Sunday, December 23, 2007

Talking with Trainor- Dan Fassina


Fresh off a UPA Masters Championship with DoG, Dan Fassina took the time to answer some of my questions about the game we all enjoy.

Montreal's Fassina becomes the first Canadian resident to win the UPA Masters. This was possible because his club team Mephisto was not active in the Fall series, and because Dan is good enough to play with DoG. He's represented Canada at Worlds (as recently as 2004 with the Masters team) and Mephisto has been a final four presence at Canadian nationals for over ten years.

What's the secret to his longevity? What are his opinions on other players, teams and the state of the game? Read on.

  • I've been advised you were on DOG's Masters team this year. True?

Yes, my regular club team, Mephisto, didn’t participate in UPA Fall Series this year so I put myself out on the “free agent” market and I was fortunate enough to be invited to play for DoG.

  • Describe the experience of playing with DoG?

It was an absolutely amazing experience. When I committed to playing with DoG my main goal was to get a chance to play with some of the players that I looked up to when I was learning the sport in the late 90’s. I was also hoping to get a chance to finally play at UPAs. I didn’t realistically expect that we would win the whole tournament.

It was a huge rush to get to play with legends of the game like Parinella, Alex De Frondeville, Steve Mooney, Paul Greff, Seeger, Lenny, John Bar and Jeff Brown. These guys also know so much about ultimate; I can’t imagine that there is a group of players more knowledgeable about ultimate than these guys. I tried to be a sponge around them and absorb as much information as I could.

  • What teams/strategies impressed you?

I was impressed with all of the teams that we played. I expected a few of the teams to be stacked, with it being a Worlds qualifying year but I didn’t expect all of the teams to be as strong as they were. Ten of the twelve teams had a realistic chance of winning the tournament. Going into UPAs I was thinking to myself, “it’s Masters, it’ll be easy,” but there were a lot of players still capable of playing top level ultimate. Surly had a handful of guys who were on Sub-Zero and BAT last year, Boneyard had some former Ring of Fire guys and OLD SAG was loaded with guys straight out of the Philly open scene; all of whom chose Masters this year to try to qualify for Worlds.

As for strategies, most of the teams ran the standard plays that you would see anywhere else in ultimate. It was all standard vertical or horizontal stack. It seemed like a lot of the Masters players were new to the division and have brought their plays and strategies from the Open game with them. The strategy that actually impressed me the most was our own offense. It was straight out of the 1994 DoG Playbook. It hasn’t changed since then; it is so basic and it shouldn’t work but we just shredded through defenses with it.

  • What does DoG do differently that any teams you have played with?

The big difference between DoG and any other team I’ve played on is the professional work ethic that they bring to every game. The focus that they bring to each game and the confidence in their abilities and training is unparalleled. I’m sure it’s largely a byproduct of their history of success but for them there is never any doubt about the outcome of a game. They are never disrespectful to the opposition but it’s more a sense that no matter how well the other team will play, DoG will play better. It’s a mentality that they back up with ridiculous amounts of hard work and effort.

  • Moving on to National stuff, how was your Worlds 2004 experience?

Worlds in Finland were a great experience. The Finns did a great job hosting the tournament and really made all the teams feel like they were taking part in a World class event. It was a lot of fun to play against all the teams that I had never faced before like the Japanese, the Brits, the Swedes and even the American team, which was based out of Miami, whom I’d never faced before. It was really interesting to see how other countries approach the sport. Another thing I’ll never forget about that Worlds were the fields. Turku had the best fields I have ever played on; the amount of maintenance they put into their fields is comparable to what golf courses do over here.

  • Would you like a second chance to win Masters gold at Worlds? Can Canada do it in 2008?

Since I normally play Open I think I’d rather have a chance to help Canada win gold in Open but if that doesn’t happen I would definitely relish a second shot at Masters gold. It will be difficult for the Canadian Masters team to beat the US in Vancouver but we do have the talent to pull it off. I think it’s too early to really talk about it because a lot depends on which players DoG and Tombstone will pickup to strengthen their rosters.

  • What's your strongest asset as a player?

That’s a tough question to answer. In my mind every part of my game is an asset but what goes on in my mind and reality aren’t always the same. I’d have to say at this point in my career my biggest asset is the experience that I’ve picked up over the years; it helps get me out of dicey situations, helps me get into the right positions on the field, lets me make the correct throw choices (most of the time), allows me to exploit other players weaknesses and minimize my own.

  • What's the most underrated skill in ultimate?

I’ve always been a very defensive minded player so I’m a little biased to that part of the game. I think the most underrated skill in ultimate is the ability to play strong silent defense. Players who play silent defense are easily overlooked because they aren’t getting big layout blocks and you don’t notice them since their player won’t get thrown to. But put a bunch of players with that ability on the field and you won’t need the big blocks, you’ll just pressure the opposition into turning it over on their own.

  • What was your take on nationals 2007? What teams impress/disappointed you?

