Vancouver Nighthawks O-line handler John Norris has won the Hucket Offensive Play of the Week Award for Week 10 of the Major League Ultimate season for a play he made against the Portland Stags at Thunderbird Stadium last Sunday night.

The Nighthawks had had a strong first quarter, coming out of it with a 7-3 lead against the Western Conference leaders, the Portland Stags, in a game that was vital for Vancouver to win if they wanted to make the playoffs. Portland came out hard in the second quarter though, whittling the lead to 8-7, so it was important for the Nighthawks to re-establish some momentum. And that was the moment when Norris made the award-winning play before following it up with an excellent pass that led to a goal. With that, the Nighthawks were on their way to victory, eventually winning 20-18. His contributions not restricted to that one point, Norris totaled a season-high two goals and five assists while playing more points than any other O-liner in the game.

While it all turned out well, it could easily have gone the other way. Were it not for his incredible recovery, the Nighthawks would have had a costly turnover. But instead, it turned out to be a great play that led to an important goal. Norris stepped up in a game when Vancouver was down two O-line handlers, including Kirk Savage, who normally touches the disc more than any other Nighthawk.

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“I knew immediately I had made a bad throw,” says Norris. “I felt it hook off my finger and I knew it was going to go way to the left.”

“My reaction was a combination of trying to do a give-and-go and realizing I had made an error. Earlier in the game, our coach had brought up the point that we needed to tighten up our end zone offence by moving the disc across the field and using the give-and-go, so that was in the back of my mind.”

“While I’m happy I was able to make a good play, I’m more frustrated that I messed up what is normally a routine throw.”

In a way, the play encapsulates Norris’ first season of MLU after making the transition from the University of British Columbia. He has looked brilliant at times but has struggled with consistency to the extent that he has barely seen the field in several games.

“I’ve had games where I play lots of points and others where I haven’t played as much,” says Norris. “At the end of the day what makes me happy is if I am able to help the team to a win. Whether that is by playing less or playing more, I don’t mind. For this game, both [fellow O-line handler] Kevin Underhill and I knew we had added responsibility, but we got a lot of support from all the lane cutters on the O-line who came back to handle with us.”

Head coach Andrew Lugsdin is the one who has been responsible for rationing Norris’ field time but was very happy to see him come through for the team.

“Norris is a very talented player. What he has been working on this year is his consistency. He’s had success in university Ultimate making high risk/high reward throws, but at this level turnovers are so critical that he’s had to adjust his decision making. He’s had games this year where he’s been on the wrong side of that balance but it’s been improving as the season has gone on.”

“We have lots of confidence in what he brings to our O-line. We really needed him to step up this weekend with two of our regular O-line handlers out, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Over the season, Norris has had almost twice as many throwaways as any of his teammates, but those numbers have been coming down the last few games, and in this crucial matchup he completed 43 out of 46 passes while leading his team to a win that clinched a playoff spot.

“I am always trying to reduce my number of turnovers so I wouldn’t say I was in a different mental space in this game than other games,” said Norris. “Three is still three too many. Overall I’d say I’m less risk averse than other players on our team. If you look at those 43 completions in this game, some of them were still fairly high risk.”

In spite of the errors it has sometimes led to, Lugsdin loves seeing that confidence. Swagger never hurts if you can back it up with your play.

“He’s a competitive guy and has lots of confidence in himself. You could also see that in this play. His competitiveness didn’t allow him to give up on the play, and then he got up and made a quick strong throw right after having messed up the previous one.”

Norris and his teammates are traveling to San Francisco to close out the regular season this weekend, then head to Portland on June 28th to play in the Western Conference Finals. Fans can buy tickets for the game in Portland here.

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