The Big 2023 East Division Schedule Preview

February 7, 2023
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Boston Glory
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 4th in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) The return of Hulk-yard

As an out-of-nowhere rookie in 2021, Tanner Halkyard was one of just eight players that season to register at least 30 assists and 30 goals. A big framed striker, Halkyard used his size and reliable hands to make catches through contact, and distribute reliably from continuation spots downfield. Halkyard also accumulated almost 4,000 yards of total offense in only 10 starts, and earned All Rookie First Team honors for his big production for the expansion Glory.

An injury sidelined Halkyard for the entirety of 2022, and Boston was worse for wear, finishing with one win fewer than the season prior. Halkyard functions like a multi-tooled tight end for this Glory offense, able to make tough plays in tight coverage and playing like an advantage piece in end-of-quarter situations.

2) Rocco Linehan signing gives a spark

After 20 starts split between offense and defense over two seasons in Minnesota, two-way striker Rocco Linehan joins a Boston team in need of playmakers. Linehan is athletically and technically skilled enough to fit virtually any role on the field—uptempo handler, explosive receiver, lockdown defender—and has over 70 scores and 5,000 yards of offense in his first two seasons as a pro. 

With the Wind Chill, Linehan was a high octane role player. Now with Boston, he has a chance to become a star. Glory likes to get the disc frequently to their primary skill players, and that could spell a career year for Linehan on an uptempo O-line.

One big question: 

What is Boston’s defense made of?

Glory have more than capable defenders—Chris Bartoli and Gustav Haflin are stout against big receivers, and Brendan McCann is adept at gumming up reset lanes—but what they don’t have is lineup consistency. As a result, Boston has ranked 19th and 18th in scores allowed the past two seasons, giving up over 22 goals per game.

One big stat:

Glory had a 2-6 record last season in games decided by four goals or less. 

One big matchup:

May 6 versus Toronto

Boston’s first game of the season will see them host the Rush. Glory fell 25-23 in their last meeting in Week 9 of 2022, and now the Rush look rebranded. Boston won each of their last two season openers, and will need to win a third to get out on a good foot in the most competitive East Division ever.

DC Breeze
2022 record: 10-2, Finished 2nd in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Offseason additions of Andrew Roy, Cole Jurek, and Joe Merrill

The Breeze came up one buzzer-beater goal shy of their first trip to Champ Weekend last August, and then kicked off this offseason by signing two of the top offensive options from Minnesota in Andrew Roy and Cole Jurek, and re-adding Joe Merrill after he captained the Shred and led them in goals last season. DC was already one of the most formidable competitors in the AUDL the past two seasons—they were a 10-win regular season squad that was eliminated by the eventual champion in each of the past two years—and now add stars that will have immediate impacts wherever they slot into this team’s deep rotation. 

Roy has been a short-range surgeon with the disc since his first pro start in 2021, averaging almost 49 completions and 328 throwing yards in 25 career starts. As an initiating thrower, Roy can juke and render almost any mark ineffective, slicing break throws underneath, around, and through most defensive looks. The Breeze were already one of the best smallball offenses in the league, and now they get one of the league’s top processors to amplify their power. 

Entering his fourth season, Jurek is kind of a replica of Tyler Monroe: An x-factor, physical striker option who can fill up the box score as a rhythm thrower. Jurek is most naturally imposing in the air as a receiver, but has evolved recently as a handler, and is now able to take over games as a mobile passer. When he gets a full head of steam, Jurek is an All-AUDL caliber player.  

As a rookie in 2021 with DC, Merrill was largely a single-dimension receiver, hustling and bodying his way to 39 goals as a continuation option. Last year Merrill matured into a true WR1 with Salt Lake, finishing in the league’s top 10 for goals and receiving yards, while also earning 12 blocks playing as the offense’s toughest matchup in coverage after a turn. A kind of people’s champ, Merrill is a lightning rod for the sideline whenever he makes a big play. 

2) Rejuvenated Rowan

When at or near full health, Rowan McDonnell is one of the league’s five best players. Injuries hampered his 2021 season, limited him to just five goals, and constricted him to a role in the backfield. But in 2022, Rowan re-emerged as one of the premier bucket getters in the AUDL, and racked up team highs in total scores (84), yards (6,350), and points played (316). 

