May 22, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Even though the final score between the Toronto Rush and the D.C Breeze ballooned to 33-20 for the home side, there were a variety of bumps along the road. Commitment to the system allowed the Rush to prevail behind strong games from Ben Oort, Jeremy Norden, and Mike MacKenzie, among others.
The Rush offered a heartwarming moment before the game, as Jay Boychuk was announced as the team’s player of the month of April before the game. He amassed eleven goals and four assists while splitting time between offence and defence during the team’s first four games. Team owner Jim Lloyd and corporate sponsors, Jamie Dempster and Michael Pezzack, announced a donation in Boychuk’s name made to Elites Ultimate. The money will be used to benefit youth ultimate in Toronto.
Toronto started the game in a zone, forcing endless passes from the Breeze O-Line, before Brett Tan found a poach D directly on the goal line to claim possession. The defensive offence methodically moved the disc up the field, culminating in Marijo Zlatic throwing a break-side scoober to Iain MacKenzie, who bid for the disc, slightly behind him, to catch the highlight goal. With the dam broken on the first point, highlights would come fast and furious for the rest of the game.
Though another break would put Toronto up 2-0, Toronto would soon encounter some difficulties. The score reached 4-3 after a series of offensive holds, though a Rush drop on the centering pass after a pull allowed an easy Breeze break. The next play saw another DC break, as a swing pass from Andrew Carroll to Oort found the ground. DC converted yet another break goal after Brett Tan chased down a monster huck, skying for a ridiculous catch in the air, before throwing a dump pass to the ground.
The Rush finally scored an offensive hold to pull within one point, 5-6, and Isaiah Masek-Kelly made sure that was the final score of the first quarter. A Breeze huck with time expiring found the pile in the endzone, but Masek-Kelly leaped head, shoulders, and torso above the crowd.
Masek-Kelly is an important swing piece for the Rush. His athleticism is valuable for the Rush on either side of the disc, and in 2017, he was perhaps the most important piece of the D-Line. Coach Raina decided to move him onto the offence for 2018, in part because of his ability to reclaim the disc after an offensive turnover. Against D.C, Raina moved Masek-Kelly back to the D-Line to incredible effect.
Raina explained that Masek-Kelly missed practice all week (for legitimate reasons), and the seven that practiced offence together were flowing beautifully. Raina decided to try Masek-Kelly on the defence in part to allow those seven to stay together; the move was successful against D.C, and the embarrassment of riches in Toronto will make for some hard rotation questions in upcoming weeks.
Back to the game, the second quarter began in typical Rush fashion, with a Cam Harris huck finding Carroll just short of the endzone. Thomson McKnight punched a goal into Ben Oort a moment later – a common thread in the first half of the game. Oort caught a variety of goals in the first half, finishing with six in the game and earning Toronto player of the game award in the process.
Following McKnight’s assist to Oort, the Rush defence took over, as Bomber Powell and Jonathan Edwards provided boosts with key blocks during a pair of Toronto defensive breaks, putting the Rush in the lead again, 8-6.
Coach Sachin Raina was rewarded for his trust in his guys, despite their early mistakes. “There was a couple turns early, and a couple breaks early, but it wasn't like the O Line was getting beat. They were just beating themselves, so there was no need to panic.”
The next Rush offensive point saw Thomson McKnight cutting deep for a huck. McKnight’s legs were a major feature of the game, as his cutting offered the Rush a key boost. That the center handler took off deep didn’t impact the Rush’s ability to maintain possession of the disc, as Connor Armstrong was dominant handling, throwing 36 completions without a turnover on the game.
“I obviously started as a handler, running out there, and they were jumping off me, so I got downfield, and the guys were hitting me. I'll take it,” said McKnight.
More defensive plays allowed the Rush to push the score, as Masek-Kelly dunked on another pair of Breeze cutters and Jaret Meron forced a stall count with terrific handler defence on the mark. Both plays resulted in another pair of breaks, running the lead to 11-7.
Oort caught another pair of goals, including one with a Breeze defender riding his back. The defence was not to be outdone, as Mike MacKenzie threw a half-field backhand huck to Tan for a goal, before milking his own goal on the next point. MacKenzie’s throwing was stellar in the game, as he finished with an uncommon three assists, despite playing exclusively as a D-Line cutter. Two of his assists came via hucks, one flick and one backhand.
“The one thing I've been trying to work on the most is my throwing, because it hasn't been where it needs to be and still isn't. This year I just grinded the throwing out, and that's one of the big reasons I can do that now,” explained MacKenzie. His teammates weren’t surprised by his success in the game, noting that in practice, his throwing has been at this level for a long time.
Meanwhile, Oort caught yet another goal, this time after Ben Burelle and Armstrong played give-and-go down most of the field. The Rush took a lead of 17-11 into halftime, as the final play – yet again – proved to be a Masek-Kelly monster block in the endzone, closing the door on any opportunity for a buzzer beater for the visitors.
The third quarter began with yet more highlights, as Jason Huynh forced a turnover with his perfect defence on the dump option. He then threw a too-high pass for Tan, who jumped out of the gym to bring in another goal. He would finish with three on the game, collecting another goal only moments later from Huynh with another break goal.
Even when it wasn’t working, it ended fine for Torono. On the next offensive point, they ran a pull play out of the side stack looking to get Carroll receiving the disc under and hitting Ben Oort running deep. That didn’t work, and the offence looked cramped and awkward for several passes in a row. Eventually Burelle got the disc, throwing a floaty pass to Cam Harris in tight coverage. The pass was admittedly poor, but Harris caught it anyway, giving the Rush another goal and Raina likely another aneurysm in the process.
A series of holds ended the quarter, only interrupted by a DC break. Toronto flung a huck to Carroll, who had oodles of space on his defender, but it drifted in the air for far too long, and multiple defenders were able to catch up to him. The final point saw Toronto fail to convert, as Jaret Meron failed to swing the disc to Norden with only moments remaining, instead choosing to throw up a 50/50 ball that Toronto couldn’t catch. Sachin was again furious, despite the Rush leading 22-16 with only one quarter remaining.
The fourth quarter constituted a collapse for the Breeze. The Rush rampaged to an 11-4 quarter with some ridiculous layouts from its players. Cam Harris bid for a gorgeous goal on the first point of the quarter, but Mike MacKenzie upstaged him a few points later. Powell threw a disc that seemed well out of MacKenzie’s reach, but MacKenzie’s breathtaking closing speed allowed him to get within a few feet, and his layout captivated the crowd. His seemingly impossible catch was the first of a series of six breaks in seven points.
Toronto put the clamps on a would-be divisional rival. Toronto has knocked D.C out of the playoffs in two consecutive years. Furthermore, the Rush deflated any wind in the Breeze sails after their massive win over preseason league-favourite, Raleigh, in their previous game. Toronto would win yet another game on the weekend, as D.C would lose yet another in Montreal. The Rush continue rolling, and they must be clear league favourites at this point in the season, with relatively stiffer competition than their fellow undefeated team, the Madison Radicals.