by Melanie Hoyt Heaney | Photo by Robin Ritoss

This week in the Challenger Series, the action takes place in Espoo, Finland, home of Finlandia Trophy. Only ten teams from eight countries will compete at Finlandia, which usually sticks to a small roster. Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje were originally listed to begin their season here, but disappeared from the entries list last week; no official reason for their withdrawal has been given.

With one event and one gold medal under their belts already, Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue are expected to contend for the gold again in Finland. Their first outing of the season, at the U.S. International Classic, saw them earn 166.90 points, well off their personal best. With a bit more time to tweak their elements, their score is likely to go up if they perform well. Their “history of hip-hop” take on the short dance has garnered mixed reviews, but if they continue to commit to the characters, they can pull it off.

Hubbell & Donohue are joined by some of their training partners, Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen of Denmark and Olivia Smart & Adria Diaz of Spain. Fournier-Beaudry & Sorensen just won the bronze medal last week at the Autumn Classic near their home base in Montréal. They scored 152.00 and put on a particularly enjoyable performance in the short dance to a pair of Elvis Presley songs. Smart & Diaz also competed in Montréal; they finished fifth and earned 141.50 points. Their “Proud Mary” short dance continues to delight, but their more contemporary free dance is still growing. Both teams should similarly contend for the podium and the top five here, respectively.

A pair of Russian teams are poised to challenge Hubbell & Donohue for the gold medal this week. Tiffany Zahorski & Jonathan Guerreiro earned 165.64 points and a bronze medal at their first Challenger event, with a score on par with Hubbell & Donohue’s score from last month. However, Zahorski & Guerreiro only competed last week in Bratislava, Slovakia, so they have not had much time to take their feedback and work with their elements, leaving Hubbell & Donohue the advantage.

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, also of Russia, will make their international season debut this week in Finland. It will be interesting to see how Zahorski & Guerreiro stack up against their domestic rivals who finished 11th last year at the World Championships.

Poland’s Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev continued their 2016 upward trend by finishing fourth at Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava last week, scoring 146.86 points. They earned a new ISU personal best in the short dance, topping 60 points.

Finland will be represented by two teams this week. Cecilia Törn & Jussiville Partanen were fifth here last year, which begun a strong season for them that eventually ended in a qualification for the free dance at the World Championships. Olesia Karmi & Max Lindholm were eighth last year.

Taylor Tran & Saulius Ambrulevicius of Lithuania also competed last week in Bratislava and earned 131.34 points, enough for ninth place.

Emi Hirai & Marien de la Asuncion, competing for Japan, round out the field of ten teams. This will be their season debut.

The ice dance events fall at the end of the schedule for Finlandia Trophy, so the dancers will not compete until Saturday and Sunday.