The AUDL added talent across the board this offseason. Players like Beau Kittredge, Ashlin Joye, Tyler Degirolamo, Alex Thorne, Kurt Gibson, Brett Matzuka and Noah Saul made waves by joining teams on the coasts. Matty Tsang helped assemble a contender in San Francisco to rival San Jose in the West, and Alex Ghesquiere will be coaching a team that could challenge Toronto in the East. But don’t forget about flyover country. Teams in the Midwest made moves too.
Chicago Wildfire – Offseason Grade: B+
2013 Record: 14-2, +6.1 average goal differential
Additions: Dane Olsen, Walden Nelson
Subtractions: Grant Zukowski, Craig Poeppelman
Returning: Jonathan Helton, AJ Nelson, Cullen Geppert, Brodie Smith
Last year Chicago was an amazing 13-0 when playing teams not from Madison. Unfortunately, those pesky Radicals had their number, beating them twice in the regular season and again in the Conference Finals. In the offseason, the Wildfire made moves to improve the depth of their roster to better prepare them for those long points against the Madison zone.
Chicago is returning 17 players from 2013, and adding seven players from Machine, the local elite Men’s club team. Ron Kubalanza is back as a player and will also be coaching this year, replacing Johnny Hock. Jonathan “Goose” Helton was a First Team Skyd All-AUDL player, as was AJ Nelson. By bringing back so many players and adding more talent from Machine (Chicago has 17 Machine players on the roster this year) the Wildfire are addressing what seemed to be their biggest problem last year; chemistry. Chicago consistently made simple miscommunications and poor decisions in their three losses to Madison. When they were playing other opponents, the talent gap was just too big for it to make a difference. They were able to carve up any man defense with AJ Nelson constantly getting open in the end zone. But Madison was able to force them into playing a game they didn’t want to play, namely zone.
Dane Olsen and Walden Nelson are two handlers from Machine that should help address these problems. Another returner that could help Chicago get to the next level is Bob Liu. Liu had limited playing time last season, but averaged 2.53 throws per point, more than any other player returning to the AUDL. If he’s able to make more games for the Wildfire this year, it could be a difference maker.
In an interesting twist of the schedule, Chicago doesn’t play Madison until May 23-24, when they play them in back to back games. Going into that weekend they should be undefeated, but not team was undefeated in the Midwest going into Week 3 last season. With two of their three games against Madison on the road, it will be tough for Chicago to hold on to the one seed in the Midwest.
Chicago Prediction: 11-3, 2nd in the Midwest
Cincinnati Revolution – Offseason Grade: B
2013 Record: 4-12, -4.8 average goal differential
Additions: Michael Ames (AlleyCats), Mike Ford (AlleyCats), Phil Cherosky, Jordan Rhyne
Subtractions: Kevin Reichert, Ryan Sitler, Ryan Gorman
Returning: Chris Powers, Mark Fedorenko, Nate Botti
The Cincinnati Revolution haven’t made waves. They haven’t garnered many headlines. Perhaps rightly so, they were only 4-12 last year and didn’t add any marquee names like some other teams did. But Cincinnati had an effective, albeit quiet, offseason.
No team poached talent from a division rival like Cincinnati did. Michael Ames was one of the key cogs in the Indianapolis O-Line
last year, with 11 goals, 28 assists, and a 95.6% completion rate. Mike Ford was one of the AlleyCats weapons after the turn, with 31 assists on the Indianapolis D-Line. What better way to improve than by also making a rival team worse?
Not only that, but Cincinnati also added some key players from Madcow, the club team that made a surprising run to the Club Championships last season. Phil Cherosky was a Madcow Captain last year, his sixth year on the team. He’s an O-Line handler that will get playing time on both sides of the disc for the Revolution. Jordan Rhyne is a Madcow veteran of 3 years who will play on the Cincinnati D-Line. Both played for the Columbus Cranes in 2012.
Cincinnati did lose some talent, but is also bringing back its main playmakers. Chris Powers led the league in assists and was a 1st Team All AUDL handler. Mark Federenko was one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. Nate Botti is also back and will have a big impact this season. Due to injuries he was limited in playing time in 2013, but should be good to go this year. In his limited minutes last year, Botti got a D on 11.7% of the points he played, a higher rate than anyone else on the team.
Cincinnati is an interesting dark horse pick for the third playoff spot in the Midwest. The Revolution may be able to pull it off, and they’ll certainly be closer than they were last year. The key for them will be maintaining a positive attitude if they have a slow start, which they likely will. Cincinnati’s first three games are against Chicago and Madison. Winning just one of those games would go a long way to improving their playoff odds. The Revolution will improve, but it’s still tough seeing them overcome Indianapolis and Minnesota to get that third spot.
