May 24, 2019
By Louis Zatzman
1. Championship Rematch Between Rush And Radicals
The Toronto Rush (3-2) remain in the league’s spotlight this week with a home game against the reigning champion Madison Radicals (3-1). Last week, the Rush played the New York Empire in a rematch from last year’s playoffs, before traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Phoenix. They lost both, marking only the second time in franchise history that the Rush have been on a two-game losing streak. Tomorrow night's Game Of The Week matchup will be of utmost importance for Toronto.
The Rush have never lost three in a row, but the Radicals will be a difficult test. They’re out for revenge of their own, having last played the Rush in the 2013 finals, which Toronto won 16-14.
“I like to cross names off my list, and one of those is Toronto,” said Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling. “Toronto, San Jose, [and Seattle] are the last teams that have beaten us that we haven't beaten back. Personally, I would say that yeah, I've got revenge I'd like to give them.”
Pettit-Scantling knows it won’t be easy. He doesn’t see Toronto’s losing streak as a sign that the Rush are fallible.
“They are a dynasty,” said Pettit-Scantling. “I relate it back to when Madison lost to Raleigh last year... Really, what it was is we had a lot of pressure on ourselves in that game to do well. It was so much pressure that we failed to do anything that we'd been doing that was working the past few years. So I imagine a big game that was hyped up between Toronto and New York, probably something similar happened where they kind of just fell out of what they do well. They're still one of the best teams in the league.”
More than pressure, Toronto’s personnel was limited last week. They lacked offensive starters Connor Armstrong, Andrew Carroll, and Geoff Powell. The defense was without Isaiah Masek-Kelly, among others. All four big guns should return to face the Radicals, according to Head Coach Sachin Raina.
The Toronto-Madison matchup has all the makings of a clash of titans. While the Radicals are known for their defense, they’ve actually been the third-highest scoring team in the league this year, averaging 23 per game. On the other hand, the Rush allow the fewest goals from opponents in the league, only 18.6 per game. Beyond the statistics, this game is the only finals rematch that will take place this regular season. It will also be the only regular season game this season between two teams who’ve both won AUDL championships.
Both teams sported many of the same names on their rosters in 2013. And for those who remain, the mental fortitude has only improved over the years.
“[In 2013], I remember being really overwhelmed with it being the AUDL title match, and the pressure of performing,” said Pettit-Scantling. “I got there like an hour before the team, I was so nervous, I just got there and dwelled on my nervous energy. It's really a big contrast between how I play now and how I played then. I'm not scared anymore.”
2. Midwest Better Than Ever
As the Radicals travel north to take on the Rush, the other Midwest playoff contenders will try to seize the divisional lead this week. There’s a glut of teams vying for second and third place in the division, with the Indianapolis AlleyCats (4-2), Minnesota Wind Chill (3-3), Chicago Wildfire (2-2), and Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (2-3) all within 1.5 games of each other. This week, Pittsburgh will taken on Minnesota, while Chicago and Indianapolis will also battle.
Even though the Thunderbirds are currently at the bottom of the pile, they’re riding a two-game winning streak and have their eyes on more.
“I'm not an individual that shows up and starts shooting for the top,” said one of Pittsburgh’s captains, Sam VanDusen. “I only justify my expectations based on the results of the team... And this team is a team that I really enjoy playing with. There's a ton of buy-in. There's plenty of talent. I don't see why we can't earn that playoff spot.”
Last year, the Thunderbirds had a talent deficit. Leadership’s solution was to divide between themselves a variety of Pittsburgh talent not on the team in 2018 and convince them to play in 2019. Anson Reppermund and Thomas Edmonds returned to the team. After starting the season as a practice player, two weeks ago Tyler DeGirolamo played in his first game since 2017. DeGirolamo has 139 career assists and 101 career goals, and his 86 assists in 2015 were then an all-time high. With the return of DeGirolamo and others, Pittsburgh is firmly in the hunt.
“We're still there, which is a place I couldn't say we were in last year,” said VanDusen. “I'm very excited about where we are right now.”
3. Montreal Fighting For Playoff Lives
The Montreal Royal (0-3) cannot be blamed for losing their first games of the season to the talented Empire and Rush, but they now are in a hole looking up at the playoffs. Head Coach Caroline Cadotte mentioned after the Toronto loss that their season wouldn’t really start until they played a game in Montreal.
“We are thinking only good things. It was hard playing the best two teams in the beginning,” she said.
Then the Royal lost their home-opener 20-19 to the DC Breeze. They have a chance to pull back into the playoff race this weekend, but it won’t be easy. The Royal will play a doubleheader this weekend, traveling to Philly to play the Philadelphia Phoenix (2-2) on Saturday before hitting DC on Sunday for a rematch with the Breeze (3-3). The Royal will likely need to catch one of those teams this season to make the playoffs, with Toronto and New York further ahead in the divisional race.
4. Andrew Roney
Before the season began, Tampa Bay Cannons Head Coach Andrew Roca emphasized the importance that Andrew Roney would hold for the Cannons organization.
“He'll probably be the most valuable player to any organization because he is really the crux on which we depend,” Roca said.
That prediction has proved prescient. Roney leads the Cannons with 30 assists, 253 completions, and six blocks, and he’s played the most defensive points and second-most offensive points for the team. He’s only two away from the league leader in assists, Josh Klane.
As a result of Roney’s excellence, the Cannons (3-2) are firmly in the hunt for the playoffs in the South Division. They’ve already beaten the Atlanta Hustle (2-5) twice this season, and the two teams will play for the third and final team this weekend. Another win would give the Cannons a two-game lead for the final divisional playoff spot with only four games remaining in Atlanta’s schedule. After Tampa Bay finished a disappointing 4-10 in 2018 and missed the playoffs, Roney has been the engine driving the Cannons’ resurgent success in 2019.