Friday, August 21, 2009

ECC 2009 Open Review


Special thanks to Alex Davis of Furious George for being the first (hopefully of many) guest writers to submit an article to our website.

Alex Davis (Nicknamed the 'T-1000') has extensive experience with both the Ontario and BC ultimate communities. Starting off in Ottawa, Alex has played competitive college (Queens) and club (Phoenix) before moving on to Vancouver (Blackfish and now Furious).

Self described as 'second string d-line cutter', Davis would have a tougher time downplay his IQ and dedication/work towards the game. Most notable is the excellent work he is putting towards the CUPA competition committee.

Congratulations to the following champions and to Ben Wiggins/ECC staff for their work on the tournament this year:
  • Open- Revolver (Bay Area)
  • Mixed- Mental Toss Flycoons (Missoula, MT)
  • Womens- RIOT (Seattle)

The Emerald City Classic (ECC) has grown over the years into a celebrated pre-series tune-up tournament for heavyweight UPA hopefuls, now regularly attended by the top Sarasota finishers in Open, Mixed, and Women's divisions. In 2005, Japan's rising stars -- the Buzz Bullets -- began making the annual trip to hone themselves against the UPA's finest. Now in its ninth year, ECC has again expanded its international presence by adding star teams from Colombia, Japan, and the U.K. to its most competitive talent pool ever.

The bulk of the tournament took place at a sprawling field complex in Bellingham, Washington, with an optional day of exhibition rounds staged in Seattle's Magnusson Park. Following Thursday's bonus games and jamboree, each team was assigned a draw of six opponents over Friday and Saturday such that an unbroken chain of match-ups in each division made it theoretically possible to rank all the teams in attendance. The results were then used to decide Sunday's playoff brackets. This format, true to the tournament's tune-up origins, is designed to pit teams against as many unfamiliar opponents as possible, allowing them to test their strategy, adaptibility and grit against many different styles. Naming a champion is a secondary concern; gaining needed experience is the real reason everyone comes here.

Clapham, Kie, Furious, and GOAT kicked off the tournament's exhibition games on a grey, sprinkling Thursday afternoon in Seattle's Magnusson park. Furious met GOAT and Clapham in two close battles that made for a suitable overture to a weekend of tight matches. Although neither team had its full roster present, the clash between Furious and GOAT still suitably embodied the rivalries and friendships that spanned several world championships and university careers. Ben Wiggins succinctly said the match "looked intense from the beggining, with neither team willing to give an inch." Tied at 10-10, Furious and GOAT repeatedly exchanged possessions in a war of cross-Canadian frustration until GOAT finally managed to squeeze out the last two goals. These would be the two most reckless points either team afforded for the rest of the weekend; turnovers were frequently and swiftly punished at the Emerald City Classic.

A rainy dinner break was followed by an evening public showcase series of jamboree rounds (JamborECC) alongside Sockeye, Riot, Underground, and Revolucion. The combined weather, camaraderie, and intensity of these match-ups created a comically schizoid arena of joking fun and fierce competition. Most players could not fathom what compelled them to exhaust themselves on the eve of a three-day tournament, but most threw caution to the wind and exhausted themselves anyway.


Furious George's first day of official tournament play brought them games against Jam (17-16), PoNY(16-15) and Chain Lightning (13-15) in nearly six straight hours of gritty play. A similar story was heard all around the fields, in which only Ironside managed to remain undefeated. Whether the wind picked up or the rain spattered made little difference. A retrospective glance at the scores shows that geographical commonalities and team rivalries made the strongest difference. Some teams just knew each other's weaknesses; other teams just stumbled into each other for epic struggles, clumsily trying to figure out how to wrest the disc from each other's fingers. Only a few precious turnovers decided many games.

GOAT managed wins against PoNY (14-7) and Clapham (15-12), but suffered a narrow loss to Johnny Bravo (14-15).


Saturday brought Furious up against Ironside (12-15), Sockeye (8-15), and Rhino (15-11), in another marathon of battles that left the Monkey in an awkward five-way tie, sharing a 3-3 record. The tie was (somehow -- the mathematics of the situation was never fully explained) resolved by a hard-capped game to 5 points against Ring of Fire, with Ring starting on offense. Two offensive miscues by Furious handed the match to Ring at a disappointing score of (2-5), leaving the Monkey out of the quarter-finals.
GOAT collected wins against Rhino (12-11), Revolver (15-14), and Chain (15-8), securing a playoff berth.


Furious played out its placement games against Voodoo and Kie, and after trading stories and jerseys with the Colombians, moved in with the crowds to cheer on the playoffs. GOAT lost to their local rival and tournament favourite Ironside (11-14) in the quarter-final.