Cincinnati Prediction: 5-9, 5th in the Midwest
Detroit Mechanix – Offseason Grade: D-
2013 Record: 4-12, -5.1 average goal differential
Additions: Joe Besser
Subtractions: Ken Porter, Dave Hochalter, Ben Ayres, James Highsmith
Returning: Andrew Lucarotti, Andy Barnhart, Ben Murphy, Rusty the Wrench
This is most likely going to be a very difficult year for the Mechanix. Last year they got out to a strong 3-1 start, before finishing 4-12. Their 3-1 start was a bit of a mirage. Two of those wins came against teams playing in the second game of a back-to-back, and the other was against Cincinnati, who also finished 4-12.
That lackluster season didn’t give much hope for 2014, and Detroit’s offseason gave even less. Losing one of the best defenders in the game in Ken Porter is tough. Losing Dave Hochalter, the driving force behind their offense the last two seasons is another blow. Adding insult to injury, the Mechanix players that were on High Five, the top Michigan club team, have all left as well. In an improved conference where one of the worst teams got worse, the result will not likely be pretty.
That said, the Mechanix are in their third season of the AUDL. They have some notable veterans. Andrew Lucarotti has been a calm offensive presence for Detroit the last two years, and with all the departures his statistics will probably surpass his numbers from either of the past two years. Ben Murphy is another notable returner that played for the now defunct Overhaul Mixed team that frequented Nationals. Detroit has also signed on Michigan handler Joe Besser, who will be bringing his give and go game to the Mechanix O-Line.
The Mechanix have endured over the course of an at times tumultuous AUDL existence. They have brought in out of state all stars, but also have focused on developing youth Ultimate in Michigan. Michigan is trying to catch up with nearby prospering youth Ultimate scenes like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the Mechanix are glad to provide that help by way of clinics and coaching. Hopefully the team is able to maintain that perspective over what is likely to be a very rough season.
Detroit Prediction: 1-13, 6th in the Midwest
Indianapolis AlleyCats – Offseason Grade: C-
2013 Record: 9-7, +1.6 average goal differential
Additions: Nick Hutton, An Toine
Subtractions: Michael Ames, Mike Ford, Troy Revell
Returning: Keenan Plew, Cameron Brock, Travis Carpenter
It’s not every day that a team “comes out of nowhere” after having appeared in the finals the season before. But in 2013, the Indianapolis AlleyCats came out of nowhere. In 2013 most people assumed that with Jonathan Helton and Brodie Smith suiting up for the Wildfire instead of the ‘Cats, Indianapolis wouldn’t be part of the playoff conversation. But the team surprised everyone and cinched the final spot in the Midwest very early in the season. This season a return to the playoffs wouldn’t be a shock, but it’s a tougher road than it was last year.
Cincinnati has added players. Minnesota has reloaded. Madison and Chicago both got better, and Indianapolis has never beat either of those teams. Add to that, the AlleyCats aren’t bringing back their 2013 roster. They may not be losing their all stars in Keenan Plew and Cameron Brock, but some key pieces aren’t coming back. The AlleyCats are only returning 13 players, fewer than any other team in the Midwest besides Detroit. They do have some notable rookies, including Nick Hutton, one of the top defenders on the Indianapolis Men’s Club team, Brickyard. While Plew and Brock are both top talents, they’re the only returning players outside of Toronto in the AUDL to get a goal or assist on at least 33% of their points played, in 2013 this ‘Cats strength was still their depth. And this team just isn’t as deep as last year.
The schedule does no favors for Indianapolis either. Six of their first seven games are against Madison, Chicago, and Minnesota, the three teams they had the most trouble with last year. A slow start could be tough to recover from in an improved conference. But, in that tough stretch, there are some opportunities. The first two weeks both Madison and Chicago will face Indianapolis as the second game of a back-to-back. Last season underdog teams were able to score some major upsets in that scenario, like Detroit beating Madison, or Philadelphia only losing to Toronto by one. If the ‘Cats can get over the hump and finally start stealing the occasional game from Madison or Chicago, they could get back to the playoffs. If not, an improved Minnesota team will likely surpass them
Indianapolis Prediction: 6-8, 4th in the Midwest
Madison Radicals Offseason – Grade: B+
2013 Record: 13-3, +3.1 goal differential
Additions: Seth Meyer, Peter Graffy, Adam Drews
Subtractions: Tyler Glenn
Returning: Andrew Brown, Tom Annen, Pat Shriwise, Dave Wiseman
Any time a team can bring back 21 players from a conference championship, it’s a pretty good offseason. That’s what Madison did, bringing back more players from 2013 than any other team in the AUDL. Why tinker with a winning formula? And the players that Madison did add should be major contributors as well, with four new Madison Club players on board this year. Seth Meyer has been one of the best defenders on Madison Club for years. Peter Graffy was Eric Johnson’s favorite target back in their playing days at Luther College. He’ll be stepping up to play the zone deep role now that Tyler Glenn is gone. Adam Drews will be an important part of the defense’s work after the turn this year for the Radicals.
