After a hard-fought season, the Vancouver Nighthawks of Major League Ultimate have found themselves in the championship final against the DC Current. It’s a spot few around the league predicted the club would eventually claw its way to after a 2-4 start. The team dealt well with its early season struggles though, steadily developing into a unit that is more than capable on both offence and defence.
A 2-4 start in a 10-game regular season certainly isn’t the most conventional way of reaching the championship, particularly given the fact that DC has only lost one game all year, but then again, since when have these Nighthawks been conventional? The Rookie of the Year (along with Top Scorer and MVP) is vastly experienced 31-year-old Brendan Wong. The Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Morgan Hibbert, can’t throw a flick with his natural right hand due to injury. And a pair of 21-year-olds, Gagan Chatha and Peter Yu, instead of being victimized for their youth, are standouts. It’s safe to say that this group is something special.
“It has been really affirming to see the team rally and play better as the season has progressed,” said Kirk Savage. “The turning point from my perspective was our overtime win in Seattle. Our season was on the line and it was looking grim for us as we were down in the game. However, that was when Morgan and Peter took over the game and got us into overtime. Winning that game in the fashion that we did proved to ourselves that we could win in the face of adversity. It was a bonding moment for our team and we have not looked back.”
While it took them some time to get going, there’s no doubting the momentum the Nighthawks have in their favour now. The team had a perfect June (4-0 including the Western Conference Final) and is riding a five-game win streak, an impressive showing from a squad once in danger of missing the playoffs. Head coach Andrew Lugsdin has been pleased with the progress shown by his crew.
“It’s been great to see the guys develop confidence in themselves and each other. A big part of what makes sports so great is when a team starts to really believe in itself and get better. It’s been a good stretch, one more major goal to go.”
With everything clicking, the Nighthawks know what they need to do.
“I will be focused and ready to go,” says Andy Collins. My role varies all the time and I will be ready. As a team it’s important we take advantage of the mistakes they make. They won’t make many so we have to capitalize at a very high rate.”
Speaking of mistakes, DC’s O-line may commit a few more than they’re used to due to Alan Kolick being out with a broken wrist from club play. The star handler for the Current will be sorely missed on the field as he led the league’s top offence (four goals better than the Nighthawks) with 44 points while completing almost 95 per cent of his 392 throws.
On the flip-side of the injury report, the Nighthawks have to be feeling pretty good. Savage appears ready to return from a knee infection and will be a huge boost to an already potent offence. Joining him as probables are defensive stalwarts Joel Bellavance, who looked to be done for the season after an ankle injury in an overtime win, and Takuya Saito.
DC has been the class of the league this year, going 9-1 while boasting top offence, third best defence, and the widest points differential (+42), but the Nighthawks aren’t worried about the stats.
“Records don’t matter. It’s one game and we have never played each other. Intimidated? No,” said Collins.
Lugsdin echoed the veteran’s comments, “Certainly we have a lot of respect for what they’ve accomplished but we’re focused on ourselves.”
The Nighthawks have surprised many this year. It’s time to see if there’s one more left in the tank.
To learn more about the game day festivities and to purchase tickets to the Championship Game at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., click here.
For fans that will be in Vancouver on game day, come out to Mahony & Sons in downtown Vancouver to watch the game at Nighthawks Live! Even if you can’t travel to Philadelphia or make it out to Mahony & Sons, you’ll still be able to watch a live stream of the game on MLU Live.