The playoffs echoed the theme of the rest of the tournament, with multiple universe-point decisions scattered throughout the brackets. They had become so commonplace by this time that few people spoke of upsets or surprises; a given team simply either found a way to its next game or failed. Fittingly, Revolver edged out Ironside in a 15-14 Open final victory.

In all of these games, the quality of ultimate was at its finest when it was arguably at its most boring -- sans turnovers -- for several stretches of several points at a time. O-lines elegantly and quickly moved the disc and send it to fast, confident, and well-positioned receivers. Energetic waves of D-lines would bid and contest every pass without much luck, and it was a pleasure to watch that efficiency, appreciating that everyone on the field was throwing their full effort into their specialty. I have never seen a more consistent demonstration of the costliness of just a few mistakes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2009 CUC Womens Final Review- Lotus Blossoms on Universe to win National Championship


The women's final was the last match of the 2009 CUC championships. It brought some of the most loyal and loud fans to the stadium, and was helped by the return of sunshine to the Winnipeg skies.

Joining Rahil Suleman and myself in the commentator booth was Lexi Marsh. Marsh, a former Lotus and Capitals player, brought an excellent resume as player (who knew both Lotus and Stella) and as a world juniors coach, and had the sort of positive personality to help our broadcast efforts.

I stepped out for part of the first half due to a CUPA board meeting, but returned to the booth and served as the 3rd person color when needed.

Women's Final- Lotus (Toronto) versus Stella (Ottawa)

One of the biggest rivalries in Canadian ultimate is also one of the best examples of teamwork and cooperation. These two teams, which battle each other all summer, annually combine their best players to compete in the UPA finals each fall. In 2007, they combined all summer to try to win a worlds birth at Canadian nationals that year (Losing in the finals to Vancouver's Traffic). These teams train together, work together to make tournaments like No Borders attractive to American teams, and are loyal to nationals every year.

Stella was the defending champion but entered the 2009 championship seeded 5th after a regionals loss to Lotus. Stella had been without some of their key players this season due to World Games committments, but all players would be in Winnipeg. Outside of a universe point 11-10 loss to Lotus in pool play, Stella sailed through round robin and playoffs, disposing of PPF in the quarters (11-5) and Storm in the semi-finals (10-4). The champs would be underdogs going into the final given their 0-3 record versus Lotus this year, but the universe point loss suggested Stella was peaking at the right moment.

Lotus had lost only one game all season (No Borders final against Boston's Brute Squad). Outside of games versus Stella and QUB, they remained relatively unchallenged in pool play. Playoffs saw pure dominance from Lotus, as they beat Fusion 15-1 in the quarters and a 15-3 whalloping over a promising Zephyr team from Vancouver.

Heading into the match, Lotus fans were concerned with a reported injury to Hadiya "Dee" Roderique. An injured ankle resulted in a hospital visit and a doubtful status for the finals. Given that ultimate players are notorious for overhyping their injuries for no apparent reason, everyone watched the warm up to see what the great striker was able to participate in. It turned out that Dee was still hurting and her play time was very limited.

I was able to see the back and forth nature of the first few points before heading out of the booth for a meeting. One of the biggest impressions made to me on the first few points was was the play of Martha Paterson. Paterson was clearly showing the ability to go deep and get open underneath, and I wondered how Stella was going to manage her. It made me think the tall striker from Traffic in 2007, whose deep play was unstoppable and really hurt the Capitals.

After a brief meeting (still able to catch the Anner Mercier Callaghan in the first half) I got to return to the booth and watch a great match. It seemed like no team could really make a big run on the other team. It was a 1-2 point the whole way. The key seemed to be the mental make up of the teams- Stella was calm and relaxed throughout the match, and was not the least bit intimidated at key moments. Lotus was equally relaxed, and not having challenges leading up to the finals did not pose a problem.

Stella was getting some great play from a number of different sources. Kate Cavallaro was playing at her best, being a very active cutter and scoring several points in both the second half. Sam Morris was taking the proverbial "next step", playing lights out defence with layouts, and showing her ability to produce on offence on turns. Cassie Bergquist was providing very intense marking in the lane and on the disc. Captain Jenna McBride was scoring points, playing hard d, and managing the lines. It was exhausting just watching her, but she was handling it well.

As the game progressed, Carly Bassett was really the player that stood out throughout the game for Stella, providing the kind of handler play (100% throws, getting open for east resets, working in perfect tandem with Marie Imbeault and Anne Mercier) that every team needs to win.

