Disc In: A Chat with Alec Arsenault

July 24, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive

The Ottawa Outlaws are grateful that Alec Arsenault first chose ultimate, and then chose them.

There are thousands of interesting stories about how athletes discovered this sport, but Arsenault’s arrival is among the more unorthodox, considering that his first competitive ultimate came not in high school or college but instead in local league competition. Recruited by one of his high school basketball coaches, he first gave ultimate a try in his hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick in 2009, right after he graduated from high school. A decade later, he has become one of the elite and most underrated goal scorers in the AUDL. 

“What got me hooked was that I got to meet loads of great people and made bonds and friendships with people that I would never have met otherwise,” Arsenault explained to me back in 2017. “University ultimate wasn’t really an option for me since the University of Moncton has no ultimate program. Instead, I stuck with the leagues and teams that were closest to me until I decided to try out for the Outlaws and Royal in autumn of 2014.”

Arsenault impressed evaluators throughout the tryout processes in both Ottawa and Montreal, earning contract offers from both organizations. Both destinations were far away from home—Moncton is about a nine and half hour drive to Montreal, the closer of the two, and Ottawa’s two hours further away—but he eventually decided on the Outlaws primarily because he had a few more friends in that ultimate community. It was not necessarily an easy slam dunk decision, but it was a subtle coup for the Ottawa organization. Five seasons later, Arsenault has scored 175 goals, 53 more than any other player in Outlaws’ franchise history.

Of course, Arsenault was not an overnight success in the AUDL. Injuries limited him to just one full game as a rookie, and though he began to blossom in his second season, it was mostly as a defensive player. In 2016, Arsenault finished tied for 11th in the league with 27 blocks, adding in 22 goals for an Outlaws team that went 7-7. When he joined the Ottawa O-line in 2017, however, Arsenault quickly established himself as one of the premier striking cutters in the league.

Since the start of 2017, in fact, only two players in the AUDL have scored more goals than Arsenault, and one wonders how the production may have evolved differently if Alec had chosen the Montreal Royal. Perhaps he and Quentin Bonnaud would have been the greatest cutting duo in the league, or perhaps one of them, presumably Arsenault, would have continued to play D, leaving him largely out of this goal-scoring conversation entirely.

While we’ll never know how that might have unfolded, here’s the actual info: over the last three AUDL seasons, Bonnaud’s 170 goals leads the league. Indy’s Rick Gross is second with 169, and Arsenault, who turned 29 this past June, ranks third with 151, more than other top scorers like Cameron Brock (149), Sean Ham (139), Ben Jagt (135), Jay Froude (133), and Rowan McDonnell (125). Among all players who have competed in at least 50 AUDL games, Arsenault is seventh all-time in goals per game, averaging 3.2 per contest. But that includes his first two seasons where he only scored 24 goals in 17 appearances. Over the past three years, since moving onto the Outlaws’ offense, Arsenault has averaged 4.2 goals per game, which happens to be equal to the league’s all-time goal scoring king, Cameron Brock, who has produced 504 goals in his 120 career contests.

I enjoyed catching up with Arsenault this week to learn more about his ultimate journey, including his frustrating rookie season, his experience playing alongside legendary handler Derek Alexander, and his opportunity to compete in the first AUDL All-Star Game in 2019. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity. 

Evan Lepler: Firstly, what's the latest in your life? What has your everyday routine been lately as the pandemic has continued to roar and we've all somewhat accepted that this summer will be unlike any other in recent memory?

Alec Arsenault: So far life has been great. Like I said in the interview last week, I’ve been lucky enough to work from home throughout all of this. Outside of that, as things have come back to some form of normalcy I’ve been able to go out to do more and more of my regular activities, the latest of which is ultimate. Practices are set to start up again in the coming weeks, which is something I’m really looking forward to!

EL: How would you characterize what it's been like in Ottawa in regards to the pandemic over the past month? My general perception is that all of Canada is doing better than the United States, but I also recognize that that's a very simplistic generalization and the situation changes regularly, so how have things evolved from your perspective over the course of the summer thus far?

AA: For the most part, Ottawa has been pretty good, all things considered. Things are opening up and from my experience most people are following the restrictions set by the Health Minister. Like [the United States], there are definitely hot zones for Covid in Canada, but luckily Ottawa and Moncton—my home town—aren’t in those zones.

EL: As we discussed a bit last week during  "Live with Lep!" on Instagram Live, you've taken a somewhat different path to professional ultimate, considering you didn't ever play in college and largely got introduced to the game through local leagues. For those who don't know your story, can you briefly share your recollections about how you got started in ultimate, your first impressions of the sport, and when your passion for it really began to blossom?

AA: It was my high school basketball assistant coach that got me into ultimate. He recommended I give ultimate a shot and asked me and my best friend to play on his league team the summer I graduated from high school, and after a bit of convincing and I think a video of Beau Kittredge jumping over a dude to catch a disc, I figured why not give this a go. I also remember being baffled at how people could throw the disc from the forehand side. It was kind of like a revelation honestly which sort of peaked my interest in the sport. I don’t know that there was much of a defining moment where I knew this sport would be what drove most of my life decisions; more like a series of events that made it so. 

EL: What do you remember about your very first season with the Outlaws, the organization's inaugural 2015 campaign? Obviously, you only had a very limited opportunity to make your mark, appearing in three games and just 28 total points... What were your personal highlights and learning moments from these initial opportunities, and how did your mindset change heading toward your second season?