I was happy with the overall level of play of most of the teams but there is still too large of a gap between the top teams and the middle and bottom of the pack. I think there were too many teams in the tournament; I’m a big believer that Nationals should be a competitive tournament and not an expensive, party tournament. It makes it difficult to attract teams like Furious and Calgary to Nationals every year when half their games aren’t even a challenge and I really can’t blame them for only coming when Worlds is on the line. I think it’s a huge problem for Canadian ultimate right now. The focus since Nationals in Montreal in 2003 seems to be to try to have the most mind blowing party rather than on hosting the most competitive tournament. CUPA has to decide which way it wants to go because it can’t have both.

I’ll get back on topic though; of course Invictus, Goat and Furious were very impressive but there were a few other teams that impressed me, especially Red Circus. They gave us a really tough game, they had a good mix of experienced handlers and really athletic receivers. They were just missing that little bit to really breakthrough to the next level.

  • Montreal Stuff.. how was the name Mephisto created? Are you an Original Member?

I wasn’t there when the captains came up with the name. I believe the story was that Mark “Shaggy” Zimmerl and the other captains sat around for hours trying to come up with a team name but couldn’t come to any sort of consensus. When everyone was on the way out the door Shaggy mentioned it was a shame they couldn’t come up with a name because he had this great drawing of Mephisto that he wanted to use as the logo. Right there everyone knew they had found the name. That happened in ’95 but Mephisto didn’t field their first regular team until ’96. I didn’t have anything to do with the team until ’96 so I don’t know if that qualifies me for original member status but it puts me pretty close. It also makes me feel a bit old. Shaggy and I are the only two players from ‘96 who are still on the team.

  • How did you start playing ultimate?

I started playing ultimate in the fall of ’95 with the Concordia University Ski Team. We did it as a team building activity during dryland training. It just so happened that the field where we played was on the way home from work for Shaggy. Ever few days he would stop off and play a few points with us. Over the course of the fall he managed to convince a few of us to come to Mephisto tryouts in ’96. The fact that I managed to make Mephisto with little to no experience is more a testament to how bad we were that year than of anything else. It’s been really exciting to have been on the team from pretty much day one and to have been involved in building the team from nothing to a perennial semi-finalist at Nationals.

  • What's the best Mephisto team ever (year)? Why?

Mephisto has had some really strong teams over the years. A couple that come to mind are the 1999 edition, which was the first Mephisto team that made semis at Nationals and the 2007 edition which made semis despite numerous injuries and a large number of rookies. But my vote for strongest team would go to the 2000 edition. We had a lot of great players on that team and it was the year that we finally managed to get the upper hand on Toronto when we beat Yes in the quarters.

  • What is your opinion on the state of ultimate in Montreal? Quebec?

The Montreal ultimate scene has grown tremendously over the past decade. My first year playing there were only 8 teams in the league and in 2007 there were something like 150 teams. That's just the summer leagues; there are now all sorts of fall and winter leagues thanks to the explosion of both indoor and outdoor field-turf fields in the Montreal area. Probably the largest part of this growth is thanks to the increase in Francophone players in Montreal. When I started playing, ultimate was almost exclusively a sport for English speaking university kids but it's finally starting to reach more people. A lot of the Anglophone kids would play in the league for a few years and then go back home once they were finished school whereas the Francophone players are more likely to stay in Montreal since they are already home.

Currently the Montreal league is being managed by some very capable people and I can only imagine that this tremendous growth is going to continue despite the same old challenges like field availability.

This growth obviously has a trickle down effect on the level of competitive ultimate in Montreal. Mephisto's success for so many years was on the backs of students at McGill who would spend three or four years in Montreal and then move back home. That's obviously not the best way to try to build a team but it was very tough to find the talent to play at the level we wanted without relying on those players. We finally have enough local talent to build a team almost exclusively with Montreal based players; that can only be beneficial to Mephisto.

There are a lot of other teams and leagues in Quebec that are starting to develop into strong programs. The challenge for them will be to gain the experience playing high level ultimate that will really help push their growth forward. The big difficulty is that the demographic reality of Quebec is that the types of people who currently have this experience are more likely to leave the province than to move to it. As the talent pool continues to grow in Quebec there will continue to be a dispersal of this ultimate experience from Quebecers who move within the province. It's a slower process than importing a top level player into your city but you can finally start to see the results of this as some pretty solid teams are emerging from places like Quebec City, Sherbrooke, etc..

  • Who's the best player in Montreal right now?

That’s a tough question to answer. I guess it depends on how you define the best player. According to my definition, it’s clearly me. Seriously though, it’s either Shaggy or Eric St-Amant. Shaggy is a remarkable player who has managed to play at the top level of the sport for a really long time. He was picked up by Goat for their latest Fall Series run and was used as a handler on the O line. Eric was also picked up by Goat this past fall; he is a machine. He’s relatively new to the game but anybody who scares the opposition as much as he does deserves to be considered among the best.

Pictured: Erik St. Amant and Mark "Shaggy" Zimmeral (#5)
Photo Source: Craig Stephen Photography

1 comment:

moses said...

Nice interviews! I think this one and the one with Lugsdin are some of the best recent blog entries out there. Keep 'em coming!