible. Being part of the same competition was very cool. I skated well and won the Junior title that year, which was memorable of course, but the entire experience of becoming a National competitor for the first time still sticks with me with today.

Grand Prix Season Kicks Off with 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America

23 Oct

The Sears Centre came alive today as skaters, officials and coaches descended on the Windy City for the first day of practices at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America.

Here’s a peek at the @HiltonHHonors #SA2014 buzz so far:

Click here to view ALL of the social chatter on our Storify! Tweet @USFigureSkating and use the hashtag #SA2014 to get in on the action!


The first Grand Prix Series event of the season kicks off tomorrow with the short dance at 7 p.m. and men’s short program at 8:40 p.m., local time.

Team USA start times (all times Central):

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus: 7:13 p.m.
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani: 7:53 p.m.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates: 7:59 p.m.

Douglas Razzano: 8:37 p.m.
Jeremy Abbott: 9:37 p.m.
Jason Brown: 9:43 p.m.

Friday’s storylines:

Ice dance:

The short dance competition will mark the first day in a new era of American ice dance, as both 2014 Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani will fight for the top spot. Their predecessors, Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, have won the ice dance title at Skate America the last four years.

Challenging the Americans, Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are coming off a first-place finish at Finlandia Trophy earlier this month, where they set personal-best scores both overall and in the free dance segment.


Representing Japan, reigning Skate America champion Tatsuki Machida will skate to defend his title as the men’s short program commences in Hoffman Estates. Highland Park, Illinois, native Jason Brown will return to Skate America in front of a home crowd, while four-time and reigning U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott will seek his first medal at this event. He placed fifth at his lone Skate America appearance in 2012.

Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten will skate for a podium spot after fighting through a season plagued by injury, illness and equipment malfunctions to win bronze at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games last season in Sochi, Russia.

For complete event coverage, including results, photos and recaps, visit icenetwork.

U.S. Figure Skating Fantasy Football – Week 7 Recap

21 Oct

After the seventh week of the first annual U.S. Figure Skating Fantasy Football League, Ashley Wagner is undefeated but not unscathed as Max Aaron’s team tied Wagner’s team. Here’s what happened this week:

Team Bates (Evan Bates | @Evan_Bates) def. Snowplow Sam, 89-68

Snowplow Sam’s team continued its miserable path this weekend, losing its fifth game in a row, this time to Evan Bates’ squad. Bates was propelled by Aaron Rodgers’ 24-point performance on Sunday, as well as a 15-point showing from Andre Ellington. Snowplow Sam, who originally hoped for a strong season from his running backs, got just 10 points total from the position this week. Bates, now with three wins, is right back in the thick of the playoff race.

Team Thah ‘D’(Ricky Dornbush | @RichardDornbush) def. Team Bradley (Ryan Bradley | @RyanSBradley), 90-79

Dornbush’s team put together a dominant week behind six double-digit scoring performances, which tied a season high in the league. Bradley, who was the recipient of strong performances from Peyton Manning and Le’Veon Bell, had two zero-point spots and two, two-point spots. After a strong start, Bradley’s team has lost two straight.

Coach Coughlin (John Coughlin |@JohnCoughlinUSA) def. Team White (Charlie White | @CharlieaWhite), 70-63

It took seven weeks, but John Coughlin’s team finally got a win. Thirty-six points from Russell Wilson and 23 points from Shane Vereen led a powerful Coughlin attack over Charlie White’s squad. White, who was hurt by unexpected poor performances from Mark Ingram, Larry Fitzgerald and the Lions’ defense, would have been very competitive against nearly every other team in the league this week.

Team Knierim (Chris Knierim | @ChrisKnierim) def. Miner Problem (Ross Miner | @rossminer), 100-97

A 13-point performance from Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown completed Chris Knierim’s come-from-behind win over Ross Miner’s miner problem. This was by far the most competitive match-up of the week—Knierim went 8-1 against the league; Miner went 7-2. Both teams are clearly in the upper half of the league and will continue to make noise as the playoffs approach.

Team A-Wags (Ashley Wagner | @AshWagner2010) vs. Team Aaron (Max Aaron | @MaxTAaron), Tie, 81-81

In perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the season so far, Max Aaron fell just short in unseating the undefeated Ashley Wagner, but wasn’t handed a loss either. Aaron, who had made several trades coming into the week in preparation for the match-up, would have won if not for an interception thrown by Phillip Rivers in a time-expiring Hail Mary pass. Ironically, both teams had one of their poorer weeks, scoring just 81 points while going 3-4-1 against the league.


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