AA: Honestly, my first season was super unlucky. I had gone all in on the move from Moncton to Ottawa committing to staying there to see what ultimate was like in a bigger city. To start it all off, I got a concussion playing in a 4v4 tournament in Montreal a month before the season started, so I knew then my start would be delayed. Unfortunately it doesn’t end there. I also was hit with mono shortly afterwards which delayed my start even longer. Luckily I was eventually able to play my first game at home against New York, which was an awesome experience. I think I even got a pretty sweet layout D and remember feeling like I played a pretty solid defensive game. That said, it actually was the only full game I played that season. The next game against Philly I sprained my ankle which took me out for the rest of the season. Overall, my first season was a major bust. 

EL: Clearly, your role expanded in a huge way in 2016, playing all 14 games mostly on D-line and recording 27 blocks, which was tied for 11th-most in the league that year. Is it fair to say your confidence grew massively this season, particularly as the year progressed? Overall, what were your takeaways from this campaign, and what do you recall about the June game at Philly where you finished +12 with six blocks, four goals, two assists, three hockey assists, and no turnovers?

AA: Yes, I would say my confidence definitely grew that season. I was able to confirm that I was able to ball with the best of them, which I think was the stepping stone for what was to come. Every now and again you have a game where you feel like you can’t really do anything wrong and that was definitely one of those games.

EL: Before asking specifically about the 2017 season and the others that followed, I'm curious to ask what your expectations were heading toward the 2017 season? Do you remember when you learned that you would be joining the O-line? Did you have any specific goals and did you ever fathom that you could score 60 goals in a season?

AA: I was actually expecting to play on the D-line that year and remember being super excited and driven to lead the team in Ds that season. It wasn’t until a week or so before our first road trip weekend that I learned that I would play on the O-line and only played O because a few of our usual O-line players couldn’t make it. I actually had two good games, recording 15 goals on the weekend. After that weekend I never returned to the D Line, so I guess in a way I can thank those guys who didn’t show up for allowing me that opportunity.  

EL: Obviously, many of these questions have been based upon your stats, and the role your team puts you in a huge factor in enabling you to reach certain statistical landmarks. With that said, I wonder what you think about these stats? Is the fact that you've scored 151 goals over the past three seasons a source of pride for you or is it an incidental part of you just filling a role on the team? Having twice scored 10 goals in a game, do you look at those as the best games you've played because of that production or are there other tangible or intangible factors that you think about more?

AA: The stats are great; they are in part what allowed me the opportunity to be considered an All-Star last season, but as I mentioned in our “Live with Lep” interview I would trade all those stats for more success as a team. I would say, more than anything, what I look at personally as an offensive player is where I do wrong. So a game where I don’t turnover the disc is to me even more important than scoring goals.

EL: Alright, time to ask for some perspective on what it's like being a receiver for Derek Alexander, who's had a legendary handling career both representing Canada long before the AUDL existed and over the past five seasons with the Outlaws. Firstly, were you aware of his history in the sport when you first became his teammate? Secondly, what's it been like cutting for his throws, and what makes him unique as a player and teammate? Thirdly, any specific stories or memories about Derek on or off the field that you'd care to share?

AA: Haha, I certainly was not aware of his skills or history. I was pretty sheltered from the elite level of ultimate when I first started, I mostly knew the players in my community and never really looked past that. I would say that eventually became a bit of an asset in my first two full seasons. I must say it’s been a treat, even just being able to watch some of his highlights live in my first few seasons was such an awesome opportunity. I would say what sets him apart is his effort and the hard work he puts in on and off the field, during the season and offseason. He’s truly a one of a kind individual, and I would consider myself lucky to have played alongside him both on the Outlaws and with [Toronto’s club team] GOAT. Derek is a pretty quiet guy so there aren’t too many stories to share; I’ll let his highlight reels speak for themselves.

EL: While on the topic of veteran legends, let's ask the same general questions about Andy Oucterlony, who celebrated his 43rd birthday on Wednesday, July 22! What are the main things you've learned from playing with Andy, and do you have any good stories about him to share? Does he inspire you to try and keep playing at the highest level into your 40s?

AA: Thanks for letting me know; I’ll make sure to wish him a happy birthday! Honestly, I consider myself doubly lucky to have played this many years with two true legends of this sport. I’ll make a point to say not only are they spectacular players but wonderful people as well. I’m not even sure if he knows this but I actually met Andy at the 2013 Gender Blender, a well known extravagant party tournament, where I happened to have spent a portion of the Saturday night partying and hanging out with him, John Hassell and John Snow, and like Derek at that time I was not aware of either of their skills or history, although I did assume they were both great players given their height. It is pretty inspiring to see him still go at it in his 40s, and if that’s what the future has in store for me I’d be happy to keep playing until that age!

EL: About 13 months ago, you had the opportunity to compete in the first AUDL All-Star Game, and I'm curious what stands out most when you look back upon that experience? What was it like to get to be on the field with so many other top players around the league as the lone representative from the Outlaws? Did your opinions about any other players change once you get to know them or play with/against them?

AA: Honestly it was great to meet all the guys from the teams I had never played against and even get to know a few of the guys I do play against a little better. It was definitely intimidating for me at first knowing that I was going in with a pulled hammy and knowing I wouldn’t be able to play the way that I normally do. That said, in the end I would say it was fairly easy to gel with those guys. They’re all such great players that it was pretty easy to integrate and fill in where I was needed. I think it’s safe to say that all the guys there had a great time, and if my opinion of any player there changed it was definitely for the better.