June 19, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
Fresh off of their first loss in 2018, the Toronto Rush were not going to take the Ottawa Outlaws lightly. Though they began slowly, even tied at 10-10 midway through the second quarter, the Rush dominated the rest of the game. The final score was 27-17 for Toronto, as the Rush were even able to shut down some of their top guys towards the end in preparation for Sunday’s clash against New York. For now, the battle for Ontario remains firmly one-sided.
Andrew Carroll led the Rush offensively with four assists and four goals, while Bretton Tan led the team on defence. Tan amassed three blocks, but he forced countless other turnovers with his stifling defence on Ottawa’s top dogs, Derek Alexander and Karl Loiseau.
The Rush game started as sloppily as any yet on the season. Jaret Meron, Jason Huynh, and Iain MacKenzie swatted Ottawa hucks, but the defensive offence was immediately willing to give it back with a trio of turnovers of their own. With Cam Harris resting in preparation for the Empire game on Sunday, and Isaiah Masek-Kelly filling in on the D-Line, the Rush defence was woefully without a dominant initiation cutter.
While the Rush offence scored with ease, the defence continued their early struggles. Jonathan Edwards tracked down a huck to swat it away, but the Rush again failed to convert from the defensive line.
Though not dominating with the defence, Masek-Kelly was incredibly effective on the offensive side. Andrew Carroll threw him a lofting huck that allowed a second defender to reach the disc, but Masek-Kelly easily elevated above both to even the score at 2-2.
After an easy Outlaws hold, a Rush misthrow led to an Ottawa break, and the home team suddenly found themselves in a 2-4 hold only halfway through the first quarter. As a group of defensive players took the field to play offence for the Rush, Ottawa used a zone to disallow any deep shots. Patience won the day, as Jeff Lindquist and Jeremy Norden calmly moved the disc down the field for a clean hold.
The following offensive point provided a thrill to the crowd, as Nate Hirst picked off a dump pass in Ottawa’s own endzone for the rare and humiliating Callahan.
On the other side, Alec Arsenault was proving unguardable for the Outlaws offence. Without Marijo Zlatic, Mike MacKenzie, Jonathan Martin, or Bomber Powell playing, the Rush were left without their traditional options defending Arsenault. He amassed 3 goals in just the first quarter, as Ottawa took a 7-5 lead to the second quarter.
Ottawa provided the first highlight of the second quarter, as Paul Mensah tracked a Nate Hirst deep shot to Andrew Carroll. Mensah stayed with the Toronto speedster, notching a shoulder-high layout block. Regardless, Carroll caught a goal only a moment later to win the point.
The following point finally saw Toronto’s defence convert a break goal. Norden ripped away the disc in the endzone for Toronto, and Jonathan Edwards and Dan LaFrance played give-and-go all the way down the field for the goal. Tied at 7-7, Toronto finally had some urgency. Ottawa used it to their advantage, throwing fake passes on the following point that juked Toronto defenders from one side of the field to the other during Ottawa’s clean offensive hold.
On offence for Toronto, Hugh Knapp and Nate Hirst showed outstanding chemistry, finding each other on break throws, before taking off with quick handler cuts. They rinsed and repeated all the way down the field for a goal. The next offensive point saw Hirst – with his defender committing to an in-cut, remembering the previous embarrassment – break deep for a Knapp flick that drifted into his basket for the goal.
“We have a history,” said Hirst of Knapp. “When I heard he was going to come to the Rush, when Sachin told me, I was so fired up. So far, three out of the four World's teams I've played on have had Hugh on them. I've always been O-Line with him, so we've got a good thing going.”
With the game again tied, Karl Loiseau skied over Iain MacKenzie for a catch near the endzone, finding Adam O’Donnell to push Ottawa ahead 10-9. Toronto responded, as Thomson McKnight faked a handler cut before striking deep. An unmarked Knapp aired the backhand all the way down the field, but it hung several seconds too long in the air. Khalid Al-Zahrani tracked it down, but contact on the block gave Toronto the disc for an easy goal.
Toronto took its first lead of the game as veteran Lindquist tracked down a huck for a block in the endzone. Later on the same point, Edwards poached into the lane for a block on an up-line cut, and Jacky Hau led Nick Dacquisto into the endzone to put Toronto ahead 11-10.
