CUC 2011 Open Preview

In the last of our previews we look at the Open Division.  Much like the other divisions a World’s year brings out the best and reorganizes the landscape.  This time is no different but while the Open division has gotten stronger some markets have experienced a slight downturn.

In Ottawa Phoenix has felt the loss of some players to Trainwreck.  Likewise in Montreal where Odyssèe has siphoned off some of the Open players.  Both of those losses are tempered by the return of GOAT and Furious George.  Furious amongst the most famous teams in the world and GOAT amongst the leading elite.

With sixteen teams and a contribution from every region Ontario leads the way with seven(7) teams, Quebec follows with three(3), Atlantic and BC each contribute two(2), and finally Prairies and Alberta with one(1) each.  Divided into four pools each team has a chance to make the finals on the first two days of play before the top and bottom quarters split on Saturday.

Pool A

(1)GOAT – Ontario/Toronto, (8)The Ghosts – Alberta/Calgary, (9)Feed the Geese – Ontario/Toronto, (16)Newfoundland Liberation Army – Atlantic/St. John’s.

Leading the charge with first seed in a long time is GOAT.  Known to all and in many ways the returning Champions (Moondoggies, last years champions, was largely composed of GOAT players) they are stronger and more focused than ever.  They should have no trouble in their pool but can’t take it lightly either.  At Regionals they demonstrated that they have multiple gears and when they turn it on nobody can keep up.

The Ghosts are helmed by Tierney FitzGerald, the Moondoggie that threw the winning pass in Sherbrooke, and has had a bit of a mountain to climb.  Bringing a roster of 19 is tough but with two practices and a third fitness practices each week they should be in good shape for pool play.  They’ve had some tight games at Flower Bowl as well as losing some talent to some nearby powerhouses.  While GOAT is at the top The Ghosts are now the primary target in their pool.

Feed the Geese (FtG) have been a bit of a controversy on this blog lately.  However, having brought themselves into the limelight they are now recognized as filling an important niche in Toronto Ultimate.  Composed of touring players that want to play like Grand Trunk but are unable to commit the time they have established a beachhead in diversifying Toronto Ultimate.  Players not willing to participate in the Toronto system but that can still play at a high level could look to Geese in the future should the team decide to stick around.  This team has great potential and they’ve demonstrated it on several occasions by challenging Maverick and GT.  Even with a relaxed schedule they practice once a week and pickup with teams where they can.  Overall it’s a motley crew of players but they work together very well.  Their game against The Ghosts should result in a Feed the Geese victory.

With last spot in the pool and the tournament is Newfoundland Liberation Army (NFLA).  It is incredibly hard to develop a program in Atlantic Canada, it’s even harder when you’re on an island and in a city with less than 200,000 people.  It’s possible to put together a few teams but it’s nigh impossible to get to the number of competitive tournaments one needs to develop properly.  NFLA did travel this year and played at TUF where day two was rained out.  On day one they played hard in the rain but it was tough going and incredibly frustrating.  The program is showing signs of improvement with a growing league as well as plenty of players taking interest in touring.

Pool B

(2)Furious George – BC/Vancouver, (7)Maverick – Ontario/Kitchener-Waterloo, (10)Q – Québec/Québec, (15)NADS – Ontario/North Bay.

Headlining wherever they go Furious George is in the position of underdog to GOAT this tournament.  Having lost to GOAT 15-12 at Colorado they’re looking for revenge and a victory in the finals that will add an eighth(8th) Canadian title in their fifteen years of existence.  Since 2007 we’ve watched this team lead Canada to victory, fall from the top, and then grind their way back into the top sixteen on the continent.  Most teams just go away once their players get old but Furious has worked hard to establish their own system as well as developing Juniors in BC.  As much as they have changed in many ways they haven’t; CJ Harmer, #96, will be playing with Furious in his 17th CUC.  Furious may want the title but they first have to make it through a deceptively tough pool.

