Seven On The Line: Week 3

May 14, 2024
By Evan Lepler

Tuesday Toss: Part 1

1. Wind Chill Balance And Depth Outlasts Chicago

In an early season Central showdown featuring the division’s last two champions, the Union landed the opening haymaker, breaking the Wind Chill offense twice in the first en route to a 5-2 lead. But Minnesota eventually rediscovered its mojo, utilizing a 10-3 surge over 22 minutes of game action to seize control and spoil Chicago’s first ever game at their new home stadium in Evanston. Up by one in the closing minutes, the Wind Chill used 17 consecutive completions to calmly convert with 42 seconds left, creating a 16-14 final. 

“It was nice to have a close game,” said Minnesota Coach Ben Feldman. “The crowd was amazing, and those close game loud reps are invaluable."

Matt Rehder led the Wind Chill with three goals, while no other Minnesota player produced more than two goals or assists. 

“Despite missing some of our biggest contributors, we won by trusting our depth,” said Tristan Van de Mooretele, who led the Wind Chill with two goals, two assists, one block, and no turns on 38 throws. “Not relying on any single player on our offensive line takes the burden off everyone’s shoulders [...] What I’m most pleased about is the lack of panic. Even though we went down early, there was no sense of worry within the team. We knew if we played our game and kept believing things would turn around for us, and they did.”

Minnesota’s Noah Hanson produced a career-best three blocks—as many as Chicago had as a team—to lead the Wind Chill D, while Jack Shanahan and Sam Kaminsky were each prominently involved with five scores for the Union, who were disappointed but also encouraged by their first home game of the year.

“I cannot wait to play more games at Martin Stadium in Evanston,” said Kaminsky, who finished with two goals, three assists, and four more hockey assists on 58 completions. “That was the best atmosphere I’ve played in in Chicago since joining the team in 2021. Even chatting with some of the Minnesota players, they agreed that it was an incredibly fun atmosphere to play in and looking forward to many more battles there. The venue and the crowd were spectacular. When we play at Minnesota and Madison, you feel the crowds inject the home teams with energy after plays. We really felt that with the fans at Martin Stadium [...] I wish we got the win for them, but we will have another opportunity to show our fans a win on May 31st against the Madison Radicals.” 

After starting 2-0 on the road, the Minnesota Wind Chill are excited for their 2024 home opener, set for this Saturday night against Pittsburgh. Chicago, idle this coming weekend, are back in action for an interdivisional doubleheader Texas trip over Memorial Day Weekend, when the Union face off with Houston and Austin later this month.

2. Maybe Madison Is Back?

Perhaps we should wait for a little more data, but after watching the Radicals win all four quarters on Saturday in Pittsburgh, could this Madison team that hasn’t made the playoffs in six years actually become Minnesota’s biggest threat this season in the Central?

Following a weather delay, the Rads led 4-3 after one, 10-5 at halftime, 16-8 through three, and prevailed 23-14 over the team whose name suggests they might have been inspired by the pregame thunder. Madison went 8-for-10 on hucks, 10-for-17 on breaks, and registered 19 blocks, the most in a game for the Radicals since 2021. 

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season,” said Kai Marcus, who anchored the Madison O-line with 393 throwing yards and four assists. “The energy of this team has been completely different than the past few years. Everyone is bought in, and we are all in it for each other.”

Just having Marcus healthy is a huge change. The North Carolina alum joined the Radicals in 2022, but played in only two games in his first two seasons. His big throws and steady presence in the backfield are clearly things that Madison’s O-line has lacked in recent years. 

“It’s great to have Kai Marcus back on the field,” said Radicals’ veteran Andrew Meshnick, who himself produced three blocks in Saturday’s season opener. “Kai is a very skilled thrower, so anytime you can have a player like that on your offensive line, it’s going to open things up for the rest of the team.”

Meshnick and rookie Pieran Robert both registered three blocks, while 11 other Radicals recorded at least one D. Nine of the team’s 10 breaks came during a 13-3 run, which included a Jake Carrico Callahan midway through the third quarter.

“Everyone played selflessly to contain the Thunderbirds,” said Marcus. “It’s fine to let an offense complete a few passes as long as clear boundaries are maintained. Our run was punctuated by Carrico’s Callahan, which was the final blow that rendered the Thunderbirds flightless.” 

Max Sheppard paced Pittsburgh with 516 total yards and five scores, but the Thunderbirds suffered their second straight home loss to start their season. They’ve been outscored 41-25 by Minnesota and Madison, almost but not quite matching Philly’s futility in what’s been a rough few weeks for Keystone State Ultimate.

“We clearly have some work to do,” said Jonathan Mast, who went 49-for-49 but only averaged 2.4 yards per completion. “Starting the season flat in our first two games is not ideal, but it doesn’t reflect our true potential. We need to make some adjustments, build our chemistry, and develop the right habits to ensure we are competitive in every single game.”

3. “La Tribu de Dana!”

For the first time in nearly two calendar years, the Montreal Royal tasted ultimate victory on Saturday in Toronto. Consequently, they were finally able to celebrate with their victory anthem again in the locker room postgame. 

