May 29, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
The Ottawa Outlaws have now equalled their 2017 win total less than halfway through their 2018 season. In 2017, the Outlaws were beset by a lack of depth on the roster. Against the Philadelphia Phoenix, the Outlaws were bolstered by various contributions from the middle of the roster, especially considering that team mainstays Nick Boucher, Mike Lee, and Kinley Gee were unavailable. They finished the game with a sizeable win of 30-18, pushing their season record to 2-4 and a two-game road trip upcoming next weekend in New York and Philadelphia.
Sunday marked the second time that Ottawa has beaten the Philadelphia Phoenix at home in 2018. In the first win, Derek Alexander and Karl Loiseau led the Outlaws in both assists and goals categories, respectively. This game was no different, as Alexander finished with six assists and Karl Loiseau with four goals, both team-highs. Karl’s brother, Laurent, also matched him with four goals of his own.
The Outlaw win started off in doubt, as a pair of holds from both teams was followed by two breaks from the Phoenix. A pair of throwaways on consecutive points put Ottawa in a 1-3 hole early. As has become custom for the Outlaws, they quickly fought their way back into the game. Against the Toronto Rush only the weekend previous, they Outlaws fought out of a 1-5 hole before eventually tying the game 10-10 at halftime. Against Philadelphia, Ottawa would need much less time to equalize.
Though the Outlaws offence would turn over the disc again on the following point, Alec Arsenault would make amends with a terrific block to reclaim possession. A few passes later, Derek Alexander found his brother, Ken, in the endzone to pull Ottawa within one point. A break on the next defensive point, as Tyler Sadler found Jeremy Hill for the goal, would tie the game.
Sadler notched another assist on the next point, this time finding fan-favourite Khalid Al-Zahrani for another break poing, pushing Ottawa into the lead, 4-3.
Sadler was a monstrous benefit to Ottawa. He finished with four assists – second on the team, only behind Derek Alexander – while playing almost entirely on the D-Line. The contributions from the young, twenty-year-old D-Line handler cannot be overstated.
“Sadler played rather well,” joked team captain, Erik Hunter. He continued seriously, “he's a young guy, and he's got a lot of potential. I think the biggest thing about Sadler is once we get the disc on a turn, he's a very big weapon, throwing-wise, for us to get it into the endzone.
A series of holds followed, though they weren’t entirely clean. Karl Loiseau followed Arsenault in the habit of throwing away the disc, and then making up for his mistake by tallying a block to get it back. On the other side, the defence continued getting chances, although they weren’t able to convert while leading 5-4, allowing the Phoenix to tie the game.
On their next trip onto the field, the defence found the disc shortly after the pull. Captain Erik Hunter and Sadler played give-and-go before Hunter dished to Al-Zahrani for another break, pushing the lead to 7-5. Geoff Bevan found Matt O’Brien for yet another break goal with only a few moments remaining in the quarter, and the 6’7” Paul Renaud protected the lead with a massive block to end the quarter.
“I don't know why they keep throwing it up into the air around him,” laughed Hunter. “He's rather tall. It seems like a bold choice.”
The second quarter merely maintained Ottawa’s three-goal lead, though the Outlaws continually threatened to break the game wide open. Even on the first point, Ottawa’s defence claimed the disc and then worked all the way down the field, before Sadler attempted to find Hunter in the endzone on a cross-field hammer. The unfortunate drop returned possession to Philadelphia. However, Ottawa’s defence found its hands on the disc three times during the quarter’s six defensive possessions, while only two offensive points from Ottawa in the quarter featured turns. The first was converted regardless, as Karl Loiseau again made a stellar defensive play. The final point of the half was a gargantuan, multi-turnover marathon, and the halftime score was 13-10 for Ottawa. All signs pointed towards the Outlaws soon running up the score.
The dam broke immediately. The third quarter began with a clean offensive hold for Ottawa, as the Outlaws converted nearly a dozen passes in less than a minute before Arsenault found Bryce Ring for a goal. The D-Line responded in kind, as Geoff Bevan hit Renaud to extend the lead to 15-10. Another break, as Jeremy Hill recorded an immediate block, followed by a pass to Kyle Cantal, pushed the lead to six points.
After a pair of Philadelphia break points cut the lead to 17-15, another run later in the quarter put the lead completely out of reach.
The offence delivered on a clean hold, releasing the pressure built up from Philadelphia’s comeback. The next play saw a block from Paul Mensah, and the long point eventually ended with Sadler finding Hunter with another cross-field hammer in the endzone.
“The one I caught and the one I dropped from him were both the same play. I know it's a play that Sadler's good at, I mean, I coached him on U20 Team Canada, so I've seen him do it before,” said Hunter. “Basically, I had made a cut up the line to get the disc on the open side, not gotten it, and then it got bailed to Sadler in the middle of the field. That happened both times. Whenever I see that occur, I know that all I need to do is just cut across the field, because he's got great vision for a younger player. Sees the field rather well. Both times he threw a hammer to me, kind of a cross-field hammer, and he's very accurate with that. He's got a great bomb of a throw.”
Another pair of Ottawa breaks brought the lead to 21-15 to end the third quarter. The final quarter finished the massacre, as Ottawa outscored the tired Phoenix, who were playing on the second leg of a back-to-back, with a gargantuan score of 9-3. Defensive breaks were plentiful, as the offence only got onto the field three times; all were clean holds that took four passes each.
In general, Ottawa’s gameplan was quite effective.
“Our gameplan in the beginning was essentially to [force them] go to the other side of the field, that they don't like to go to very much, and it was a pretty standard person-to-person defence where we were stopping open side unders,” explained Hunter. “They're a team that likes to just bail it back with ease, which I find they can get into trouble with, if we end up softening the continue. That was a big thing, I felt, after half we managed to not only stifle that reversing bail, but we also did contain the around. Once that was contained, they didn't really have anywhere to go other than back into the teeth of the defence, and that meant we got some blocks because of it.”
The defensive pressure was outstanding, and it eventually took its toll on Philadelphia. The rejuvenated Outlaws will hit the road this upcoming weekend, playing in New York and then in Philadelphia for a third matchup on the season. With Ottawa (2-4) only 1.5 games behind New York for second place in the East and 0.5 games ahead of Philadelphia for last place, this road trip will provide meaningful answers to playoff seeding questions. The playoffs are in striking distance for the feisty Outlaws, but they will eventually have to beat someone other than the Phoenix, after close losses to Montreal and Toronto. New York will be a fantastic measuring stick.