Whatever Rowan lacks in range as a thrower, he makes up for in release angles, precision, and creativity; releasing push-pass dimes in quick transition offense is something only Rowan really dares to do. He’s the best small space passer in the league, making him a wizard at unraveling double teams, or dissolving defenses in the red zone.

But what really catapults Rowan into the realm of superstardom is his legs. He’s an incessant runner and juker, legging out long routes in space as well as shifting defenders out of their shoes in tight box isolation plays. And while his touch and reads as a thrower are already stellar, his threat as a speedy receiver leaves defenders on their heels at all times, making them extra susceptible to pump fakes and sleights of hand. 

One big question: 

Will the Breeze’s big offseason signings push them past the Empire?

Along with the 2018 Flyers, last season’s Breeze team was the best, most talented squad to not qualify for Championship Weekend in league history. DC noticeably improved this offseason, and still they might come up short of the Empire. There’s been a perceived talent gap between New York and the rest of the league, but now DC looks to be eye-to-eye with their rivals. Was personnel the only thing separating the two superpowers, or is there something else?

One big stat:

Yes, the Breeze lost all three of their games against the Empire last season. But in those matchups DC committed just 38 total turnovers against the league’s best defense—or 12.7 turns per game—a rate that would’ve led the AUDL for the full season. This team has been playing championship-level ultimate since the beginning of 2021, but has been eliminated by the eventual champion in two straight postseasons because the cosmos is asking perfection of the Breeze.

One big matchup:

April 29 versus Carolina

In one of my favorite interdivisional rivalries, the Breeze host the Flyers to open each team’s season in a rematch of their 2021 playoff tilt. Both are thoroughly in the mix for a title in 2023, both teams feature MVP hopefuls, and both cannot afford to begin the new season with a loss. 

Montreal Royal
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 5th in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) The evolution of Jakob Brissette

After playing in just five games as a rookie in 2019, Jakob Brissette made a stark impression in 2021 for his ambidextrous hucks and gaudy throwing stats as a 21-year-old prodigy. Montreal claimed the Canada Cup that year, with Brissette going 46-of-48 and throwing for 458 yards in the pouring rain in the finale against Toronto. 

Last season saw Brissette regress in some of his efficiency numbers as a passer. There were a few reasons for the statistical downturn: The Royal returned to a tough East division schedule; Montreal was without its two main goal scorers from the previous two seasons; Royal home games had some of the heaviest wind conditions and highest turnover rates of any team in the league. 

But the throwing numbers didn’t tell the full story. Brissette became more dangerous as a receiving target last year, doubling his goal total from 2021 to 2022, and upping his receiving yards total from 422 to 2,042; with more mobility, Brissette was able to challenge defenses from more angles, and force issues even without the disc. 

While this young Montreal roster figures into its identity and roles, Brissette’s versatility will be vital for the Royal’s offensive production.

2) Full strength CTJ

For a defense that finished bottom six in the league in takeaways last season, a fully healthy Christophe Tremblay-Joncas makes a big difference in an East Division loaded with good offenses. The five-year vet has 24 blocks in his last 15 starts since the beginning of 2021, and has proven to be one of the best one-on-one aerial defenders in the division. Along with 2022 team blocks leader Charles Asselin and handler defender Ywan Cohonner, CTJ is an obviously key part of Montreal’s defensive blueprint for re-entering playoff contention for the first time since 2017. 

In addition to his prowess in coverage, Tremblay-Joncas has also been developing a reputation as one of the best buzzer-beater athletes in the East. At 6’2” and equipped with an impressive vertical jump, CTJ can springboard above single players and packs with almost equal ease, making him a valuable situational asset; Tremblay-Joncas caught the game winner in Week 3 at Philadelphia to help Montreal improve to 3-0 last season. 

One big question: 

Were injuries the only thing holding the Royal back last season?

After an extremely promising Canada Cup run in 2021, the Royal entered last season as the favorites for the third and final playoff seed in the division. But injuries and jumbled rotations devastated this young team’s expectations as Montreal lost eight of their final nine games to end the season, including a still active five-game losing streak. A healthy Royal team figures to be right in the playoff mix in 2023, but over the past year Philly and Toronto have both massively improved their rosters. 