“I was introduced to a Royal tradition when the boys played and sung the song “La tribu de Dana” by Manau,” said Montreal’s second-year coach, Alex Lemieux. “It was an amazing moment in the locker room seeing the guys celebrate a long time coming.”

Playing their third straight road game to start the season and riding a frustrating 19-game losing streak that dated back to June of 2021, the Royal outscored the Rush 5-2 over the final 10 minutes to prevail 15-12. Phillipe Le Bourdais led Montreal with six goals, while UFA Rookie of the Year candidate Tobe Decraene produced two goals, five assists, three blocks, and a game-high 607 total yards. 

“The team was super delighted with the win, as you would expect, although I feel like everybody felt like this was only the beginning,” said Decraene. “The game didn’t fully go the way we wanted, but at the end of the day a win is a win.”

For some of the team’s longest-tenured players, the result, especially coming at rival Toronto’s expense, was super sweet, as was the singing celebration postgame.

“I hadn’t heard [“La tribu de Dana”] in like two years,” said Christophe Tremblay-Joncas, who’s played for the Royal since 2017. “That was really memorable.”

Next up for Montreal: the home opener against a New York team that will be on the second day of a back-to-back this Saturday.

“We are really optimistic against New York,” said Tremblay-Joncas, “but I know that we are going to solve a few of our issues before the weekend. Can’t wait to play in front of our home crowd.”

Depending on how New York fares on Friday in Boston, the Empire will either have the same current winning streak as the Royal or Montreal could theoretically be trying to hand a third consecutive loss to a team that recently won 31 straight. Regardless of the situation, the Quebecois are keen on building upon their first win in seemingly forever.

“We acknowledge that this victory is a stepping stone for our next stage of the team’s development,” said Lemieux. “Last year, we learned how to lose, this year we will learn how to win. Hopefully, next year, we will learn how to be champions.”

4. One Losing Streak Ends, But Another Continues

A couple days after I tweeted that a Detroit win at Indianapolis felt impossible, the Mechanix and AlleyCats were engaged in a one-goal game with five minutes left in the third quarter. 

I was fully ready to eat my words, write a mea culpa, and pay tribute to Detroit for creating the most stunning result of the season. 

But, of course, Indy strung together seven straight scores and outdid Detroit 10-2 over the final 17 minutes in what ultimately became just another loss for the Mechanix, their 76th in a row dating back to April of 2017. 

And from the AlleyCats perspective, they were less than pleased with their opening effort of the season. 

“The first half was obviously a disappointing half for us based on what we expected,” said AlleyCats handler Xavier Payne. “But when we went to the locker room I said to the guys, ‘raise your hand if you thought we were going to walk away with this game.’ Most people’s hands went up. I thought it too. But in doing this we didn’t respect our opponent and this is where it has gotten us. These guys came to play, and we didn’t. We are moving at 75 percent at best and we need to learn to find the balance between confidence and arrogance. Stop disrespecting them thinking they aren’t good, but instead respect us and give everything you can to your teammates. That seemed to light a fire and we came out much better in the second half.”

Payne went 46-for-46 with four assists, a goal, and a block, while Cameron Brock led the AlleyCats with four goals. Mechanix rookie Jake Felton tallied seven assists and a game-high 686 total yards. Despite the indoor conditions, neither team hucked well; Indy went 7-for-14, Detroit a miserable 6-for-19. 

The AlleyCats will need to raise their level several notches in order to be competitive with Atlanta when the two sides square off this weekend, but at 1-0, even after a lackluster couple quarters against Detroit, the Cats are decently positioned to see where they stand against the Hustle.

“I’m pleased with our level of communication as a team,” said Payne. “No one yells at each other. When a mistake is made, it’s a discussion. Also, the buy-in we have gotten from everyone is awesome.”

5. Sol Win Easily In Dallas

If anyone still had any doubt, the Austin Sol used their first two weeks of the season to reemphasize that they are the current rulers of Texas ultimate. 

The Sol outscored their overmatched in-state opponents in seven straight quarters to begin the new campaign before the Dallas Legion played to a 6-6 tie over the final 12 minutes this past Saturday. Austin’s effort through three, building a 19-11 lead, paved the way to a 25-17 road victory that lifted the Sol to 2-0. 

“I was impressed with our ability to maintain an internal focus and take advantage of every rep this past weekend,” said Austin Captain Evan Swiatek, whose huge game consisted of five goals, five assists, and two blocks against the Legion. “To be clear, we weren’t looking past anyone. But we were all aware of how this game should go in terms of offensive efficiency, number of blocks or turns, the types of plays we should make, etc. It takes a mature attitude and persistent awareness to collectively look past those expectations and measure success in our own ways. As a result, we saw some drastic improvements compared to the Houston game, even though this one was closer in terms of score.”

Former Sol Carson Wilder led Dallas’ offense with 408 throwing yards on 51 completions, while the Dallas D-line created 10 different chances to break Austin’s O, but only converted twice. 

“Saturday’s game went about as expected,” said Wilder, “with some positive takeaways on our end. We saw offensive chemistry grow leaps and bounds from Week 1—with a long way to go [...] Our defensive pressure was outstanding most of the game.”

