April 11, 2019
By Adam Ruffner
The opening weekend of play mostly went to chalk as far as expected team results, with the exception being a gritty Tampa Bay Cannons win over a slow-starting Atlanta Hustle squad on the road. But there were a handful of impressive individual performances, from Andrew Roney's 8-assist, 4-block showcase for the Cannons, to Noah Saul demonstrating once again he can step into any role assigned to him, now commanding much of the Raleigh Flyers attack in the wake of their offseason departures. There wasn't much movement in the rankings with only half the teams getting their first game(s) in, but that will all change as we head into a six-game Week 2 slate.
Previous ranking in parentheses.
21. Detroit Mechanix (21)
Just in time for the season, the Mechanix added a few veteran presences to help solidify their roster, headlined by Joey Cari and Kevin Coulter. While neither player may ultimately change the destiny of this team, they are both very solid offensive players in their own right. Cari comes over from the AlleyCats, and averaged nearly 22 assists and over 300 completions per season in 2014, 2016, and 2017, giving Detroit an stable distributor. Coulter had one of the more explosive seven-game scoring tears during the 2015 season the league has ever seen, averaging over five goals and three assists per game for the Mechanix. Sure, all seven contests were Mechanix losses, but this squad will need scoring where it can get it.
20. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (20)
Fun fact via the Thunderbirds twitter: Pittsburgh has the second longest current winning streak in the league at three games, trailing the Radicals' six-game mark that Madison has carried over from their 2018 championship run. The Thunderbirds still have another nine days until their season gets under way, which could be a blessing given the team's slow starts in previous seasons. Last year, Pittsburgh went 1-3 in April and averaged an anemic 15.8 goals per game, with their lone win coming against Detroit.
19. Atlanta Hustle (12)
Atlanta opened their season in Florida with one of their stranger performances as a franchise. The Hustle never looked in rhythm offensively, completing throws at both a low volume (168 of 184) and low rate (91 percent); this is a team that is perennially in the top 10 in the league in team completion percentage, including ranking third last season with a 94.7 percent rate. The absences of Parker Bray and Kyle Stapleton were immediately evident, as Atlanta lacked throwers that could adequately stretch the defense, allowing Tampa defenders to crowd the midfield area and collect poach blocks. The Hustle have little time to tweak their issues, as they get set to host the Flyers on Saturday.
18. Ottawa Outlaws 18)
Always late starters, the Outlaws still have another two weeks until their first game of 2019, against the Rush. The former Toronto player Greg Ellis could be set for a mini breakout season. Last year, Ellis was thrust into a high usage offensive role in his first season with the team, and produced mixed results. His raw scoring totals—23 assists and 32 goals—weren't shabby, but his 89.70 percent completion rate on nearly 300 throws made Ellis one of the biggest throwaway candidates with the disc. Now with an understanding of the system, Ellis could ratchet up his completion rate and be a good midfield option alongside Karl Loiseau for the Outlaws offense.
17. Seattle Cascades (17)
The Cascades did it to themselves. Cruising on momentum and a silky offensive flow, they allowed a seven-goal lead in the third quarter to vanish, gifting the Spiders a 28-27 overtime win in Seattle. The tenacious defensive pressure that Seattle started the game with waned mightily in the second half and overtime, as the Cascades were able to generate just five of their 14 total takeaways after halftime. Mark Burton, Henry Phan, and Kodi Smart combined for 13 assists and 143 completions on the Cascades offense, and showed a lot of chemistry and speed in initating flow. Jay Boychuk looks like a perfect receiving fit already after his first game with the team, collecting four assists and seven goals, including a blitzing layout-block-to-bookends-goal sequence late in the second half.
16. Tampa Bay Cannons (19)
Keeping good on Head Coach Andrew Roca's preseason assertion that he was a star deserving of the award, Andrew Roney has to be the frontrunner for the MVP following Week 1 of play. Nobody did more for their team in terms of generating scoring opportunities and taking them away from the opposition than Roney, whose 8-assist, 64-completion, 4-block dominating performance sticks out as singular over the past few seasons. It felt like every time the Cannons had the disc, it was in Roney's hands, and his assists came on a variety of hucks, scoobers, hammers, and knifing flick blades; it was as close to an "ultimate throwing cycle"—throwing scores on forehand and backhand hucks, a scoober, and a hammer—as one could get.