The Rush defence forced yet another turnover on the following point, and Toronto used its second timeout of the game to put the offence on the field. Rookie Drew Wilson lofted a flick in front of Nate Hirst in the endzone, and Hirst raced ahead of the quickly closing Paul Mensah for another break goal. With the flood gates open, Brett Tan locked down an Outlaw handler, swiping the disc out of the air on a reset. The defence played turbo down the field before Dacquisto leaped above two Ottawa defenders in the endzone, pushing Toronto ahead 13-10 heading into halftime.
Tan was Toronto’s MVP against Ottawa. His defence on handling star Derek Alexander was critical.
“It's the product of having watched him so much, and hearing so much about him, I just know what he wants to do,” said Tan of his success defending Alexander. “I really just spend my time anticipating those throws, and really lock in on those. It looks like I'm one step ahead of him, when really I'm just kind of trying to think like him.”
Asked for an example of how Tan thought the game, he described a play in which Tan forced a stall from Alexander: “He gets the swing [on the sideline], I know first he's going to look for the around. He has a really low backhand around. I'm going to jump that first. At the same time, as soon as he's holding it flat, if he's holding it on his flick side, but holding it like a backhand, I know he's looking push pass. Right away, I'm going to shade that, and I'm just going to wait. I'm just going to wait. As soon as he goes to raise his hand, I'm going to jump on it.”
Alexander agreed that Tan was successful, giving him credit after the game. “He gets all the credit for his athleticism, but he has a lot more brains and wit on the field that puts him in the right positions. There's a lot of guys that can cover me speed-wise, but he's one of the smarter ones, so he's got two advantages on me.”
Halftime couldn’t slow the Rush momentum. Tan continued his stifling handler defence, and a timely Jaret Meron double-team forced Ottawa into a cross-field hammer that fell short. Tan’s cutting drove Toronto down the field, as he found Edwards for the first goal of the third quarter.
Derek Alexander began the next point with a turnover on a poorly placed pop pass, but he bid threw the lane for an incredible block to retrieve the disc for Ottawa. The Outlaws weren’t able to convert, as Iain MacKenzie blocked a huck and then stretched deep for a goal thrown from Masek-Kelly. MacKenzie’s bookends put Toronto up 15-10.
Karl Loiseau stabilized the bleeding for Ottawa. Tan handblocked him, but an Outlaw still caught the disc. Loiseau shot deep, and he rose over Tan for the contested catch. Though Tan again handblocked the next pass, Ottawa finally held for a goal. Tan and Loiseau embraced after the point in mutual respect.
“I get a piece of [the huck], but he just roofs me. Ah,” moaned Tan after the game. “Then it gets on the goal line, and I look over my left shoulder and see his cutter coming inside. He goes for the lefty. I swing, get another piece, but nope… I'm like, Karl, please let me get one on you. We just laugh at each other, hug, and walk it off.”
A few offensive holds followed, but the Rush were the next team to score a break point. The Outlaws stalled out, and Tan again shouldered the responsibilities after the turn, cutting all the way down the field before catching the goal to push the Rush ahead 18-12.
More clean play followed. Alec Arsenault continued his pristine cutting for Ottawa, while Toronto’s offence was equally impressive. Carroll, in particular, cut the Outlaws defence to shreds as defenders backed him by outrageous distances to disallow his deep strikes. Ahead 20-13 at the end of the third quarter, the Rush had settled in with calm play and calmer moods.
Just like after half, time away from the game didn’t slow the Rush steamroller in the least. The final frame began with the Rush offence perfectly running a pull play, as Masek-Kelly found Carroll deep in the endzone on a picture-perfect huck. There were no defenders within 20 yards of the striking Carroll. The defence responded, scoring yet another break. Toronto led 22-13, and the game was officially a rout.
Though a Though a 27-17 victory may seem like business as usual for the Rush, it’s important to note that this game was important in a number of ways. Of course, the Rush redeemed a defeat with a win. With Hugh Knapp now firmly stationed on the offence, the Rush also proved that an offence sporting a variety of natural handlers in Thomson McKnight, Knapp, Connor Armstrong, and potentially even Nate Hirst will still function smoothly.
“Thomson's just super super experienced, and can pretty much play anywhere, and knows exactly where to go to make sure everything's flowing well,” said Armstrong. “Same with Hugh. He's really good upfield as well. It definitely doesn't feel like there's too many of us backfield.”