2018 AUDL Preview: East Division

March 27, 2018
By Adam Ruffner

A flurry of big-name offseason additions in the past few weeks have set the stage for a grueling campaign in the East. Toronto are the winners of five consecutive division titles, and are coming off an appearance in the AUDL title game in 2017. But with improved DC and Montreal teams, and New York reportedly adding four-time league champion Beau Kittredge to a lineup that already featured MVP finalist Jeff Babbitt, the Rush will face their hardest regular season test to date. 

DC Breeze

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
10-4 24.1 (10) 20.9 (4) 22.8 (9) 13.5 (T-9)

Returners: Rowan McDonnell, Jeff Wodatch, Lloyd Blake
Additions: Xavier Maxstadt, Benjamin Preiss
Losses: Tyler Monroe, Alan Kolick
Two Points:

  • DC exchanged experience for youth during the offseason. The Breeze have had one of the more reliable offenses in the league the past two seasons, and that still may be true in 2018 with Blake and Wodatch in the mix with a bunch of young players eager to prove themselves. Coach Darryl Stanley was great last season at getting winning results out of a myriad of lineups. But until the first few games, it will be difficult to tell what this team's potential is and is not.
  • The Breeze have lost at home just once since 2015. This is an organization that takes its home field advantage very seriously, as evidenced by their two decisive wins over Toronto in 2017. It will be a brawl for the three playoff spots in the East this season, so DC's edge at home will be more valuable than ever. 

One Stat: Handler Lloyd Blake emerged as one of the most consistent high-volume players in the AUDL last season, ranking ninth overall in offensive effiency and placing him ahead of players like Mark Burton, Keenan Plew, and MVP Jonathan Nethercutt. Blake wasn't just productive (28 assists, 15 goals), he was relentlessly efficient, completing 420 throws to just 18 throwaways without committing a single drop on the year. 

Lloyd Blake has a habit of making it looks easy with his lefty assists.

Outlook: The Breeze have one of the better organizational structures in the league, which creates stability season to season; there's a reason why this franchise has three 10-win seasons in the last four years. But with a lot of new faces on the roster come questions. Namely: Does this DC team have enough top-of-the-roster star power to hang with Toronto, New York, and other challengers? This is a team that has often won through group effort, so if the young additions can step into their roles quickly, the Breeze will be powerful once again in 2018.

Montreal Royal

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
9-5 22.3 (16) 21.4 (7) 27.4 (17) 14.7 (3)

Returners: Kevin Quinlan, Quentin Bonnaud, Nasser Mbae Vogel
Additions: Cam Burden, Estéban Ceballos
Losses: Dave FerraroFélix-Antoine Daigle
Two Points:

  • Montreal is just beginning to tap their potential. Largely an experiment of Canadian talent and international imports last season, the Royal have retained nearly all of their top performers from last season while adding Winnipeg standout Burden and Colombian star Ceballos, with rumors of more big-name talent on the way. This team has the speed, athleticism, size, and throws to compete with anyone. If they can add in chemistry, the Royal could be a darkhorse title contender. 
  • Despite lacking a true big-name defender, the Royal play very stout defense. That is with all due respect to André Arsenault, who led the team last season with 20 blocks. Montreal was a top three team in takeaways, which helped compensate for the team's aggressiveness with the disc. If the Royal improve on their 15th ranked team passing rate (91.53 percent) from 2017, they could capitalize on even more of the opportunities their defense creates and improve their scoring totals as well.

One Stat: The Royal are very good on defense at forcing opponents to play their style of game. They are frustratingly disruptive and pesky on handler rotations, not allowing opponents any easy resets. Last season Montreal allowed the second lowest team completion rating (89.96 percent) to opposing teams in the AUDL, to go along with the second fewest completions (2958) allowed by opponents. That's nearly 600 fewer completions than the average defense. Montreal commits to forcing opponents to beat them deep, making teams resort to less-than-reliable downfield throws.