15. DC Breeze (14)
Speaking of MVPs, the Breeze may be without last year's on the road this weekend in New York as Rowan McDonnell is still listed as questionable. Defeating the Empire is a tall task for any team, but for a Breeze squad that may have the youngest roster in the league to be without their signature star is going to make things nigh impossible for DC. Cody Johnston shows a lot of handling promise, and might be shoved into the spotlight sooner than expected, needing to develop timing with Jeff Wodatch on the fly on Saturday night against one of the league's best defenses.
14. Los Angeles Aviators (15)
The Aviators came out and gave the Growlers everything they could handle, never trailing by more then two goals for the entire 48 minutes of the contest. The Los Angeles offense lacked some of the pop of last season, as they only scored 18 goals on the night, but they rarely looked out of rhythm or stuck in their progressions thanks to the distributing efforts of Tim Beatty, Tyler Bacon, Nate Ransom, and Eric Lissner who kept the disc moving. 2018 league goals leader Sean McDougall scored four goals, but his four throwaways on 23 touches were costly in a tight contest against a rival.
13. Philadelphia Phoenix (16)
Though many of them are not household names, the Phoenix D-line is going to be an obstacle for opposing offenses in 2019. They finished middle of the pack averaging 11.93 blocks per game last season, but that number should go up as they maintain the defensive rotation for the first time in franchise history; roster continuity is of utmost importance for defensive switching, just ask the Radicals. Matt Esser led the team last year with 19 blocks, but James Pollard, Greg Martin, and Eric Nardelli are all good in single coverage, and Philly's defensive depth will allow them to stay fresh.
12. Montreal Royal (13)
Montreal won't have their first game until April 28 when they travel to face the Empire. The Royal offense finished in the bottom third of the league in 2018 in scoring, not because of a lack of talent, but because their offense came in fits and starts; Montreal had four games where they failed to score 20 goals (0-4 record), and four games where they scored 25+ (3-1). With Stève Bonneau, Kevin Quinlan, and Miguel Goderre commanding much of the Royal attack, the pace of play should pick up, and Montreal should see more high scoring results that work in their favor.
11. Austin Sol (9)
Getting the Flyers on the second night of a back-to-back and failing to produce a win at home has to sting for the Sol. On paper, the offense played well despite the low scoring total, completing 95 percent of their 242 total team passes. But digging a little deeper, the Austin O-line also scored on just 58 percent of their total possessions, meaning that if they turned the disc over to Raleigh's defense, they had a hard time winning it back. O-line defense is a dark art to gameplan for, but in a South Division stacked with block-generating defenses, Austin may need to look at how they can not only maintain possession, but how they might also earn it back should things not go according to plan.
10. Minnesota Wind Chill (11)
Listed at just 5'10", Bryan Vohnoutka can do a lot of things downfield for the Minnesota offense despite often falling a couple inches short of his cover defender. His quickness and timing make him an ideal initation cutter, and his reads and hair-trigger flick release make him a good distributor on continuation looks. And maybe most importantly, Vohnoutka is decisive: In 277 total touches during the regular season and playoffs in 2018, Vohnoutka threw an assist or scored a goal on over 25 percent of his times spent with the disc. To put that number in context, here are the First Team All-AUDL members from last season and their scoring efficiency percentages: Burton (20.2); Janas (12.5); Jagt (28.7); McDonnell (18.2); Froude (24.8); McDougall (33.5); Dunn (24.4).
9. Chicago Wildfire (10)
By the end of his rookie season with the Radicals in 2017, Ross Barker was considered the team's best downfield offensive option. Last year, Barker exploded for 35 assists and 45 goals playing an outsized role for a Chicago offense in desperate need of playmakers. Now in his second season with the team and a captain, Barker will likely have to elevate his play another notch with the loss of Kurt Gibson. A natural receiver that has always been smooth with the disc, Barker's throws (specifically his range and comfort) have improved dramatically since he started in Madison. He's now one of the most versatile players in the Midwest: Barker followed up a seven-goal performance in Week 9 last year the very next weekend with a nine-assist, zero turnover, demonstrating his full range of potential.
8. San Jose Spiders (7)
The Spiders came out flat on the road against Seattle, but thanks to some timely second half blocks by Mark Philipson, Keenan Laurence, and Jacob Greenberg, as well as the firecracker offensive performance from Lior Givol, they escaped with the victory. Now they go on the road to face the Aviators and then Growlers in a Week 2 back-to-back. Getting three road games out of the way early could prove fortuitous for the rest of the Spiders 2019 season. If they take their opponents more seriously than they did in Week 1, and emerge 3-0 following their current stretch, the preseason Championship Weekend hubbub will seem more realistic.
