This Saturday night, the Vancouver Nighthawks of Major League Ultimate will be looking to increase their slim chances of making the playoff when they host the Dogfish for a rematch of last week’s close loss in San Francisco.
Coach Andrew Lugsdin was unavailable to be interviewed for this preview, perhaps because he is training hard to mount a comeback to help out his short-handed team on the field.
Veterans Matt Berezan, Jordan Tessarolo, and Kirk Savage and rookie Evan Taylor are out with injuries, and rookie Andy Siy and veteran Brendan Wong may or may not be able to contribute due to injury woes of their own. Veteran Aaron Loach is unavailable for the game, and four more rookies who have been getting substantial field time plus veteran Jon Hayduk won’t be there due to their involvement with Canadian national teams.
Captain Morgan Hibbert, who is having another outstanding season, usually plays most of the points for the Nighthawks anyway. He is averaging six points played per game more than any other player in the entire MLU this season; one wonders if he will leave the field at all on Saturday night.
Last Sunday in the gusty San Francisco winds, the Nighthawks almost came back all the way back from a five goal deficit late in the 3rd quarter to tie the game up, only to be thwarted by a devastating refereeing error. But rather than dwelling on something they can’t control, the Nighthawks are concentrating on carrying forward that defensive stand to this game.
“That 4th quarter was a great example of everyone buying in to a team-wide defensive strategy,” said Dave Hochhalter, who had an outstanding day throwing the disc through those San Francisco gusts. “Luggy, Morgan, and Berezan have been strategizing for the D-line all year, and have done a great job of putting us in positions to generate blocks and get break opportunities. Wind or no wind, I’m confident that we’ll once again have a game plan in place that will allows us to do just the same.”
“If we can get all the fellas on the same page early on, you can count on that kind of defensive pressure the whole game.”
Alan Macfarlane thinks neither the conditions nor the opponent will be the key factor affecting the outcome of this game. What really matters is how well his team executes.
“We can’t count on conditions to swing things in our favour. Defense will be important, but conversion rate will be more important in a game with fewer turnovers. I hope we can make the right decisions and be frugal with the disc.”
Indeed, the Nighthawks turned it over in the San Francisco end zone 17 times last week. Just cutting that in half would likely be enough to put them in a winning position and maintain their playoff chances.
The Nighthawks need to win their last three games and hope the Seattle Rainmakers lose both theirs (one against the Nighthawks), which would leave Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland tied for second place in the Western Conference; with one of the three advancing to face the first place Portland Stags in the conference championship game. The first tie-break is head-to-head, which would be inconclusive. The second tie-break is goal differential, where Seattle is way ahead of both Vancouver and San Francisco, so look for the Nighthawks to try to not just win but run up the score.
Hochhalter isn’t worried about the hard road ahead.
“A small chance is still a chance; as long as the door is still open, even just a crack, we’ll be scrapping to get in.”
“The good news is that we’ve had some guys like Nathan Lam on the D-line and Ari Nitikman on the O-line really step up over the course of the season,” added Hochhalter. “Ari especially has become quite the little enforcer out there, which really helps get us going when we need a bit of a charge.”
“That Seattle game the weekend before last was fast and loose. We’d like to control the game more on the defensive side but still maintain the pace when we have the disc in our hands. We need to win and we need to win by a lot, so I expect our offense to be gunning hard to score a ton of goals.”
Macfarlane is confident the run of injuries and bad luck hasn’t taken the spirit out of the Nighthawks.
“Last week’s loss was disappointing and took our playoff destiny out of our hands, but it shouldn’t change our approach to each individual game. Winning feels good, and we play for those moments. Regardless of whether our season adds up to a playoff spot, we want to look back with some pride, and beating each team the last time we played them sure would feel good.”
The game against the Dogfish will be held on Saturday, June 20 at 6:00 p.m. at Thunderbird Stadium.
You can buy tickets to the game here.