Ice dance is known for its streaky results - change can be slow and dynasties are formed. That's certainly true at U.S. Nationals, where during the 16 years inclusive of 1999 and 2014, three teams won the title. Lang/Tchernyshev won five, then Belbin/Agosto won five, and then Davis/White won six. Madison Chock/Evan Bates won their first title last year, and the question is whether or not they can repeat. But you better believe there is one team who wants very badly to finally win their first National title. And it's most absolutely the best chance they've ever had to do just that.
2016 U.S. Nationals: Rocker Predictions
GOLD Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani - I did it once already this season, and I'm doing it again. And yes, I recognize that this prediction is not in my favor odds-wise, but the momentum is there. Whether or not the results materialize is another story. There's no doubt that the Shibutanis are experiencing a career resurgence, of sorts.
After their World bronze in 2011, they've seen their international (and domestic) results dip. The rise of Chock/Bates meant that the Shibutanis' path to becoming the top American dance team was completely blocked off. But this season has been different - they have been closing the gap internationally with two very strong dances, particularly their Coldplay free dance. It's notable that they were second to Chock/Bates by less than four points last year, and it's looking like they will be a good bit closer ... and their first win is as probable as its ever been.
SILVER Madison Chock/Evan Bates - That said, Chock/Bates are still the favorites coming in, though they are not as big of favorites as they were last season going into Nationals. That said, they did beat the Shibutanis just over a month ago at the Grand Prix Final, where they took silver. But the margin was under three points. You better be sure that they see the gap closing, and they have been working to not only keep that gap open but also put themselves in contention for the World title again. Their path to their second title this week will be paved if they can skate two clean dances. But with the changes they've been making, especially to the free dance, they take the risk of a misstep, which could make the difference between silver and gold.
BRONZE Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue - It's been big steps in the right direction for the two-time U.S. bronze medalists. After a second top 10 at Worlds last year, they came into this season and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final. They have never looked better, both technically and artistically. It'll be an easy podium for them this week, and they will be looking toward improving on that 10th place at Worlds come Boston.
4. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker - In this season of concussions, Baker got one before the season got started when Hawayek accidentally hit him with her elbow. And then they had to withdraw from Cup of China after Hawayek got food poisoning. So their sophomore season just hasn't been all that great, and they just haven't shown their best yet. They were fourth last season at Nationals, and should repeat that standing in St. Paul.
5. Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus - Fifth last year, Cannuscio/McManus have hit some career highs internationally this season, first with their free dance at Skate America and then with their short dance at NHK Trophy. And in the ice dance world where things just don't change as much, it's likely that another fifth is in their future.