Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
When the Vancouver Nighthawks hosted the Seattle Rainmakers for a spirited Major League Ultimate matchup on Saturday night at Thunderbird Stadium, it was a perfect night of ultimate, except for one detail – the Rainmakers won 28-27.
Thunderbird Stadium was resplendent in the warm evening air, the virtually windless conditions were perfect for playing the game, and the stands were full of loud and engaged fans. This weekend there is a top-level women’s club team tournament being held at UBC in the fields surrounding the stadium, and many of the participants were in the stands, including teams from Washington, so even when the Rainmakers scored there was plenty of applause from the crowd.
And those fans were kept on the edge of their streets right to the end of the game.
After the Nighthawks tied it up 24-24 with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter when Sam Creed found Levi Jeske in the corner of the end zone – one of 17 times the score was tied in the game – the Nighthawks called a timeout before the next point so they could pull it from midfield, hoping to force a turn-over and take the lead. Morgan Hibbert skied for a great block to get the disc into Vancouver hands, but they threw it away in the Seattle end zone and the Rainmakers marched the disc crisply up the field, resulting in the tenth of Mark Burton’s 11 goals on the night.
The Rainmakers then called a timeout of their own in order to pull from midfield just as Vancouver had done on the previous point, but this time it worked. The Nighthawks quickly threw it away, resulting in Henry Phan finding Burton for another goal, giving Seattle a 26-24 lead with 2:29 left. But Seattle committed an infraction resulting in them having to make the next pull from the back of the end zone and using that advantage, the Nighthawks patiently worked the disc until Hibbert found Bobo Eyrich to trim the margin to a single goal. When the next point lasted only 12 seconds, with the Nighthawks quickly forcing the turnover and Dave Hochhalter delivering the disc to Ted Chu to tie it up at 26-26,fans were set up for a barn-burner of a final two minutes.
After a quick goal by each team to make it 27-27, with the Seattle goal coming from a great full stretch layout in the end zone by Andrew Lynch, the Rainmakers took the lead on Eddie Feeley’s goal with 17.6 seconds left. Seattle then cleverly rolled the disc out of bounds on the subsequent pull and double-teamed the Nighthawk who was trying to get the disc back into play from the sideline, resulting in a no-hope cross-field blade which fell harmlessly to the turf, and that was that – final score 28-27 Rainmakers.
There was more bad news on the injury front for the Nighthawks. The team had already lost Jordan Tessarolo for the rest of the season a few days earlier due to a knee injury, and it got worse when Kirk Savage, early in the second quarter, and Brendan Wong, after the third quarter, had to leave the game when they aggravated hamstring injuries.
With Matt Berezan yet to play this season, this left the Nighthawks with a line-up composed almost entirely of rookies, so they must take heart with how well they battled the Rainmakers, particularly after being easily disposed of by the same opponent in the same venue two weeks earlier. Particularly encouraging was their offence, a problem all season but on this night displaying a crisp fluency composed mainly of short passes. At times they were unstoppable.
“Our offence was definitely better than it was the last time we played them two weeks ago,” said Wong after the game. “I thought we did really well, particularly when we switched up the personnel a bit, partly due to injuries but also just trying to change things up. It seemed to work really well, but unfortunately we just fell short.”
In spite of the loss which dropped the Nighthawks record to 1-5 and left them only a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, coach Andrew Lugsdin saw much to encourage him.
“I know the guys played really hard,” he said after the game. “They knew it was an important game. From an effort standpoint, I couldn’t really ask for much more. We just couldn’t get that last point. Yes, there were mistakes that we can improve on, but I think this game was a huge step in the right direction.”
It was fitting that Mark Burton scored those two late crucial goals, as it capped off an outstanding evening for him as he totaled 11 goals and two assists plus a block, including a highlight reel layout for a score in the first quarter. Khalif El-Salaam also had a strong game for the Rainmakers with three goals and five assists.
For the Nighthawks, Morgan Hibbert continued his fine play, leading the team with four goals and eight assist and completing 41 of 43 passes while playing a game-leading 29 points. (Interestingly for last year’s Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year, 22 of the points were played on the O-line.) Bobo Eyrich also had a good game for the Nighthawks with five goals, three assists, and two blocks, and special mention should be made of youngster Sam Creed, who racked up three goals and two assists while playing 26 points, second only to Hibbert in the game.
El-Salaam and Eyrich were awarded the Vancouver Ultimate League Most Valuable Spirited Player of the Game awards for their respective teams.
Next weekend the Nighthawks travel to San Francisco to play the Dogfish, while their next home game is against those same Dogfish on Saturday, June 20 at 6:00 p.m. at Thunderbird Stadium.
You can buy tickets to the latter game here.