Boston has always had a proud ultimate tradition. It goes back to the days of Death or Glory, who won the Club Championships six years in a row from 1994-1999. In 2008 Ironside took up the Boston Ultimate mantle, and has made the semifinals every year since, appearing in the final three times in that span. And these teams have always been known for their methodical, possession oriented offense. It seemed like this style of play was all that elite ultimate players in Boston knew how to play.
When Boston got an MLU team, a game with a wider field making things even more difficult for the defense, many assumed their style of play would follow in the tradition of DoG and Ironside. As it turned out, it didn’t quite happen that way.
As their game against the DC Current last Saturday showed, the Whitecaps love to huck. Even though they have 11 players from Ironside last year, plus former stars like Will Neff and Jeff Graham, this team plays very differently. One of the main differences is that Brandon Malecek plays on the O-Line for the Whitecaps, instead of D-Line like he does for Ironside. Malecek has always been known for taking high risk high reward looks, and playing on the Whitecaps O-Line gives him a lot more opportunities to take them. It showed almost right away in Saturday’s game. After getting down 0-2 quickly, Alex Cooper caught the disc and swung to Malecek, at Boston’s own 20 yard line, (remember in the MLU 0-10 yard lines are actually in the end zone) and he immediately sent a 70 yard huck to Jeff Graham in the end zone. Point Whitecaps. Different kind of ballgame.
The first quarter played out with both offenses looking deep early and often, entering the second quarter the game was tied at seven. Of Boston’s seven first quarter assists, four were from 40 yards or deeper. Of the seven possessions the Current scored on, they completed five hucks for 40 yards or more.
Because of their talent from Ironside, Boston was expected to be the class of the Eastern Conference, and handle teams like the Current and Rumble easily, given that their club equivalents haven’t had anywhere near the success Boston’s has. But in their home opener, the Whitecaps were never able to completely put away the Rumble, eventually winning 19-16. Playing in DC, the Current were giving them even more problems. Boston’s D-Line (which was missing Will Neff) was having very little success forcing turnovers. In fact, Boston’s O-Line generated a higher percentage of turnovers, led by Jeff Graham. The Whitecaps D-Line was only able to score two goals, and none after the first point of the second half.
To start the third quarter the Whitecaps got a break, taking a 12-11 lead on a 23 yard hammer from Brent Anderson to Robin Meyers. After an easy two completion point for the Current’s O-Line, an uncharacteristically long point began. A Malecek huck was d’d by Markham Shofner, who played well on the Current’s D-Line the entire game. Boston would get the disc back on a Jeff Graham d, only to turn it again after a Peter Prial drop. Markham Shofner would get the disc for the Current, and complete a big crossfield hammer to Jeff Wodatch for the score. The Current were up 13-12, and seemed to have established some momentum. But any momentum either team ever got this game was quickly cancelled out by big plays by the other team. In this case the Whitecaps moved the disc down the field, and Malecek had it on the Boston 47. There wasn’t much of a window, but he hit Jeff Graham with a 41 yard hammer, who threw an easy dish for the score. Tie game again. This was not uncommon, the game was tied at 17 different points. Boston’s short offensive possessions weren’t uncommon either, their O-Line only averaged 5.44 completions on possessions in which they scored, and 2.58 completions on possessions in which they didn’t. Only once did Boston complete ten or more passes on any one possession. The Current did nine times, and their O-Line averaged 8.33 completions per scoring possession, and 5.57 completions on possessions they didn’t score.
The teams would continue to trade in the fourth quarter. Neither ever led by more than two points throughout, but the Whitecaps were up a crucial break in the fourth quarter. With the Current receiving down 18-19 late in the fourth quarter, the Current worked the disc to their own 48 yard line, and Alan Kolick had the disc in his hands. The Current’s O-Line had been running through Kolick for much of the game, and successfully too, he ended the game with five assists. While he wasn’t as huck prone as Malecek, he was certainly capable of putting it deep. This time Kolick was looking for Tom Doi deep, who had quite the game, with three goals and three assists. But this time their connection didn’t work out, with Jon Hirschberger coming up with a clutch defensive play. Doi looked to the referees, wanting a foul call, but none came. Soon after Boston called a timeout to bring their O-Line in, the third time in the game they’d brought in the O-Line after D-Line got the disc back. Boston managed a few completions before Prial hucked the disc from the Boston 46 to Graham in the end zone for the score. Kolick made a valiant bid, but Graham got the goal. In addition to Graham, Prial, and Malecek were huge for Boston this game. Malecek had five assists, on average from 38.4 yards. Prial had four goals and four assists.
The Current offense started the point down 18-20, with only 2:24 left on the clock. A Shofner huck went up to Sean Keegan in the end zone, and even though it wasn’t completed a foul was called, and Keegan had the disc on the end zone line. The disc was swung to the center and back, where Keegan found Shofner with a little break for his fourth assist of the day.
With 91 seconds remaining, the Whitecaps caught the pull. They managed the clock smartly. It was their first possession of the game that they had ten or more completions, with 16. Though Alan Kolick eventually snuck in for a d, there was little time left for DC. The Current completed a few passes, and with time running out Shofner sent a huck from half field. The look to Keegan was too deep, but Shofner was fouled, bringing the disc back. With only ten seconds left, he sent another huck that the Current couldn’t come down with as time expired.
Though their margins of victory haven’t been as strong as expected, the Whitecaps stand at 2-0, tied with the Spinners for first in the conference. We won’t see those teams face off until May 18. And that may be the only race that ends up being worth paying attention to in the East. On Saturday the Current visit Philadelphia, for the Spinner’s home opener. The next week they host New York, then travel to Boston to play the Whitecaps the next day, who won’t have played on Saturday. The Current can’t afford to go anything less than 2-1 over that stretch. Though they have shown they can play with anyone in the East, they may have already dug too big a hole to get out of by dropping their first two home games. Meanwhile, Boston hasn’t met the high expectations they had, but they’re still 2-0. While their defense needs to get more breaks, their offense has a lot of firepower. They play a different kind of Ultimate than what we’re used to seeing from Boston. It may take time for them to reach their potential, but the Whitecaps have shown why they’re the early favorite in the East.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com