July 5th, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
How quickly a regular season full of chaos, travel, and flying plastic comes to a screeching halt. The Toronto Rush will play their final 2018 regular season game on the road this Sunday. The afternoon game will begin at 2 pm ET at MNP Park in Ottawa, where the Rush will clash with their provincial rivals, the Outlaws.
Ottawa has improved this season in practically every category other than wins. The 2017 Outlaws won 2 games, but there were only 2 other games that they lost by 2 or fewer points. This year’s Outlaws have only won 2 games, but they’ve lost a whopping 5 games by 2 or fewer points. They’ve been closer this year, even if they haven’t gotten the job done.
The 2018 Outlaws have been more efficient with the disc, ending 44 percent of possessions with a score instead of a turnover. That number was a much-poorer 41 percent last year. The Outlaws have already scored more break goals in 2018 than they scored in 2017.
Ottawa is still led by the usual suspects. Derek Alexander is the wizard veteran thrower, and he already has more assists, with 56, in 2018 than the 46 he threw in 2017. Bretton Tan defended him brilliantly in the last Ontario matchup, and Tan will not play on Sunday due to injury. Alec Arsenault remains an athletically gifted receiver for Ottawa who is on pace to match his number of goals in 2017 by the end of the year. However, Karl Loiseau’s return from France and Greg Ellis’ move from Toronto have given the Outlaws a larger variety of threats on the offensive line.
Ottawa has improved dramatically this season, and they’ve even tested Toronto this year. The Outlaws lost in Toronto this May by only two points, and the two teams were even tied 19-19 before Toronto scored the final two points of the game. In 2017, Toronto beat Ottawa by a combined 18 points in three games.
The issue has been that the division has improved along with Ottawa. The Outlaws are dramatically better in 2018, but so too are the Empire, Royal, and Phoenix. The Toronto Rush have improved as well, and they’ve already clinched first place in the division, including the corresponding first-round playoff bye. The Rush will prioritize leaving Sunday’s game healthy, rather than straining their players.
Ottawa still has a chance to improve on their 2017 win total. After hosting Toronto this Sunday, they will travel to Montreal the following weekend for their final regular season game. The Outlaws crave that third win so that their win-loss column displays the improvement they’ve showed in every other area. Toronto will not be gifted an easy game.
To help prepare for the game, Ottawa captain Nick Boucher kindly lent me a few minutes to discuss the matchup. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Louis Zatzman: This team is better than last season's, in practically every measure except wins (so far). How do you balance pride in a step forward with the inability to thus far improve on 2017's win total?
Nick Boucher: The goal of every team/individual is to improve game over game, and we believe that is something that we have done over these past 2 years, both as individuals and as a team. It’s definitely frustrating not to see any returns on our hard work in terms of wins, but the difference between wins and losses are so small in this league, that a few bounces either way can define a team’s season. The mentality that we need to continue to take is focusing on ourselves improving as ultimate players and as a team, and the wins will start to follow suit, be it this year or the next.
Louis: A lot of guys have taken steps forward this year, but none more than Paul Mensah. After leading the team in gym attendance coming into the season, he's developed into a top defender. How do you envision his developmental future in the sport?
Nick: Paul has definitely made some big strides this season. He’s always been super athletic, but in the past has just relied on his athleticism to make plays. While he’s definitely worked hard to keep that athletic edge on his marks, it’s his development in understanding the game that has made him a nightmare matchup this year. He's starting to anticipate what his marks’ next move will be, which is such an important piece of being a good defender. After that, he can use his superior athleticism to close any distance and come up with a block. As he continues to grow, he will be able to lock down some of the top players in our division, which is the most important piece to a good defensive line.
Louis: You've played two Rush games, one close and one not. Which is more predictive of this game, and how do you use both data points coming into this final Rush game?
Nick: I'd like to think that this game will be more similar to our first game against them, when we had a great comeback, but fell just short. We are looking back at both games to see where our success came from, but also where we struggled. The Rush are extremely talented from top to bottom and are relentless with their pressure. In order for teams to hang around with them, we have to be ready to play four full quarters.
Louis: How do you see the East playoffs playing out?
Nick: The East has been a real toss up this year, aside from Toronto, so it should definitely be a wild couple of weeks. If I had to guess though, I think the Rush come out of the East once again. I think throughout the course of the season, they have showed they are better than the rest of the teams piling up behind them, and will continue to show that come playoff time.
Ottawa (12 games played)
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders:||Block Leaders:|
Derek Alexander – 56
|Alec Arsenault – 49
Karl Loiseau – 36
Greg Ellis – 30
|Paul Mensah – 19
Paul Renaud – 16
Nick Boucher – 15
Toronto (12 games played)
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders:||Block Leaders:|
|Andrew Carroll – 27
Cam Harris – 25
Ben Oort – 24
|Isaiah Masek-Kelly – 16
Cam Harris – 15
Iain MacKenzie – 15