Outlook: As I hinted at before, I think there's some true promise to the Royal this season. They have the right blend of styles and skills, youth and veteran determination that compose a lot of winning campaigns. They have a decided home field advantage in Montreal. And they're coming off a season that was overburdened with a lot of expectations, giving this team a fresh perspective for 2018. The Royal still have yet to get a win the playoffs, but this feels like it may be the year. 

New York Empire

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
6-8 20.8 (20) 20.6 (3) 24.3 (12) 14.1 (7)

Returners:  Jeff Babbitt, Harper Garvey, Ben Jagt
Additions: Marques Brownlee, Beau Kittredge
Losses:  Markian Kuzmowycz, Sean Keegan
Two Points:

Babbitt was an MVP finalist in 2017. What could he do with Brownlee and Kittredge in 2018?

  • The Empire should take expectations seriously. This is a franchise that has always had talent, but sometimes fails to realize its potential. And over the years, their win totals have slow diminished. Adding a four-time reigning champion in Kittredge would be an immediate jolt to the team's culture, but what else will it take for New York to get from here to the title game?
  • This New York team will own you in the air. Babbitt and Jagt were already the best big man duo in the league last season, and now with the added presences of Brownlee and Kittredge, the Empire have the most imposing lineup of bigs this league has seen. You can't teach height, and New York will be especially potent in end-of-quarter situations that can be vital to a game's outcome. 

One Stat: There's no "I" in "team", and New York loves to emphasize the importance of structure and wholeness on the defensive side of the disc. But at this point, it's impossible not to take note at the singular, relentless productivity of Ryan Drost. Since joining the league in 2013, Drost has never had fewer than 27 blocks in a single season, collecting 115 total in his career while never missing a single game. There's a lot of reasons why the Empire perennially finish within the top three in the league in team defense, but it's hard to list any before arriving on Drost.

Outlook: New York has the greatest potential for both success and failure. There's a kaleidoscopic feeling when you look at their roster: look through the top end where all their talent lies - and the image of Garvey chucking discs deep to Babbitt, Beau, and 2016 scoring leader Conor Kline - and it's easy to see how this team could cause a lot of ruckus deep into the postseason. But viewing through the other end, this might be the thinnest Empire roster in years after an offseason of turnover. If Head Coach Eileen Murray can manage expectations as well as she showcased skill in Philly last season, New York could find itself back at Championship Weekend for the first time since 2014.  

Ottawa Outlaws

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
2-12 21.3 (19) 26.0 (23) 28.4 (20) 11.1 (20)

Returners: Derek Alexander, Alec Arsenault, Kinley Gee
Additions: Karl Loiseau, Greg Ellis
Losses: Jordan McGregor, Leon Forest-Nault
Two Points:

  • The Outlaws lack consistency, not talent. After two straight seasons of finishing 7-7, Ottawa took a bit of a nosedive in the standings in 2017. The offense had skill but lacked rhythm, while the defense was patchwork at best, if not altogether porous. Loiseau's return and his utility skillset will be a stabilizing force for the offense, while Arsenault continues to improve after being one of the five best pure receivers in the league. Defensively, the Outlaws need to come up with answers after a bottom five finish in each of their first three seasons as a franchise.
  • The one-two throwing combination of Derek Alexander and Kinley Gee continues to be underrated. Each player can throw every throw from every angle imaginable, and for distance, too. The two have combined for 132 assists, 1928 completions, and 105 hockey assists (the throw before the assist) over the past two seasons. If the team's results ever catch up to their individual production, either one could find themselves in the MVP discussion for their handling skills. 

One Stat: In the last three seasons of play, Derek Alexander has 1,552 completions, making him one of only two players in the league that averaged at least 500 completions a season over that time. What's even more impressive is that he's done this while missing three, six, and four games in each of the past three seasons respectively. That puts Alexander at an astronomical 54 completions a game for his career. For perspective: Among players with more than five games played in 2017, there were just three players who could match that rate, and all three were nominated to All-AUDL teams. 

Derek Alexander showing off the push pass swagger for the hockey assist.