One big stat:

Montreal completed the second fewest passes in 2022, averaging just 216 completions per game.

One big matchup:

May 13 at Toronto

After appearing to finally surpass their longtime Rush rivals in 2021, the Royal split the season series in 2022. Montreal is still young and improving, but so is the rest of the division, particularly the dudes from Toronto. The Royal defense will start the season with an immediate test that will set the trajectory for the rest of the year.

New York Empire
2022 record: 12-0, Finished 1st in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Defensive edge

The Empire didn’t just win the 2022 title and cement their second undefeated season in three years, they dominated the competition. The 30 goals combined New York allowed against Carolina and Chicago in the semifinals and final was the lowest two-game total in Championship Weekend history. And if you include their East Division title matchup against the Breeze, the Empire faced three of the six most efficient offenses of all-time in back-to-back-to-back playoff games, and surrendered just 48 total scores to their opponents while converting 19 break scores of their own.

Ben Katz and 2022 All Defense member Marques Brownlee have become one of the best handler defending duos in the league; Brownlee’s length and agility make him a tough matchup in the backfield, while Katz remains one of the most cerebral defenders (and underrated players) in the AUDL; Katz led the team with 16 takeaways in 2022. John Randolph and Jibran Mieser are multidimensional coverage hawks who can seemingly close any gap. Midway through last season, Ben Jagt switched from offense to defense and found even more motivation after two MVP seasons, using his speed and 6’6” length to track down discs in the open field. Oh, and the Empire have number one and number two players all-time in blocks in Mike Drost and Ryan Drost, respectively. None of this even touches on the skills of Antoine Davis, Ethan Fortin, Mike Kobyra, or Ryan Holmes, all of whom contributed visibly to the Empire’s title run.

2) New York on verge of first true dynasty

This franchise has been a perennial playoff team since its inception in 2013, having missed the playoffs just once in nine seasons. But it wasn’t until 2019 (and the arrival of Jack Williams) that they truly became The Empire. Since the beginning of that year, New York has gone 34-2 in the regular season, made three consecutive AUDL championship game appearances, and won two of them, finishing off two of the four perfect seasons in league history. Jagt and Ryan Osgar have claimed each of the past three MVP trophies, with Williams and Jeff Babbitt also earning multiple All-AUDL honors as well.

There has not been a team like this—this talented, this balanced, this focused. New York knows their spot in history, and they’re looking to push themselves higher into the record books.

One big question: 

Can New York become the first franchise to win three championships?

The Spiders won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, tying them with the Empire for most in AUDL history. More hardware in 2023 would put the Empire in a class completely of their own.

One big stat:

Not only did the Empire boast the most efficient offense ever in 2022, their defense averaged the most breaks per game (9.2) since the league adopted new clock rules in 2019. 

One big matchup:

July 14 at Colorado

Ian Toner labeled it a must-watch in his great article, and it will be the most anticipated matchup of the regular season. It’s strength versus strength across the board, but something about the Summit getting a strike at the Empire at altitude makes this showcase even more appetizing. 

Philadelphia Phoenix
2022 record: 6-6, Finished 3rd in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Underdog fire

From 2014 to 2021, the Phoenix never registered more than five wins in a season and finished fifth or lower in the East/Atlantic Division standings in all seven seasons. After being forged in the fires of several consecutive losing seasons, the 2022 Phoenix emerged with a new energy and toughness, nearly beating DC and New York during the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs. Coaches Roger Chu and Tom Glass have done excellent jobs both building this team internally, and preparing them well for each week’s matchup; Philly is becoming as good at game scouting and matchup identification as any team in the league. 

And though Philly hasn’t won a postseason game since Barack Obama's first presidential term, they don’t act like it. Any team captained by Sean Mott is going to have an ample amount of bravado, and the Phoenix definitely take after their leader. Both offense and defense feed off of the big play, and ride momentum like an arc of lightning. 