Lotus was being lead by some stellar veterans. Allyson Walker was showing the country why she is so highly regarded. She was all over the field on offence and on defence. Kaitlynn "Hoodie" Lovatt seemed to be the player Stella had trouble matching up against. Her ability to get open at will in the second half was proving either points or free resets to Toronto. Winnipeg native Malissa Lundgren (who had a great performance at No Borders) is making her mark this game with absolutely huge pulls into the Stella endzone on each defensive point.

Outside of the dominance of Walker/Lovatt, the unsung hero is Laurel Berkowitz. Number 5 from Lotus has a very tough task- shut down Anne Mercier. Point after point, she's doing it, especially in the second half. A couple of key turns for Stella come from trying to force it in to their Mercier, and Berkowitz is getting d's preventing the pass, and shutting down the big throws from Anne before she gets it. Only when Lotus opts for a zone is Mercier able to really contribute.

Further, one of the most dangerous players in the game (Kate Crump) is not the focal point of Stella O. Lotus leadership has devised a game plan to prevent the big play, and Crump's ability to get open at will (watch her folks.. open every play!) was neutralized by the lack of throwing lanes to her. The fact that the game is so close comes from Stella's other cast of players who are able to play high level ultimate outside of Mercier and Crump... that's what good teams do.

In the end, the game is tied 14-14 and its universe point madness. The point starts with many fans standing in excitement. Both teams have at least three chances to score, and all opportunities end of long distance throws that can't connect. Finally, Lotus buckles down and works the disc underneath. Walker and Lovatt are crucial to the disc movement, but Stella's d is so tight that many passes and swings are needed. Eventually, the patience pays off and Lotus puts it in for the winning goal on universe.

Congratulations to both teams who combined with the open finalists to provide the best finals ever in terms of parity and play. It's so exciting to see two teams play their best when it matters most, and have the best players play their best.

Lotus serves as a deserving champion, building a deep program that helps their team and their sister squad Lily. Their use of strategy and team depth made up for the loss of one of their best players.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CUC 2009 Mixed Finals Review- Dynasty Felled by Quebec, Total Chaos Ensues!


While the women's teams from PPF (Waterloo) and Zephr (Vancouver) were the clear winners of the CUC Saturday Party, the coed division was proudly represented by many of its teams.

The party was unique- Sectioned off outdoor block party downtown with access to several bars. The outdoor angle was hugely popular, and many were quite sad when the outdoor music turned off early. With the indoor part packed, teams and players remained outside and had their own party till the wee hours.

The Mixed final was a tougher game to commentate. We really could have used a production meeting the night before. We managed to acquire the numbers to go with the names just before the start, and we did the best we could. I was personally disappointed that I had played against so many of these ONYX players in open for several years and knew so few names before the match. Having Chaos come back from the dead after years away from nationals didn't help us, but we managed to get players and background from TD Corey Draper.

2009 Mixed Final- ONYX (Quebec City) versus Chaos (Winnipeg)

Starting right after the thrilling Open final between Mephisto and Phoenix, the Mixed final really had a big act to follow. Describing how these teams made it to finals, and who failed to make it, dominating our pre game discussion.

Team Fisher Price from Vancouver came in nationals having won four of five nationals they attended. They were also defending world champs and their youth and skill suggested their reign would continue for many years. That still may be the case, but their lack of practicing and their short roster at this year's CUC lead to three surprising upsets from three Quebec teams. When asked what happened to them this year, one player simply said "Quebec happened to us!!!"

ONYX was the team that elimiated TFP in the quarterfinals by a score of 12-8. They then beat Montreal's RIP 15-7 to advance for the final. This was ONYX's second straight final, and they really wanted to improve on their silver medal from 2008.

Chaos from Winnipeg kept defying the odds by beating Monster from Toronto (9-8) and Gecko from Sherbrooke (8-7) on universe to make it to finals. Both the quarter and and semi final were very heated battles, and the local squad felt fortunate to squeak through.

The game started off with a big crowd and even bigger rain fall. It was quite evident that wet disc conditions was going to be a factor in the game. I thought this was an instant advantage for Chaos, as they really wanted to stay away from man to man coverage on ONYX's speedy handlers.

Both teams started by playing zone. Chaos threw a 3-3-1 Chinchilla zone that had no cup and force throws through a maze of players waiting to bid. Of note was Chaos was very reluctant to melt this zone, and were rewarded early with some d's close to their end zone. ONYX countered with a 1-3-3 rabbit zone, with a tall marker and three fast girls providing the backfield pressure. ONYX was so comfortable with this strategy they broke into it even on transition rather than opting for person to person defence.

