Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com; Graphic by Kevin Lee

On the night of February 18, 2014, a month after the combine, the Vancouver Nighthawks were hard at work during the second phase of team selections.

With spring around the corner, 30 Nighthawks prospects, sporting a variety of jerseys from local club teams, attended a weekly practice led by Head Coach Andrew Lugsdin and Assistant Coach Allan Nichols. Six of them were among the 12 who have already been signed, with the other 24 competing for the remaining 13 roster spots.

One of the already signed players, Nick Menzies re-joins the Nighthawks after contributing 10 points (5 G, 5 A) in the 2013 campaign.

“There are some very exciting players coming up through the ranks of the Vancouver Ultimate scene, as well as a number of international players that have been attracted here to tryout,” said Menzies. “I certainly like what is going on with University of British Columbia players trying out, and the international guys staying in Vancouver for the year. It is definitely tough to call as the numbers of spots available on the roster keeps dwindling, and there are still many great players unsigned.”

“It is a funny time in my career, because there are younger guys like Keane Knapp that I coached when they were just getting started, and then older guys like Kirk Savage who taught me so much as a young player, and we may end up on the same line at some point this year,” said Menzies.

For most of the practice, participants were split into two groups. Twenty of them played a series of five-on-five scrimmages used to generate as much game-like action as possible. Using quick hockey style rotations, the players were able to go all out on every single play.

Returnee Aaron Loach contributed 25 points (13 G, 12 A) last season, and looks forward to leading a fresh group of Nighthawks.

“The scrimmages at Tuesday’s practice were a treat,” said Loach. “While league and pick-up can be fun and a great place to refine one’s game, it really doesn’t compare to playing against a group of established players. Overall, the level of play was formidable. There were a number of execution errors, but that is to be expected at this point during the tryouts as people learn how different people play.”

While the majority scrimmaged, Nichols oversaw the remainder as they worked on various drills. Focusing on handling, players worked on leading passes, handler resetting, and changing offensive angles.

The leading pass drill was full of short throws and fast cuts, with the handler having to make a throw that led the receiver. After a few rounds, Nichols turned to a handler-reset drill, using three handlers and three defenders to test their short passes, stamina, and ability to constantly meddle with the defense.

“The drill execution was much crisper tonight than in previous weeks,” said Nichols. “It was the first practice all month where the weather was not extremely cold or wet or both, so we were able to see more accurate throwing and catching.”

Last night, Lugsdin and Nichols focused on improving specific cutting and throwing skills that will give the Nighthawks an edge over Western Conference teams.

“In particular we are still having too many long throws to receivers who have changed their cuts and come back under for a shorter throw,” said Nichols. “We need to see more patience from the thrower in these situations and more decisiveness from the lane cutters. Greater familiarity and chemistry within the team will also help as the season progresses.”

“I think the team’s conditioning looks good and everyone has been running hard and competing,” said Nichols. “With every passing week we should be able to incorporate a better understanding of what we’re trying to achieve in the drills and what style of offense and defense we’re looking for in scrimmages and that will allow us to keep increasing the tempo of the practices.”

After finishing assessments, two teams were formed for a series of seven-on-seven games. For half an hour, Trillium Park echoed with lots of chatter and yelling. The Nighthawks even managed to drown out the sound of the trains passing by on nearby tracks.

In the first week of March, Lugsdin will don his GM hat to announce the full 25-man roster. Then there will be another month of practice before the Nighthawks play their first game of the season on April 12th in Portland against the Stags.

You can buy tickets for the upcoming season here to watch the Nighthawks play at Thunderbird Stadium.

(With assistance by David Yang)

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