Last season O-Line handler Andrew Brown had an unreal 97% completion rate to go along with averaging 2.3 throws per point. Matt Weber played an underrated part in Madison’s success, as part of their intimidating double team. Weber had 29 goals, and for his 12 Ds he had a 12-1 D-Turnover ratio, better than anyone else in the league.
One area for improvement for Madison this season is not letting their foot off the gas. Too often last year they let inferior teams hang around. It showed with their less than spectacular average goal differential and in losses to Detroit and Cincinnati. If they have too many repeats like that this year, they could end up with a lower playoff seed than they might expect. But with an improved conference expect an improved focus from Madison as well.
Madison Prediction: 11-3, 1st in the Midwest (wins tiebreaker with Chicago)
Minnesota Wind Chill Offseason – Grade: A-
2013 Record: 4-12, -1.2 goal differential
Additions: Eric Johnson, Kyle Gill, Shane Hohenstein, Danny Miesen
Subtractions: Jeff Trosvig, Eric Olson
Returning: James Hron, Brian Schoenrock, Kevin Seiler
What went wrong in 2013? Any look at Minnesota’s roster and 2013 results begs that question. This team was undoubtedly talented enough to make the playoffs. Last year Drag’n Thrust, the mixed team out of the Twin Cities that the Wind Chill primarily draw from, won the USAU Club Championship. Sub Zero, the Men’s Club team that contributes players to the Wind Chill as well, won the Chesapeake Invite and made quarterfinals at the Club Championships. So why was this team so bad last year?
First, they weren’t as bad as a 4-12 record indicates. Their point differential is far ahead of Cincinnati and Detroit’s. That’s because when they won, they won big. A nine point win in Indianapolis. A 20-6 win over Detroit that was called at halftime due to weather. A 26-9 win over Cincinnati. When it was on, Minnesota was tough to stop.
But the team also lost its share of close games, and performed poorly on the road. The Wind Chill were 0-3 in the second games of back-to-backs on the road, with an average goal differential of -8.7. That average includes a 20 point loss to Indianapolis a weekend Minnesota had to go on a road trip while Drag’n Thrust was playing at the US Open.
The Wind Chill that dominated Detroit at home was different than the team that looked listless against the Mechanix on the road. Talent was never the question with the Wind Chill. A roster that varied week to week, and the lack of a coach meant this team never reached its potential.
The Wind Chill did lose some solid contributors in Jeff Trosvig and Eric Olson. They’ll miss Olson’s consistency and Trosvig’s creative throws. And while Grant Lindsley and Josh Klane look like big losses on paper, they seldom played. But the losses pale in comparison to the people Minnesota is bringing on.
Bringing in Lou Abramowski as coach points the team in the right direction. Abramowski is the long time coach of Hopkins, the local high school team that has been the class of youth Ultimate in Minnesota since its inception. And not only are they bringing in a coach, the Wind Chill are seriously upgrading what was already a talented roster. Eric Johnson is a former NexGen player that has played Sub Zero, but more recently was a D-Line handler for Johnny Bravo for their run to the semi finals at the Club Championships last fall. Kyle Gill is a long time Sub Zero player who has been one of their top contributors during the good and bad years. It was just a couple years ago that Danny Miesen was running the show for the Minnesota Grey Duck offense, leading them to the quarterfinals at the College Championships. And Shane Hohenstein is another former Sub player that also played for the Wisconsin dynasty in 2007-2008. On top of that, Minnesota is returning 16 players from last year. 13 of those 16 were playing in the quarterfinals of the Club Championships in October.
All this should be enough for Minnesota to get to the playoffs this year. It should be more than enough. On paper, this is a team that could challenge Madison and Chicago. But, Minnesota doesn’t have the AUDL experience those teams do, and no team has ever won a championship (or even a conference title) on paper. And that makes it hard to predict how well Minnesota will do, because it remains to be seen which team shows up.
Minnesota Prediction: 8-6, 3rd in the Midwest