Chaos took an early lead 4-1 and a timeout was taken by Quebec. ONYX then went a a three point run to tie it at 4. A time out was then called by Winnpeg, and the huddle was very animated. Either this was the type of team that would respond to the time out rant and come out flying, or they would crawl up and get crushed.

Clearly, Chaos was the type of team to respond to their leaders. They got the game back on the next point. Their zone defence was air tight and they forced ONYX to do three things that lead to turns
  • Get trapped on the sideline and force tough throws
  • Make ONYX throw so many throws that the weather caused some key drops and throwing errors
  • Entice ONYX to throw deep to players covered.. namely by Jared Lehotsky.
ONYX had their moments of brillance, but they felt the game slip out of their grasp and they didn't have an answer. This team was clearly talented, but it never seemed like they could break past the second layer of Chaos' defensive wall.

The match neared time cap and ONYX tried to shake up the lineup and the strategy to get back into the game. However, Chaos was lead throughout the match by a core of excellent players. Donovan Wiebe used his backhand to break the defence at will. Danny Saunders seemed to play every point, being a key handler on offence and being a crucial wall defender in their zone. And the Chaos ladies really showed that they were exactly the kind of efficient and intelligent players that every Mixed teams needs in order to be a champion.

Of all players, the MVP in my opinion was Jared Lehotsky (pictured). Playing deep in the zone defense and serving as the key cutter on offense, Lehotsky was dominate from start to finish. He seemed tireless when fatigue hit other players, and he really had a finals performance that all fans and peers noticed.

The final score was 14-8, and it was a happy surprise for the home team and the fans at Canada Inns Stadium. Chaos entered the finals after years of hibernation, and entered a division where any of the top 8-10 could realistically hope to make the finals. They survived two universe point games on Saturday to take the title.

ONYX, dissapointed with a 2nd place finish for the second year in a row, had to be dissapointed with their performance in the finals. Known throughout the country for their talent and their spirited play, they are a great team that failed to play their best in the very end. A lot of the credit for that can be given to the weather. One can only hope that the team is able to stay together and make another run at CUC 2010 in their home province in addtion to an appearance at World Clubs in the Czech Republic.

CUC 2009 Open Finals Review- The Best Finals Ever?


I had the chance to do commentary for the open, mixed and womens finals at CUC 2009 and I was extremely pleased to have the privilege to do so. Not only will a DVD be available for all three games, but the local host society was able to arrange for high quality coverage with replays shown on the jumbo tron during the games. Tushar Singh and Iamultimate was also able to stream the local feed live to hundreds of people, which is a exciting first step towards Canadian ultimate exploring quality webcasting.

It was my first time commentating, and my main goals were as follows
  • Be positive
  • Be fair to all players, teams and cities
  • Make it interesting for the listener but not take away from the game

Looking at the results on the CUC 2009 site, it was easy to see that parity made for an extremely exciting week in all divisions but one. (GLUM was a dominant force in the Masters divisions, and used their unbeleivable D line play to win Nationals and allow no more than 6 points in any game).
Open- Mephisto of Montreal vs Phoenix of Ottawa

Naturally, the commentator booth of Mike Wronski, Rahil Suleman and myself were excited to commentate on two teams with such a rich history and such familiarity with one another. Both teams also had one other thing in common- They had been on the doorstep of a national title for over 7 years and had never been able to win it all.

This was Mephisto's 14th Nationals. Their first Nationals was in Toronto in 1996. They have made it to the quarters all 14 times, the semis ten times and to the finals four times in that stretch. They easily vanquished Calgary's Invictus 15-3 in the semis to make it to the finals.

Phoenix was in their 8th nationals. They had two third place finishes and had never made the finals before. Their win over local team General Strike was by the narrowest of margins (11-9) but they survived a very good Strike team and an emerging superstar player (Mark Lloyd). Phoenix had a 2 games to 1 advantage over Mephisto in head to head play this year and that had to help team confidence leading into the final.

Translation: A very deserving teams was going to win, and I'm not sure if any open final was ever this even heading into the match.

It should be noted that Phoenix captain Jamie Craig predicted this very same final weeks before the tournament.

The game was amazing to watch from start to finish. From the very first pull, both teams gave a complete non stop ('balls out') performance. They knew their opponents as much as their own rosters, so the matchups and strategy was easily visible as they traded points.

Back and forth the action went. Despite many bids on each play, the offence for Phoenix and Mephisto were playing relative turn free ultimate in the face of good defence, stadium winds and wet weather.