Considering that Wilder is so familiar with the Sol organization, he marvels at the strong program that Austin has built in recent years.

“Seeing guys like Kyle [Henke], Reese [Bowman], and Matt Armour go from young freak athletes to calm and collected veterans is really cool,” he said. “They have a beautiful mix of established experienced playmakers and it’s fun to watch. We are working on things like chemistry and finding our O/D identity, and the Sol found those things three years ago, so they are onto fine-tuning specific plays and matchups. I think the real differentiator is Coach [Steven] Naji. His mindset and love for the game is rare when it comes to frisbee coaches, and the team has adopted the passion.”

6. Portland Also Progressing

Although the Nitro did not earn their first win of the season on Friday against the Spiders, Portland looked like a far more competent group compared to their Week 1 performance against San Diego. It’s an encouraging development for an organization that basically started the season with a new blank slate following two pretty disastrous seasons since joining the league.

“I think this season we’ve made a concerted effort to feel like we’ve hit the reset button as a franchise,” said Portland’s Scott Radlauer. “Attempting to leave behind the toxic culture that has had a stink over the team the last couple of years. With new ownership, leadership, and a renewed emphasis on buy-in and togetherness, it’s been great to see the team heading in a much healthier direction.”

It’s no fluke that Portland’s improved performance came with Felix Moren in the lineup for the first time this season. The 21-year-old led the Nitro with 539 total yards and six scores against the Spiders. Dave Barram’s emergence as a 25-year-old rookie has also helped Portland a bunch; he had 50 completions and four scores in Friday’s one-goal loss. 

After San Diego won comfortably against the Nitro on the second night of a back-to-back in Week 1, it felt inevitable that Portland would preside in the basement of the West Division standings. But after playing the Spiders tough, the Nitro can hit the road to SoCal this coming weekend with slightly more optimism. 

“It’s tough to convince yourself and your teammates that we are better than our results have shown, especially considering we’re like 1-21 or whatever our record is in our last however many games,” said Radlauer. “But I think the team is gaining confidence and belief that things are headed in the right direction, and that’s all we can ask for at this point.”

7. The Story with Seattle

Portland’s partner in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Cascades missed an opportunity to truly redefine their expectations by failing to hold onto their early lead on Saturday against the Spiders. A win would have put the Cascades at 3-1 with a relatively favorable schedule ahead. Certainly, a 2-0 record against Oakland would have probably loomed large in a potential tiebreaker situation.

Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve—didn’t. 

After trading one-goal road wins with the Spiders over the past couple weeks, the 2-2 Cascades are now likely in a down-to-the-wire chase for the final playoff spot out West. 

“Real tough one Saturday,” said Seattle’s Jack Brown. “The first quarter was a combo of Spider mistakes and coming out with fresh legs. I definitely thought we had the upper hand after that first quarter, especially after starting the game off with a Callahan.” 

Indeed, Tony Goss became just the third player in UFA history with multiple Callahans in a single season, joining Madison’s Andrew Meshnick and Pittsburgh’s Scott Trimble, and he’s got plenty of time left to try to make history with this third defensive score on the year. But Seattle officially went just 6-for-15 on break chances against Oakland, leaving many precious opportunities on the table.

“I think this game was good for us,” said Brown. “Spirits are high these last few weeks of thinking ‘‘Scades are back.’ This is a good lesson as it shows us we aren’t invincible. It also put a lot more urgency in the rest of the season. We cannot afford many more losses after dropping this one. I think it will bring a lot of fire for our upcoming matches.”

The Hammer

With 11 games on the lineup this Friday and Saturday, the upcoming Week 4 slate should be the most exciting and impactful of the young season thus far. 

On Friday at 7:00 PM/ET, we will witness Jeff Babbitt going against his old team for the first time, as Boston hosts New York in a game that has all sorts of fascinating emotional and practical ramifications inside of it. The Empire will be taking the field for the first time since seeing their 31-game winning streak snapped in Atlanta, and New York has not lost back-to-back games since June 2018. Meanwhile, the Glory are 0-6 all-time against the Empire, but they’ve never had more reason to be confident going into a matchup with New York, especially with former Empire standouts like Babbitt and Ben Katz now wearing Boston jerseys. 

New York’s opponent from last year’s UFA championship game also hits the road for a tough two games in Week 4, as 3-0 Salt Lake braces for battles with 3-1 Oakland on Friday and 1-0 Colorado on Saturday. The Shred are 2-0 in their previous two trips to the East Bay, but both games were tied in the fourth quarter, with last year’s requiring overtime. The Summit are still smarting from last season’s pair of one-goal losses against Salt Lake, and after Colorado fell a step shy of earning a chance at redemption in last summer’s postseason, the anticipation to get another shot at the Shred has been brewing for nearly a full year. 

We’ve also got an intriguing interdivisional game with Atlanta traveling to Indy, along with a pair of highly-anticipated home openers for Minnesota and Montreal, who both possess premier home field environments.

The journey continues, and if we’re lucky, we very well could see some more instant classics this weekend.