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Denney, Barrett stay cool under sudden spotlight

Florida team keeps calm with clean practice run-throughs

Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney, with their coach Jim Peterson, who was just named Developmental Coach of the Year at the PSA Conference.
Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney, with their coach Jim Peterson, who was just named Developmental Coach of the Year at the PSA Conference. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2009) - Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, surprise leaders after the pairs' short program Thursday night, are keeping their excitement in check by sticking to the script.

"We kept the exact game plan we started out with, doing full run-throughs at practice every day," Jim Peterson, who trains the team in Ellenton, Fla., with Lyndon Johnston and Alison Smith, said.

"On Friday, they did a clean long. Today, we're trying another one. I'm keeping it the same."

The pair, who skated in the final group on Thursday night, sent startled reporters scrambling to rewrite headlines and confirm biographical information in time to their meet deadlines. But anyone who watched them at their two non-qualifying summer competitions, plus their winning programs at the Eastern Sectional Championships in Boston, wasn't surprised.

"Caydee and Jeremy have been strong all year, especially in the [side-by-side] jumps," Rockne Brubaker said. "We knew they could be a factor here this week."

In the short program, the Floridians hit a solid triple twist, side-by-side triple toes, and a throw triple flip, gaining the highest technical scores of the evening. They enter the free skate a slim .39 ahead of defending champions Brubaker and his partner, Keauna McLaughlin, who is battling the flu.

"We knew coming in they were very consistent technically," Peterson said. "If they did everything in the short, then it's out of our hands. It becomes up to the judges to do their job, and on day of the short program, they did their job."

With strong technique in hand, the couple has spent the weeks before Cleveland focusing on improving what used to be called "the second mark" and is now the all-important program components' score, including performance, interpretation and skating skills.

"In our school, we believe strongly in the fundamentals of ballet, and both Jeremy and Caydee take classes," Peterson said. "Caydee, especially, has really benefited. She's developing longer and cleaner lines. She's very self critical, in a good way, at picking apart her positions."

The team hit the international scene at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September, competing against world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. They placed fourth overall there and third in the free skate. That, along with their other events, helped prepare them to cope with the pressure in Cleveland, Peterson said.

"Being around these top teams all year made a big difference to them," he said. "It makes it comfortable. They're staying very relaxed. I think, if anything, they're lack of experience is working in their favor."

The two skaters seemed unfazed by their position.

"We're ready," Barrett, 24, said. "We're having clean run-throughs."

Denney, just 15, added she wasn't nervous, either.

"I'm just really excited, but very calm at the same time," she said. "Thursday was hectic, but we got our regular good practice in."

Johnston, a former Canadian champion who won the 1989 world pairs' silver medal with partner Cindy Landry, flashed back to his own competitive days.

"I know what it's like not to sleep the night before a free skate," he said. "They're excited, but they're living the moment, taking in the experience."

The gang from Ellenton is having a big week. Caydee's younger sister Haven placed second in novice pairs with her partner, Daniel Raad. Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau, second in junior pairs last season, stepped up to gold with a fine free skate yesterday.