The Vancouver Nighthawks brain trust must be scratching their heads right about now.

The team has two wins and three losses so will have to go on a winning streak to achieve a playoff spot. But that record could have easily been reversed, and even five wins at this point was certainly a possibility, based on most of each of the games they have played.

That’s the key – ‘most of the games’. In particular, the Nighthawks have been guilty of a number of slow starts, and they also have not been able to close out wins that were in their grasp.

Last Saturday night’s close loss to the Rainmakers in Seattle continued both those trends.

As per usual, the Nighthawks offense started slowly, committing turnovers and allowing Seattle to pile up some breaks. Admittedly, conditions were wet and windy, but that applies to both teams. The Rainmakers were able to establish an early 3-1 lead, and from there the teams traded goals until Seattle scored with just one second left to close out the first quarter with a 6-4 lead.

Yes, the Nighthawks gave up another last second goal.

During the second quarter the Nighthawks’ huck game was grounded by some very difficult shifting winds, and they managed to score only once in the quarter, with Seattle scoring yet another late goal for a 10-5 lead at halftime.

The Nighthawks started to play more crisply on offense after halftime, rewarding the defense for the hard work they put in the entire game, Seattle maintained their lead through 12-7, but by the end of the quarter Vancouver had managed three breaks to get it back to 14-12 (with no last-second score by their opponents).

The Vancouver D was in full grind it out mode by then, forcing turnovers by Seattle, and eventually evening up the score at 15-15 with 4:53 to play. (Seattle has not trailed at any point of their home games.) The teams traded goals to tie it up at 16-16 with 2:19 left, and then Seattle scored on their possession to take the lead.

This meant with just over a minute to go, Vancouver had the disc in their hands and a chance to tie it up. But some of the Seattle veterans had been carefully observing Vancouver’s cutting patterns, particularly their use of break-side up-line dumps, and had told Rainmakers D line cutter Jacob Speidel to watch for this play. Speidel used this knowledge to position himself to make the crucial D, after which Seattle marched the disc down the field to make the final score 18-16.

One can imagine that if veteran handler Kirk Savage hadn’t tweaked a hamstring in the 3rd quarter, forcing him out for the rest of the game, he would have had the disc in his hands at that point and used his veteran savvy to avoid making that fatal turnover.

But that is mere speculation. What is for certain is that the Nighthawks are going to make some changes, particularly on their O line.

I asked Head Coach Andrew Ludgsin about the O line’s performance.

“Our O line, especially our veterans, really struggled in the first half of the game which is really why we lost the game. The vets need to find a way to play better if we’re going to win. “

“We switched up our O line in the second half and they played much better, particularly Matt Berezan, who provided a real boost in the second half with a bunch of deep strikes for us. Aaron Loach also had a good game for our O line.”

“But the story of the game was our inability to play well in the first half. Again we lost the first half and again we won the second half. This was a very disappointing loss. We need to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate what roles we have players in.”

Savage picks up on that theme.

“This was yet another slow start for us. We don’t seem to be able to play well early in games. Our coaches have a plan to alter our warm ups from here on out to help us get out to faster starts in games.”

Lugsdin was happier with the Nighthawks D line.

“Prez (Aaron Liu) had a great game defensively with 4 blocks. The entire D line played well defensively, though they had trouble cashing those turns into breaks until the second half. Morgan Hibbert and Alex Davis also played well defensively.”

But at this point in the season it just might come back to what’s inside the players’ heads.

Says Savage, “I think that sometimes we might be playing to ‘not lose’ as opposed to playing to win. Sports is about confidence and momentum. It is remarkable how the difference between winning and losing hangs in the balance due to such things.”

It will be up to the coaches and veterans on the Nighthawks to instil that confidence in the team so the players can use it to build momentum through the second half of the season. If they aren’t successful, the Nighthawks will not make the playoffs. It’s that simple.

The next chance the Nighthawks will have to display that confidence will be this Saturday’s game against the Dogfish in San Francisco this Saturday at 3 p.m. Tickets are available here.

The Nighthawks next home game will March 25 at 7 p.m. against Seattle. Get your tickets here.

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