Maverick, from KW, finished fifth at CUC last year.  With the addition of Furious they should be sixth going in and are approximately at the appropriate position.  They could be third going in though as they’ve developed quite the rivalry with Phoenix.  Throughout the season Phoenix has consistently beaten Maverick.  At Regionals Maverick were close to game point and then at game point but Phoenix clawed their way back and into a victory.  At No Borders the tables turned and Maverick beat Phoenix on Saturday only to be beaten on Sunday (this loss was likely due to a night out with PPF).  Teams in this pool should treat Maverick as on par with Phoenix and not underestimate them.

Q snagged the second seed out of Québec after an interesting round of pool play where they lost to both Mephisto and Bloody Gary but went into finals seeded higher than Bloody Gary due to point differential.  Similar in strength to Bloody Gary (also a tough team) Q has had close games at Regionals against Mephisto (12-10).  The balance is a good team that is unpreditable.

NADS are going to win CUC 2011.  Disclaimer:  I am playing on this team.  I pride myself in playing teams that party the hardest and exemplify the Ultimate spirit and this team embodies both.  Attending their first CUC since 2007 and some players haven’t partaken in Ultimate since.  Feeling the need and perking up when hearing it was a World’s year the team set itself a target at Regionals:  Qualify.  And qualify we did on day 1.  With expectations met the team retired the short roster and while we gave our best we simply lacked the focus of the first day.  Now playing with our full roster we too are unpredictable and should cause a few headaches.

Pool C

(3)Phoenix – Ontario/Ottawa, (6)Blackfish – BC/Vancouver, (11)Grand Trunk – Ontario/Toronto, (14)Too Bad – Ontario/Toronto.

Phoenix made start CUC 2011 in the same position that they left in 2010: 3rd.  This year it will be very hard for them to maintain their seeding but pool play should not affect them.  The team is well conditioned, playing at home, and are in a favourable pool.  It’s post pool play that will test them.  They’ve lost a few players to injuries and travel and early season personell losses to Trainwreck (Mixed) doesn’t help.  Still, they bring the aggression and attitude that makes them infamous in International circles (second last in spirit at WUCC Prague), and downright loveable in Canada.

Blackfish has suffered from roster changes over the last few years with players moving to Furious or retiring.  While strong and fast it’s been a place for those aiming higher to improve themselves and show how little they care about their opponents or their own team.  My experiences with Blackfish have shown a lack of spirit, intentional fouling, disregard for safety, and in general being complacent when a few rotten apples apply a label to the whole bunch.  I’ve also witnessed, on several occasions, public berating of teammates with disregard for team cohesion.  I simply don’t understand the attraction of Blackfish but I hope their leadership has changed.  There has been improvement over the years but I do not envy Pool C having to play Blackfish.

Last year Grand Trunk was full of attitude and energy.  This year they’ve lost a bit of that attitude (having moved to Feed the Geese) but lost none of the energy.  GT has developed considerably since last year and the mutiny (I’m not using this in a negative context) of FtG a number of new players have stepped up and made a difference.  That GT continues to be strong is a testament to the work the current and former GT captains (current FtG captains) put into the system.  It’s fantastic to see this team as strong as it is and I believe it’s well positioned to upset Blackfish if they can play consistently.

Too Bad predates many of the players at this tournament and after missing CUC last year they’ve returned well organized and well tuned.  At Regionals they turned it on against GT to pull a Universe point upset and then handily dispatched Firebird (who upset Too Bad last year).  For a team that doesn’t practice they rely upon experience and chemistry.  This year they’ve added a decent contingent of Peterborough players that have played well together.  Greg Lang (in his 25th CUC, as in all of them) has also returned after his experimentations in Mixed (hey, we all that that one time in College) and is devastating as a cutter.  Being in the same pool as GT should give them confidence and depending upon Blackfish’s strength they too could pull an upset.  An upset against GT is unlikely though.