As the half neared, the defensive intensity from both teams were now creating turns. Players were starting to show some fatigue. Mephisto's man defence looked suffocating from the commentator booth (it really looked like great team defence that forced lots of small bail passes and seemed to shut down the Phoenix huck game) while Phoenix was winning individual battles (Loose ball d's, great o catches and shutdown marks).

Mephisto takes half by a slim margin and it's really time to Phoenix to show their mettle. Are they going to adjust and keep fighting?

No one in the booth thinks this is over. Even when Mephisto gets a three point lead in the second half we just can't see Phoenix as down and out. The talent is there, the body language is good, and the strategy makes sense. If they keep plugging, they can get back in this.

They do get back into the game and even take a one point lead. It starts with big d's from a number of great players. Luke Phelan, Jamie Craig and Ewan Reid are the usual suspects, but players like teenager Robert Schmidt step in for points and create turns. Now Phoenix has altered their O strategy and it's working. Break passes underneath to either Andy Corey, Luke Phelan and Kielan Way translate into great hucks to John Haig, Ken Alexander and several others.

Kielan Way is simply dominating the game with underneath cutting. His ability to get open at will is causing major problems for Mephisto. The fans are in shock watching his replays, seeing him layout around Eric St Amant and snatch the disc on the other side of his opponents body.

Meanwhile, the game is slipping away for Mephisto. Phoenix is a very short team but they're winning fights for the disc and creating turns. Mephisto's offence is looking tight and a time out is needed to regroup and rest. Dan Fassina and Mark "Shaggy" Zimmeral are carrying the load with Christan Mathieu, Eric St Amant, and Jean Levy Champagne. But they know Phoenix is scoring on three throws, and Mephisto is being forced to make many more.

Mephisto scores to tie it again and then gets a big break. Back and forth the teams score and we're getting into universe point territory. At 16-15, Mephisto pulls to Phoenix and both teams take turns moving it up and down the field, but can't punch in it. Great d here, throwing gaffe there.. nothing is coming easy in the second half.

Finally, Mephisto gets what they need. A beautiful inside out flick hits the chest of Jean-Levy Champagne, and the star cutter becomes thrower as he quickly hucks to star Eric St Amant streaking towards the endzone. St Amant looks up to see the disc directly over his head and knows he must make up time to catch the sailing disc in the endzone. He accerlates and lays out into the endzone and catches the disc, completely horizontal. He maintains possesion landing and Mephisto has won the game 17-15.

Mephisto has finally won a national championship after 14 years, and it could not happen to a classier team or a more supportive city and local league than Montreal. Dan Fassina and Mark "Shaggy" Zimmeral, two of the greatest leaders in Montreal ultimate history, were able to help deliver a championship with exceptional offensive play. It seemed like they were part of every scoring play in the second half, and Shaggy served as the dominant handler for his team when they needed him most.

Ottawa's Phoenix is crushed with the result, as seen below is not taken well. The loss overides the fact that this young team played an AMAZING final, and it really took Mephisto's best to win by a narrow margin.

There you have it, one of the greatest open finals in CUC finals. Fans of both teams are just glad they got to witness it.

CUC 2009- A Time to Galvanize


I regret to say that on a day where this site had the highest number of visits ever, I failed to get any new content up. I thought people would need a little down time after such a crazy week. Not the case!

Well, the 2009 nationals have come and gone and I can guarantee that everyone involved will not forget the experience. After spending the week in Vancouver, I arrive Saturday and began touching base with teams/friends about their week. (That and watch former teammate Stephen 'Rene' Frye beat Mantracker!)

Stories of extreme heat, thunder storms, fields with standing water, rescheduled games and cancellations were a result of the deluge of rain and poor weather received during the tournament. I went through a similar situation at No Borders this year and being forced to cancel games, any games for teams in any division, is an extremely difficult decision to make. The fields were in worse shape for Corey Draper and the Host society at Nationals, and let's not forget it was Nationals! Only the most important tournament in the country, and on a year where final places influence world club bids.

The players and teams at CUC had to make a choice. They could understand the risks associated with outdoor sport and the situation at hand. Or they could treat the tournament using the lens of consumer-product. That is, they are mere customers and not partners.

Based on the feedback I got, the community decided to galvanize behind the organizers and make the best out a bad situation. People understood MODS couldn't control the weather, and appreciated the effort that was put forward.

Moving forward, I hope teams take the time to ask questions that they need to ask, and after that make suggestions and recommendations to the host society and CUPA based on their experiences.

Thanks to MODS and CUPA for the best tournament possible in a great city. Thanks to all the teams for supporting Canadian Ultimate, and thanks to the Finals teams for giving us some of the most exciting Sunday play in Nationals history.