May 17, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
The Toronto Rush will finally have a home game. They’ll bring a perfect 4-0 record into their first ever bout at Monarch Stadium, in the East End of Toronto, against the D.C Breeze.
This will be the first game Toronto and D.C have played since Toronto’s 2017 playoff victory. Toronto – sporting much the same roster – won behind their standard fare of all-around excellence. Three players tied for the most team assists, with four, while defensive wiz Mike MacKenzie caught five goals to lead the team. D.C offered a similar egalitarian showing, though many of the Breeze’s best players – including Alan Kolick and Tyler Monroe – are no longer on the roster.
Saturday’s rematch will be a significant game for the Breeze’s season outlook. They are coming off of a signature win over the Raleigh Flyers, but the Rush offer an entirely different challenge.
“The week before, we were playing New York, and obviously they have a lot of firepower with Beau and Babbitt and Jagt. Harper Garvey. For us, we learned some lessons playing that team and seeing what we could do to restrict a team based on such sheer height and athleticism. When we played Raleigh we thought, ok, they have a similar profile,” explained coach Darryl Stanley. “Against Toronto, I think [the gameplan] has to [change]. Toronto is a very balanced team.”
Toronto’s balance has been their chief weapon, and D.C will be hard-pressed to match Toronto up and down the roster, especially considering they’ll be on the first leg of a two-game road trip. Coach Stanley will look to limit some players’ minutes, while also playing a few guys in only one of the two games, in order to keep the team as fresh as possible. That will assuredly be an advantage for Toronto.
The Breeze, on the other hand, will be led first and foremost by Rowan McDonnell. After a ten-goal performance against Raleigh, it’s increasingly clear that nothing can slow the athletic cutter. Coach Stanley, for one, is not surprised at McDonnell’s explosion.
“This is exactly the outcome I expected from Rowan. I am not surprised in any way. With looking at what he was able to do for us last year on the D-Line, then extending into the club season, I realized I had this incredible player, with a great work ethic, he'll fix whatever skill or issue he might have in his game. He'll fix it within three months. I knew that I probably had a top-5, top-3 player in this league, and all I had to do was say, you know what Rowan? You're going to be featured now.”
Toronto will likely guard McDonnell with the same primary defenders they used on Antoine Davis in the FlameThrowers game, as both cutters represent similar threats. Geoff Powell, Jonathan Martin, and others will get chances on McDonnell, and Toronto will certainly rotate different bodies onto the devastating cutter throughout the game. If McDonnell can be contained, that would almost certainly spell victory for Toronto. That D.C will be without their center handler on offensive, Nate Prior, will add yet more throwing responsibilities onto McDonnell’s broad shoulders.
If anything has been a weakness for the Rush on the young season, it’s been a tendency towards unforced offensive errors. While the O-Line has offered some glimpses of offensive flow smoother than Rowan McDonnell’s hair, it has also occasionally tended towards uncharacteristic turnovers. The fourth quarter of Toronto’s game against Montreal was an example of Toronto almost beating itself.
Curtailing that instinct will be important. Against San Francisco, the offensive line threw practically no turnovers. Coach Sachin Raina will try to recapture that level of focus even when the team isn’t playing in a finals rematch.
The Toronto home opener will provide lots of entertainment beyond the product on the field. Left Field Brewery, one of the best breweries in Ontario, will offer in-stadium beverages, while the patio will be entertained by live music from James Karfilis. The Philippine Heritage Marching Band will bring yet more excitement. Finally, a new mascot will be introduced during the game.
The game begins at 6:30 PM, and there are still tickets available.
To help set the stage for the game, Noah Fleischman, writer for the D.C Breeze, was kind enough to offer his time. The discussion below is only lightly edited.
Louis Zatzman: Rowan, man. Too early for some MVP buzz?
Noah Fleischman: If you ask him, that is a yes – too early. If you ask Darryl, it’s not at all. Darryl thinks that Rowan should be in the MVP talk; he has been saying this since the Ottawa game! The Raleigh game definitely showed why he should be. He is the center of the offense, but if he is not open, then there are a couple other guys that can make space (ie, Jeff Wodatch)
Louis: The Raleigh game was the start of the real meat of the Breeze's schedule, in which they play Toronto, Montreal, New York, travel to Pittsburgh, then Toronto, Toronto. It's got to feel good to start the stretch with a W, but how predictive will the next five or six games be for the Breeze's playoff chances?
Noah: This is a crucial part of the schedule and it will definitely predict if D.C can hang with the top dogs in the AUDL. The rematch with New York will be a huge game at home, if D.C can win for the first time in Toronto then that will show the entire AUDL that they are here to play. The home win against Raleigh was crucial to avoid losing two in a row, but it also showed that a big D.C lead can slip very easily.
Louis: Did watching Toronto dismantle San Francisco put fear in the fans/writers/players of all other East opponents?
Noah: Nobody has been talking about the big win in San Francisco down here from what I can tell. Their goal this week is to win for the first time in Toronto, as nobody on the team has done so.
Louis: Call it.
Noah: I think that it will be a tight game, as all D.C games have been so far, but I would give the edge to Toronto because of the long trip up to Canada.
The line: Tor (-3.5) vs D.C (+3.5), per AUDL pick’em