Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
A healthy team features multiple generations of players. This year’s version of Major League Ultimate’s Vancouver Nighthawks looks very healthy, with a roster ranging all the way from 40-year-old Kirk Savage and 39-year-old Marc Seraglia down to players barely half their age.
Having stepped up and established themselves as starters, two young rookies have belied their lack of experience. Though just 21 years old and much less seasoned than the greybeards, Peter Yu and Gagan Chatha have managed to carve out important roles for themselves on the Nighthawks’ D-line and O-line, respectively. If the eligibility criteria for the MLU Rookie of the Year Award took into account playing experience outside MLU, they would be joint favourites to win it.
“Although I only started playing at the elite level last year,” said Peter Yu. “I’ve always known that handler defense is my forte. The only thing I think about when I’m playing is what I can do to best put my team in a position to succeed. I don’t put much thought into securing my role on the team or trying to earn playing time, as those factors are out of my control. The ultimate goal is winning; I do what my team needs me to do.”
Yu may be the MLU’s best defender on opposing handlers. His tenacious bids, wheels and smart positioning allow him to make dumps and swings between the handlers very difficult. The stats, in his case seven D’s for the season, do not reflect the havoc this Team Canada alumnus causes for opposing handlers; his moments of brilliance often lead to D’s by his teammates.
“I can’t even begin to list off the countless number of times he shut down the other team’s main handler, but the one play that sticks out in my mind is the layout D against the Rainmakers’ Adam Simon in Seattle,” said Chatha.[iframe src=”http://gfycat.com/iframe/CaringShimmeringAsianconstablebutterfly” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” width=”624″ height=”360″]
After Yu switched to covering him after a savvy poach during the Week 8 match-up in Seattle, Simon was able to turn Yu’s hips and appeared to get ahead of him on an up-field cut, but Yu’s speed prevailed when he cut across Simon’s line and outbid him to get a D on what should have been an easy handler up-line. Note the tight score and that the game was in overtime. A play like this is a huge confidence booster for a team, so it’s no surprise the Nighthawks quickly scored after the turnover and then held the Rainmakers scoreless the rest of the game on the way to a 29-24 win.
During the Nighthawks’ final game of the regular season against the San Francisco Dogfish, Yu made another huge play that showcases the offensive skills that make him a double threat.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/UpKqx3iUvEU” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
As usual in San Francisco, it was a very windy day, making throwing and catching very difficult, leading to the teams completing barely 80% of their passes while committing 19 drops. Morgan Hibbert’s up-line to Yu was pushed out of reach by the wind coming in over his left shoulder, but he still managed to catch it left-handed on an all out bid, bounced to his feet, and threw a confident forehand across the wind to teammate Takuya Saito for a goal. The final score was 17-15 Nighthawks, highlighting the importance of this play.
Yu has made a remarkable improvement in his play over the season, and has fully earned not just a starting (and starring) role on the Nighthawks’ D-line, but also the confidence he feels going into the championship game.
“On the first week of the season, I would often get roasted on a defensive poach or a bad read on a disc,” said Yu. “But as we approach the final game of the season with the MLU Championship on the line, I feel I’ve gotten a better sense of the game defensively just by playing as many points as I have. Offensively, I’ve mostly kept to my game of quick give-go movement and squirrelly cuts; if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.”
Fellow Nighthawks rookie Gagan Chatha has made similar strides this season, becoming a trusted starter on the O-line in spites of being years younger than his fellow starters.
“Throughout the season I’ve really been working on my cutting and mental game,” says Chatha. “With the cuts, I’ve worked on starting shallow and timing my cut out, or coming under for a big gainer. As to the mental side of things, I’ve been shrugging off the mistakes and just focusing on the next point.”
Chatha is a 6-foot-1 offensive cutter who’s become known for two things: high release forehands and huge skies. Another Team Canada alumnus, he heads into the MLU Championship with a season total of 31 points made up of 23 goals and 8 assists. Both the goals and points rank him second on the team only to Brendan Wong, who this season set the all-time MLU scoring record.
Chatha announced his arrival with an amazing bid during the Nighthawks home opener against San Francisco. Cue up this video at the 45:00 mark and watch the play unfold.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/Lf-a7lfsocI?list=PLMlFKmL1Mgr2BQPFJoakagMvqrQVCsPSv” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
Wong’s huck seemed like it had been thrown just a bit too far, but Chatha put on the jets, went horizontal and scooped the disc. The angle of the camera makes it hard to realize just how far he laid out for that throw, but watching from the stands or on the field, the layout seemed almost impossible to make.
Yu considers this point scored by Chatha to be one of the most important of the Nighthawks’ season:
Cue up this video at the 1:23:15 mark.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/gjmMEpBiW6Q?list=PLMlFKmL1Mgr2BQPFJoakagMvqrQVCsPSv” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
“In the Western Conference final against Portland, Gagan sky’d a taller Stags defender in the back corner of the end zone while having to keep himself in-bounds,” said Yu. “Our offensive unit struggled to score points that game so Gagan’s grab was huge. Of course, he celebrated with yet another weak spike and pranced off. Just another goal for the young gun from Surrey.”
Chatha, Yu and their teammates are both busy preparing for the MLU Championship this coming Saturday at Philadelphia’s PPL Park. The Nighthawks have been trying to simulate match-ups at their practices in order to prepare for the unique offense utilized by the D.C. Current, and Yu has been studying video of D.C.’s games in order to get a pulse on what makes the Current run. If D.C.’s main handler Alan Kolick is able to play despite an injured wrist, the match-up between he and Yu should be one for the ages: two small, fast, intuitive players who give their all every point.
And Chatha is equally prepared to play his part.
“At the beginning of the season, I always had jitters before a game and in front of a crowd,” he said. “But as the season progressed, I slowly got used to it and was able to keep my focus on the field.”
“I’d definitely love to play for the Nighthawks again next year. Everyone in this organization, players, staff and fans has made it a wonderful experience.”
But first there’s the matter of a championship to win.
To learn more about the game day festivities and 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.