The Vancouver Nighthawks are heading down the highway Saturday to play the Seattle Rainmakers in what is pretty close to a must-win game with playoff implications.

The team is doing their best to keep that out of their minds and focus on the matter at hand, winning the next one-on-one battle for the disc, the next point, and the next game.

“We control our own destiny,” said D-line handler Myles Sinclair. “We cannot look past this Saturday’s game, so practice and game prep this week has been and will be business as usual. This team is good enough and has shown that it can hang with any team if we play our game and do all the little things to produce the outcome we want and need.”

To make the playoffs, the Nighthawks either need to win out in their remaining four games, or get lucky with losses by Portland and Seattle down the stretch, but O-line handler Keane Knapp isn’t thinking about that. Rather, he uses the big picture to help him focus on the small things that need to be done along the way to reach that goal.

“The season as a whole is a process, and we have to take things one practice, one game, and one week at a time,” said Knapp. “Focusing on outcomes rather than the process is inimical to achieving the team’s goals. At this point all we are focused on is getting better at our practice tonight.”

Through their first six games, the Nighthawks have battled inconsistency – within games and from one game to the next.

“I think that the number of young players we have brought onto the team this year is part of the issue, but we have lots of players who don’t have that excuse anymore,” said head coach Andrew Lugsdin. “We need to keep reinforcing when the guys are doing things right and correcting them when they’re not. We also need the players to hold themselves accountable for their performance so that during practices they make themselves better. When that starts happening more consistently, we’ll see that translate to our game performance.”

A good example of that inconsistency is a scoring drought the Nighthawks went through during their last few games during which they totaled only six goals over a 35 minute stretch, which included the last 15 minutes of their overtime loss against the San Francisco Dogfish in Week 6 and the first half of last weekend’s home loss against Portland. Part of that was obviously the vicious wind they faced in San Francisco, but conditions were perfect last weekend at Thunderbird Stadium when they managed five points in the first quarter but only one in the second. Given that Vancouver had scored 55 points in their first two home games, this drought is hard to explain.

“That was the first time our O-line had trouble in fair weather. We stopped moving the disc quickly with conviction, which is what allows us to reset the disc to advantageous positions,” Lugsdin said. “Part of the reason was that Portland was effective in poaching and switching on us, which created some difficulties as they were able to use their athleticism on multiple occasions to make some big plays. We were able to right the ship in the second half by being better at resetting the disc to power positions, cutting and throwing with conviction, and making some plays here and there.

“What happened last game was an anomaly and not indicative of the way we know we can play. We know that when we play our game we can score quickly and efficiently. We will return to that type of game when we take on the Rainmakers.”

It’s not like the Nighthawks don’t have the tools to score. O-line handlers Kirk Savage and Kevin Underhill are sixth and seventh in the league in throwing percentage for players who have attempted at least 150 throws at 93.37% and 92.66%. Brendan Wong leads the league in scoring with 41 points and is second in goals with 29.

The Nighthawks D-line will have their work cut out for them on Saturday with the offensive juggernaut that is the Seattle O-line. Donnie Clark, who was a one-man scoring machine while setting an MLU record with 12 goals and two assists last time these teams met, is the only one ahead of Wong in goals with 30 total. His teammate Daniel Trytiak is tied for fourth overall in points with 32, seventh in goals with 13, and second in assists with 19.

On defence, the Nighthawks were repeatedly beaten on hucks last week by the Stags, who came down with most of the contested catches. One explanation for this lies back where the hucks were thrown from rather than with the downfield contests. And make no mistake, hucks will be prominent in this game. The last time they met, the Nighthawks completed 15 hucks and the Rainmakers 14.

“That was the first thing we talked about at practice on Tuesday,” Sinclair said. “And the unanimous answer was our marks on the throwers. They weren’t tight enough, which allowed easy to catch hucks to be thrown; so this week we are pushing hard to make each huck, if it gets off at all, be taken in a way that makes it more easily contested downfield. If the throws they make are being properly marked, our downfield players will be able to D at least 50% of them, which is all we can ask.

“Coming into Saturday’s game we just need to concentrate on all the points that we have been working on and succeeding at, and remember that our defence has the ability to take over games.”

“To win games, you have to make plays, and there’s no doubt that we lost that battle against the Stags,” Lugsdin said. “We’re working on positioning and on closing defensive gaps before the throw goes up, but we’ve still got to make plays when we get there. We’ve done an okay job at that this year until last game; we’ll need to be better next game.”

Sinclair thinks the Nighthawks will take an important step along the process of delivering a playoff game to their loyal fans on Saturday.

“I have a feeling that there will smiles on the bus ride home.”

You’ll be able to evaluate Sinclair’s prophetic prowess in real time by watching a live stream of Saturday’s game here.

Notebook:

Wong has dominated the Nighthawks offense: scoring or assisting on 34.45% of their goals. The next highest player is Matthew Berezan with 16.81%. For the Rainmakers, Clark is almost as important as Wong is for the Nighthawks. He’s been involved in 29.51% of the Rainmakers’ goals, followed by Trytiak with 26.23%.

The versatile and ambidextrous Morgan Hibbert is tied for second in the league with 11 defenses and has also managed 12 assists to tie for first on the Nighthawks. Unfortunately the statisticians don’t record how many of those assists were thrown with his left hand versus how many with his right. He also leads the team with 120 points played.

Kirk Savage of the Nighthawks has 143 catches without a single drop.

Trytiak leads the Rainmakers with a +41 plus-minus rating, followed by Matthew Zemel with +38. Underhill leads the Nighthawks with +43, followed by Wong with +40.
The Hawks next home game against the Seattle Rainmakers is on Saturday, June 7 at 7 p.m at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium.

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