The Last Undefeated Team

June 8, 2018
By Louis Zatzman

Even though 2018 marks the sixth straight year of Toronto’s brash dominance over its East Division foes, it also denotes a slightly fresh, original era for the Rush. The Rush are better than their divisional rivals, just as they always have been. But the last undefeated team in the AUDL is conquering its opponents in ways new and old, tried and novel. 

“Things are different, but things are the same,” said defensive captain Bomber Powell.

Isaac Newton would perfectly understand the Rush offence, as replicable in any conditions as the most basic science experiment. Just as an apple dropped from a tree is always expected to fall towards the earth, the Rush always expect an opposing pull to end up in the correct endzone. It’s replicable. Scientific. Yet new.

In the past, the Rush have been led in the statistics categories by the same faces. 

  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Assist Leader (assists) Cam Harris (49) Cam Harris (50) Isaiah Masek-Kelly (50); Jeff Lindquist (50) Jeff Lindquist (40) Cam Harris (42)
Goal Leader (goals) Mark Lloyd (45) Mark Lloyd (46) Isaiah Masek-Kelly (51) Steven Armitage (40) Andrew Carroll (37)
Year assist leader joined team 2013 2013 2013 2013 2013
Year goal leader joined team 2013 2013 2013 2013 2015

 

Other than relative late-comer Andrew Carroll (who, incidentally, has become one of the best players in the world), the team leaders on the field have been the same few faces since day one. It goes deeper; the team leaders in blocks and completions practically every year since 2013 have also been on the team since 2013. It’s worth mentioning that Thomson McKnight has led the team in completions every year, and he’s a realistic MVP candidate due to his rock-solid offensive handling. Everyone in the above chart remains on the team, as do the block and completion leaders, other than the recently-retired Armitage. 

2018 has been slightly different. Andrew Carroll leads the team in assists, with 18. When he started on the team, he was a handler defender, whose speed allowed him to wall off opposing stars and squeeze them away from the disc. In 2017, he became an offensive deep cutter, too useful to keep on the defence forever. He’s now occasionally become an initiation cutter alongside Cam Harris. Carroll is so dangerous deep that defenders lay off of him by ridiculous margins. It’s only good sense for him to come under and gain 15, 20 yards to distribute from power position. 

Dutch rookie Ben Oort leads the team in goals, with 23. That’s new. Though Oort’s led the team in scoring on the season, the list of names that have led in different games is illuminating. Jay Boychuk, Ben Burelle, Oort himself, Connor Armstrong, and Iain MacKenzie have led the team in different games. Boychuk, Burelle, and Oort are deep threats, but Armstrong is an offensive handler, while MacKenzie scored 5 goals against Montreal as a D-Line player. Furthermore, none of those players joined the team earlier than 2015, while most played their first season for the Rush as recently as last year.

“We have a wealth of options, and our personnel create opportunities on our O-Line, and we have that kind of wealth of depth where we can adjust it based on the team that we're playing,” explained Powell.

An apple will hit the ground if it falls out of a tree, just as Toronto will make sure the disc reaches the endzone. That was as true in 2013 as it is now in 2018. The only difference now is that any player, from any position, might end up catching the apple. 

Toronto’s defence is arguably even more interchangeable. 

In Toronto’s most recent game against Montreal, veterans JJ Edwards and Jeff Lindquist found themselves on a defensive line with three rookies: Dan LaFrance, Nick Dacquisto, and Drew Wilson. The five of them played seven points together as a defensive second line, and they finished with a positive points spread, outscoring Montreal from the defensive side, 4-3. 

“It's pretty easy [trusting the rookies],” said Edwards after the game. “I think we have such a deep team, and so many guys can fill in so many roles in different ways. I find a lot of the rookies have been able to come in and insert themselves wherever needed. It's nice.”

Veteran defenders like Bomber Powell and Jonathan Martin have been required to defend opposing primary options less often than ever before. They’re still equally capable, but the defensive line has been populated mostly by young legs that have joined the team in the past two years. Powell laughed when describing how defenders like the MacKenzie brothers jump at the opportunity to defend superstars, leaving Powell and Martin matched up against less threatening cutters. 

Much like King Crimson’s revolving door of band members, the Rush boast a plug-and-play defence. Let’s take Iain MacKenzie, who has been the Rush’s most-used defender on the season, with 123 defensive points played. The team’s most common trio of defenders on the season has been Iain MacKenzie, Bretton Tan, and Marijo Zlatic. They’ve played 60 points together in 2018, boasting a high 39% defensive conversion rate. Zlatic was a rookie in 2017 and Tan in 2016. 

MacKenzie is just as comfortable alongside veterans like Bomber Powell or JJ Edwards. The three have played 19 points together on the season with a 56% defensive conversion rate. There is practically no combination of Rush defenders that hasn’t at least been tried together for a few points, and all have had success. 

The depth of talent means that veterans are pushed for their positions, which creates a healthy atmosphere. Even though Bomber Powell is the defensive captain, who has been trusted to act as an assistant coach and call defensive lines while sidelined with his recent heel injury, he bristled at the notion that the team might not need him as much on the field as in years past.

“The same expectation is there for [veterans] as anyone else,” he said. “With younger guys coming up and pushing to have our top guys on the field, I still need to prove my worth. That's more true now than ever. I don't want to lose my spot on the roster.” 

We know that the Rush veterans can succeed in the AUDL alone. The core of Powell, Lindquist, Lloyd, Harris, McKnight, Yearwood, Masek-Kelly, and Gord Harrison have proved that. However, the inverse is probably true for the first time in 2018. Likely, if the Rush removed all of the elder statesman and only played lines of players added after 2013, they would still be a successful team.

“They'd be a winning team,” predicted Powell. “The quality, depth, of our team is really good. You’d still have [Huynh], [Tan], Burelle. [Hirst], who hasn't even played a game this season because he broke his wrist. He's still a huge asset for us, when he comes back. I think they'd be competitive, if not one of the best teams.”

Added together, tried and new, young and old, the Rush have been unbeatable. 

The Rush have grown into their place in the league. That seems counter-intuitive for a team that has always dominated its division, but nearly every divisional opponent has improved dramatically this year. Philadelphia added a number of Patrol players. Ottawa is filling in the middle of its roster with more talent. New York and Montreal added a who’s who of big-name imports. None of that has mattered to Toronto.

The Rush dominated their division in 2017, finishing 11-3 in the regular season, and scoring 53.5% of the total points scored during their games. They’re 8-0 this season while scoring 56.0% of points. Even though their competition has improved, the Rush are even more dominant. 

Beyond the field, the fabric of the Toronto team has changed. 

“Bus trips are different,” explained Powell. “The choice in movies are different. We definitely have more rookies now to change the DVDs for us on the bus. It's a lot more vibrant too. Last week in Quebec City, everyone was up to go out, and there was a good energy, too. They bring that to the table, too. It's a lot more fun, too, with those guys.”

Change can only go so far, especially for a team that’s as consistent as gravity. The team still watches Step Brothers on every road trip. Some things never change. 
 

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