The Vancouver Nighthawks and Seattle Rainmakers played their very first games in MLU against each other last month, the latest installment in what is arguably the best rivalry in Ultimate. Seattle got out to a big lead by the end of the 3rd quarter and it looked like the game was decided until the Nighthawks mounted a furious comeback that just fell short when time expired.

Seattle will be especially eager to beat Vancouver this coming Sunday afternoon after giving away another big lead last weekend in their loss to the Dogfish in San Francisco. Whoever wins this game will have the inside track in mounting a challenge to the Dogfish for first place in the Western Conference standings.

I asked Nighthawks co-captain Morgan Hibbert, fresh off winning a spot on the team that will represent Canada at this summer’s World Games in Colombia, if the Nighthawks would be looking to avenge that early season loss against their longtime rivals. He doesn’t see it that way.

“There is always a bit of a revenge factor when you lost your previous game against a team, but mostly it is about playing well. In our first game against Seattle we just didn’t play very well. Since then we have played progressively better, so this game will be a good measuring stick for us to see just how much we have improved over the past few weeks.”

Assistant coach Jeff Cruickshank agrees.

“I don’t view it so much as getting revenge as continuing to get better. Our offense has made progress each of the first four games, culminating last game in the biggest offensive output of the season by any MLU team. Our defense has had three fairly strong games and then a poor game last week. We need to put our best game together to beat a good Seattle team will be looking to rebound after a tough loss to the Dogfish last weekend. When you’ve played a team as often as we’ve played Seattle, revenge is rarely a motivation.”

Offense has not been a problem for the Nighthawks, Andre Gailits leads MLU in scoring with 12 goals and 8 assists, and Mauro Ortiz leads the league with 17 assists with Oscar Pottinger right behind him with 15. But when I asked Assistant Coach Greg Shiring whether he expects the high-scoring style of last week’s win over Portland to carry over to this game, he quickly switched the topic to defense.

“Offensively, we hope to continue refining our game and making use of the entire field the way we did last weekend. But defensively, we want to pick up where we left off at the end of the last Seattle game, getting turnovers and scoring off them. I think the defense is anxious to come out and make a statement. Although we were happy to get the win against Portland, I expect the D to be a lot tighter and more aggressive on Sunday.”

Defensive lynchpin Hibbert is certainly hoping this game isn’t another high-scoring huckfest.
“As a defensive player I sure hope not. I am more of a fan of those four minute-long defensive grinding points. The longer you can make the offense work earlier in the game the less effective they will be in the later stages of the game when they begin to tire out.”

So what it will take for the Nighthawks to win the game over the Rainmakers?

Look for Hibbert’s return to the field after missing last week’s game to be a big factor in helping the Nighthawks to force the Rainmakers to grind it out on offense. His size and speed and understanding of where to be on the field will have to be a key if the Nighthawks defense is to impose themselves on the Rainmakers offense.

Andy Collins, another Nighthawk back from missing last week’s game while winning a spot on Canada’s World Games team, zeroes in on team focus and intensity.

“Seattle are coming off a big loss that they let slip away and will be hungry, so we will have to match their intensity from point 1 and make sure we sustain a high compete level.”

Shiring is on the same page.

“What will it take to win? Focus and desire, same as always. We have a great game plan on O and D, and if we can bring together all the pieces of the puzzle that we’ve been working on in the past few months, and play with the intensity that we’ve shown at various times, we’ll be successful.”

Cruickshank puts it succinctly.

“It will take our best game of the season so far.”

“Seattle is a good team and run their offensive and defensive systems very well. They’ve got good skills and rarely beat themselves, so we’ll need to deliver our best game of the year to get a win.”

I’ll give the last word to Andy Collins.

“As we strive to get into the playoffs this is another must win for us. Expect the Nighthawks to bring it this Sunday.”

You can buy tickets for the game here.

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