Outlook: After a rough two-win season plagued by inconsistency, the Outlaws will likely once again resume the role of the East Division's litmus test team: You can beat them if you're good, but slack or have an off night, and the Outlaws will make you pay. They have a surprising number of weapons on offense, and might be the most hammer-adept throwing team in the league, opening up a variety of field spaces that most teams don't have access to. Still, despite their youth, growth, and potential upside, it's hard to see the Outlaws earning their first playoff appearance this season given the quality of opponent they be facing week after week in a deeper division.

Philadelphia Phoenix

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
4-10 21.5 (18) 24.5 (19) 25.1 (13) 10.5 (21)

Returners: Scott Xu, Matt Esser, Greg Martin
Additions: Himalaya Mehta, Greg Strouse
Losses: Sean Mott, Marques Brownlee
Two Points:

  • The Phoenix are one of the most fun teams to watch. On offense, they have the ability to play with precision and rhythm, while also taking deep shots with gusto. Defensively they're sporadic but hardnosed, forcing a lot of pressure on opponents by bidding early and often. Philly has lacked discipline at times, but never energy nor a flair for the dramatic.
  • New Head Coach Trey Katzenbach will have this team ready for game day, every week. You don't continue playing at a professional level into your late 40s with a haphazard regimen, and Coach K will allow nothing less from this team. 

One Stat: The Phoenix will be without their top three goal scorers from last season, who accounted for 105 goals between them. The additions of Mehta and Strouse - the latter of whom scored 28 goals for Philly two seasons ago - will help shore up some of what they will be missing. But this team needs to identify who its primary playmakers at the beginning of the season, or they could fade quickly back to the cellar in a very competitive East.

Outlook: The Phoenix filled the role of spoiler well last season, notching wins against both the playoff bound Breese and Royal. Philly relied on a lot of big plays on offense to stay competitive last year, and it remains to be seen whether this group can emulate that style, or will shift to something more stable. They may not factor in directly to the playoff picture, but the Phoenix will absolutely help decide who qualifies for the postseason in 2018.  

Toronto Rush

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
11-3 25.9 (T-3) 22.1 (T-8) 23.6 (10) 14.5 (5)

Returners: Cam Harris, Andrew Carroll, Mark Lloyd
Additions: Anatoly Vasilyev, Justin Foord
Losses: None
Two Points:

  • This is the deepest, most talented Rush team to date. After a few decisive losses at Championship Weekend in consecutive years, Toronto's East Division dominance started to feel a bit hollow. But after a resurgent 2017 that saw them fall one goal shy of title, the Rush enter the new season with a burgeoning guard of young, hungry talent to add to one of the most skilled and star-studded rosters in the league. 
  • The years change, but the backfield consistency of Thomson McKnight and Adrian Yearwood remains the same. It's sometimes hard to get to talking about the AUDL's most stable handler set, because you have to make it past all of the other playmakers to get to two guys who, frankly, just consistently make the right plays and engage Toronto's offense with effortless ability. Carroll, Harris, Lloyd, and Ben Burelle were the breakout stars at last season's Championship Weekend, but go back and look at how many of the Harris-to-Burelle downfield connections were first set up by Yearwood and/or McKnight's unhesitanting activity in the backfield. 

One Stat: This Toronto franchise's dominance continues to be unparalleled, as 2017 marked their fifth straight season as East Division champions. They maintain the longest such streak of any, and are one of only five franchises - along with Raleigh, Madison, San Jose, and San Francisco - in AUDL history to win more than one regular season divisional title. To put their power into team numbers, in 72 games as a franchise they've averaged 27.3 goals per game while allowing just 19.3 goals per game.

Outlook: Even though they lost the championship game, Toronto won the weekend at last season's final four and enters 2018 with possibly the best momentum in the AUDL. The Rush are at their best when they're sidelines are energized and the team is feeding off of their defense pressure, and with Vasilyev and Foord back on board, Toronto's coverage would only improve. This is one of the truly elite teams in the league, and anything less than a repeat apperance in the championship game would be a bit of a letdown.