7. Indianapolis AlleyCats (8)
It's hard to place a lot of significance on a single regular season game, but with a shortened schedule in 2019 and the history between the two teams, Indy's home opener matchup against Madison on Sunday night will be pivotal in determining the path of each squad this season in the Midwest Division. The AlleyCats can lay claim to the fact that they beat the Radicals in their last game at home, while Madison will in turn refer to their 17-1 record all-time against the 'Cats, and the 27-18 playoff thrashing they gave Indianapolis in their most recent meeting from last July. But when it comes down to it, none of the stats or prescriptive analysis will matter once the opening pull goes up and these two fierce rivals get at it.
6. San Diego Growlers (6)
Whilte Travis Dunn and Jonathan Helton each had impressive debuts to their 2019 seasons, it was Sean Ham that was unquestionably the impact player of the game for the Growlers in their win. The number seven all-time goal scorer in league history entering the year, Ham reeled in seven goals in the home opener in all manner of ways: Skying opponents, bodying out defenders in hot pursuit, fielding white-hot throws like a shortstop collecting an easy grounder, and putting an exclamation point on the evening by tracking down a seemingly much-too-far Dunn huck for the dagger. Beyond the raw scoring totals, it's Ham's efficiency that truly makes him a star out West: In 1118 career regular season points, Ham now has 192 goals to just 27 turnovers.
5. Toronto Rush (5)
While not quite yet in the truly elite echelon of defenders, Bretton Tan's late addition to the 2019 Toronto roster is a big one. One of the best handler defenders in the league, Tan is a waterbug on the mark, able to shift his body laterally in the blink of an eye, and possessing the athleticism to jump-swat discs almost immediately upon release; I still think about how he terrorized Derek Alexander, man of inifite release points, almost two full years later. Being able to snuff out opponents at the point of attack is a Rush defensive hallmark, and Tan and company will once again be suffocating in 2019.
4. Raleigh Flyers (4)
Facing the toughest, most grueling back-to-back road trip in the league with a roster full of new additions, the Flyers played admirably in Texas, holding sustained leads in both matchups while eventually splitting the games. The Raleigh offense showed its explosive potential with Jacob Fairfax launching rocket hucks into space for Henry Fisher to track down, but only for stretches; Raleigh scored 39 goals in their first two games, well shy of their 24.56 per game average from a season ago. But it's the Flyers defense that might possess the championship hopes for this team, as they limited two very good offenses to just 37 goals total over the weekend. And maybe most impressively, Raleigh was able to limit scoring without relying on takeaways: The Flyers had just 16 total takeaways, five against Dallas and 11 against Austin. Raleigh switched matchups super reffectively, even without a few notable defenders in Shane Sisco, Joey Cretella, and Mike Pannone.
3. Dallas Roughnecks (3)
As is now customary versus the Flyers, the Roughnecks dug themselves an early hole only to grind and outwork their competition down the stretch in a hard fought win. Whether it's Jay Froude skying out All-AUDL opponents, Connor Olson jetting into the lane for a clutch poach block, Kai Marshall switching lines and positions mid game to better help the team, or Brandon Malecek delivering the final blow via perfectly placed huck, Dallas continues to be a team that thrives off of big energy playmaking. They are talented, deep, and have the look of a team ready to make its third championship game appearance in four seasons.
2. Madison Radicals (2)
The Radicals begin their title defense on the road, which is a good way to avoid complacency and a championship hangover. The last time Madison played in Indy, they were without Pat Shriwise, Ben Nelson, and Kevin Brown on offense, all of whom will be making the trip this Sunday. Brown finished the 2018 season playing some of his best ultimate, throwing 10 assists and scoring four goals while completing 95.50 percent of his 88 passes in the team's three playoff games. A bit mercurial, when Brown is on, he can be one of the most dynamic throwers in the league; he gets to start the season playing in the only indoor venue in the AUDL, allowing him full access to his throwing repertoire from the get-go.
1. New York Empire (1)
There's going to be a lot of roles to manage and expectations to mitigate for the Empire as they get set to host the Breeze this Saturday in the AUDL Game of the Week. But new Head Coach Bryan Jones might be singularly equipped to deal with the pressures, talents, and (frankly) egos that will be swirling around New York's 2019 season. One trend to pay attention to: The Empire are 0-2 with just 31 goals scored total in their last two opening day performances.