2) Big play offense

And as part of their big, bodacious brand of ultimate, the Phoenix led the league in huck completions per game last year, and will make it rain against any opponent. Even against DC in the opening round of the playoffs, Philly came out swinging in the first half. Fueled by the hot hands of Mott, Jordan Rhyne, and 2022 Most Improved James Pollard, the Phoenix poured it on from deep and connected on six hucks in the first half, and trailed by only one on the road. 

But for as impressive and highlight heavy as the strategy has been, the Phoenix deep strike has also not been entirely sustainable. Philly faded in the second half of their playoff matchup, and lost by five. And in 13 games last season, the Phoenix averaged over six huck turnovers per game, the fourth most in the league; the three teams that averaged more huck turnovers than Philly had seven combined wins in 2022. 

The Phoenix have demonstrated their power, and when they’re on they can battle with anyone in the East. But to evolve from enticing team on the come-up to full fledged competitor, they will need more offensive balance.

Which leads to…

One big question: 

Can Philly keep their huck happy style and reduce turnovers?

Possession is the new meta in ultimate, and truly elite teams simply don’t provide opposing defenses the opportunities to convert breaks; the last three league champions each turned it over fewer than 10 times in the championship game. 

The Phoenix’s huck happy identity clashes with this logic. Philly can routinely make the big play, but sometimes at the cost of the big game. If the Phoenix can calibrate their a few more deep shots each quarter—reducing turnovers while still giving the threat of launching at any moment—they will be a true force.

One big stat:

Counting the regular season and playoffs, Mott will enter the 2023 season with 296 career assists, just four shy of becoming the seventh player in league history with 300 career assists. He has 50-plus assists in four of his last five seasons, and has two or more assists in 18 straight starts going back to July 2021.

One big matchup:

June 3 versus Carolina

For Philly, this is a terrific opportunity to knock off a titan at home. The Flyers will be coming off a tough matchup with DC from the night before, and the Phoenix have the offensive firepower to put pressure on Carolina’s fatigued defense.

Toronto Rush
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 6th in East Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Playmaking athletes on both sides of the disc

You got the 2022 blocks leader Phil Turner returning as a captain, and fresh off an all-star appearance that had his teammates buzzing. James Lewis has the length of an NFL receiver and the physical mentality of a hockey player (read: tough as nails), and scored 50 goals in his second professional season last year. Currently, Oscar Stonehouse has the best hair in the league, and rampaged onto the scene last year as a teenage rookie with two-way playmaking potential. 

And the Rush just announced the re-signing of Mike Mackenzie, who was absent from the team in 2022. Mackenzie was last seen racking up 358 receiving yards in the 2021 Canada Cup finale, making big grabs in coverage in the middle of a rainstorm.

There’s suddenly a lot to be excited about with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Former Rush legend turned Head Coach Adrian Yearwood has cultivated an environment that is uptempo and fun, and the buy-in is palpable. 

2) Favorable schedule

With just three games combined against New York and DC, and two interdivisional games against Detroit and Pittsburgh, the Rush might have the most enviable schedule in the division. Toronto is still prone to making mistakes in bunches, which makes their slightly softer competitive slate all the more appealing for their development. In 2023, the Rush might be able to afford to be brash and a little sloppy in execution, and still win enough games with their playmaking to remain in the playoff picture.

If they all play offense together, the Mackenzie-Lewis-Stonehouse cutting core will give defenses a lot of headaches with their speed and field stretching abilities. If the trio can reduce some of their turnovers as passers, they’re going to become one of the most electric set of finishers in the league.

One big question: 

How long will Toronto’s rebuild take?

The East was the Rush’s domain for five straight seasons, and they’re still just one of three franchises with 100 or more total wins. But since 2018 they’ve seen a group of teams rise above them in stature. Toronto is on the come up once again, but how far and how quickly can they rise in 2023?

One big stat:

The 2022 Rush were one of just three teams over the past two seasons to convert less than 70 percent of their red zone chances, punching it in just 68.46 percent of the time.

One big matchup:

May 27 at Montreal

The Rush’s second matchup of the season with the Royal in Montreal will be pivotal for both team’s playoff ambitions at the midway point of the schedule. Including this game, Toronto will open the season with three of their first five games on the road; the Rush were 2-4 in away games in 2022. 

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