Pool D

(4)General Strike – Prairies/Winnipeg, (5)Mephisto – Québec/Montreal, (12)Bloody Gary – Québec/Sherbrooke, (13)Red Circus – Atlantic/Halifax.

General Strike also starts CUC 2011 in the same position they left in 2010:  4th.  While they’ve experience turnover they’ve maintained most of the squad and added juniors from MOFO.  This season hasn’t been the best for them going 0-0 against Canadian opponents, a perfect record in some minds.  All that pent up energy needs a release and CUC is a prime place to run wild.  As a top tier team Strike is used to semi finals.  This year they’re left a bit weaker than in the past as Mark Lloyd has switched to GOAT.  However, last year’s bronze match against Phoenix will likely tilt in their favour.

With the efflux of top players to Mixed Mephisto has had to rebuild their team with five(5) returning players and twenty(20) rookies.  Even with the new team the AUM system works and allowed Mephisto to win Jazzfest and Regionals.  Even with those wins it’s a much tougher year and after pool play there should be some shifting towards the lower end of the top eight.  Pool play could also prove tricky as Regionals wasn’t as easy as they expected.

If you’ve read my other previews then you know I’ve alluded to Bloody Gary a few times, let me explain.  Last year I played with a fantastic group of guys, top notch players, medals galore and all the rest.  I believe one of our hardest games was against Bloody Gary.  All other games we ran hard and got results, we played hard D and got results, we always knew how to adapt and change and we’d win.  Bloody Gary was a whole another mess where for some reason we simply couldn’t pull away.  That game was one of the longest grinds I’ve participated in and it’s due to a team concentrating on a specific set of fundamentals and then playing hard D.  Since this is the second year that Bloody Gary is playing together I can only imagine that they’re more fit now and more prepared to tire top tier teams.  BG also performed well at Regionals and had a close match with Mephisto.  An upset is quite possible and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one.

Rounding out Pool D is Red Circus from Halifax.  Returning once again they’re bringing relatively the same roster as last year.  They’ve also been preparing well and the results have shown.  In Boston RC beat seed in pool play and then lost narrowly to Maverick 14-12.  At the same time consistency is an issue with bad results at No Borders.  Upsets are possible as they’re aiming for a high finish but they’re in a hard pool to move up in.

Post Pool Play

As I’ve already called NADS to win this section is irrelevant.  Let’s imagine an alternate reality though where that may not happen (maybe a 1% chance of that not happening).

Much like in the Women’s division expectations are that Vancouver and Toronto will matchup in the finals.

Both GOAT and Furious have experienced turnover in recent years with GOAT still engaged in that process.  Both teams have brought younger players to the forefront and both teams have trained them well.  Even with their relative inexperience there don’t appear to be any teams standing in between a meeting in the finals.  GOAT has already proven themselves at Regionals.  Furious has shown themselves to be able to run with GOAT.  Phoenix, General Strike, and Mephisto have weakened while other teams have improved but only to challenge the aforementioned.  There is great parity after GOAT and Furious.

Earlier this season I watched GOAT practice in the rain at TUF.  There was cold hard determination in their game and they methodically moved it up and down the field.  The NexGen game may put uncertainty in the minds of some but that wasn’t the full GOAT roster playing.  That wasn’t the same team that will be here at CUC.

Late last year I traveled to Vancouver and watched Furious and Traffic practice ahead of Sarasota.  Furious practices are amongst the most brutal that I’ve ever seen.  Players were scrimmaging and running drills harder than in games.  That sort of preparation is reflected in their play where they can handle anything.  The passion for Ultimate in the Vancouver region builds upon itself and produces the best in the World.

The final is too close to call but come Sunday we’ll start the countdown to Japan.

Side note, while on the sidelines at the Furious practice I was throwing the disc with a kid.  Ever the coach Jon Hayduk quietly gave me some pointers to pass on.  Which brings me back to my last point in the first preview:  Go help your local Juniors program.

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