Blaine, Minn. (Aug. 3, 2019) – Day two at the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships, at least in the International Club Championships division, is all about elimination play. The quarterfinal round started bright and early, at 8:30 a.m. local time and headed into the semifinals this afternoon. So now the gold-medal matchup is set.
Despite the discrepancy in initial seedings, the overall one and two seeds, Sockeye and Truck Stop, had the closest quarterfinal matchups this morning. Sockeye took on Nomadic Tribe, who had a much better day today than what they showed yesterday. Starting on the bottom half of the bracket, Sub Zero kicked things off with a break against second-seeded Truck Stop. One of the things Sub Zero has going for them is a really cohesive defensive line. The line’s main handlers, Codi Wood and Tristan Van de Moortele spend a handful of years playing together at Minnesota, and they can add multiple years of club experience with Sub along with Worlds experience with the U-24 National Team to their shared résumé. Toss in Cole Jurek as one of the line’s most effective cutters, who also has a lot of that same experience, and you realize there aren’t many D lines in the country who are both as young as Sub Zero’s and still as experienced. (Ring of Fire might be the exception here.) But that doesn’t mean they are imperturbable, and they are still working to incorporate some of their new faces from Madison this year, on both offense and defense. In their quarterfinal, along with the chances their D line did convert, there were plenty of opportunities they couldn’t convert. Sub Zero went up 3-1 with a second early break, but Truck Stop got that one back just before halftime. It took Truck Stop until late in the game to get back on serve, and then build an edge for themselves. The score was tied at 11-11 before Truck Stop got a second straight break to go up by one. From there, a 3-1 run closed things out for Truck Stop on the back of great defense, validating their overall two seed and sending them to the semifinals.
The other matchup on the bottom half of the bracket was PoNY v. Buzz Bullets. It was a pretty highly anticipated game, and for a slight majority of the first half, that anticipation felt justified. Buzz was up early, 5-3, before PoNY went on a scoring rampage, tallying six straight goals. That run put PoNY up 9-5. From there on out, it was a game of mini-runs. But PoNY eventually walked away with a 15-10 win, keeping the defending champion alive and well in the competition. Unsurprisingly, Grant Lindsley and Chris Kocher had monster games against the Buzz Bullets. They are always two of the top contributors on the PoNY roster, but against a team like Buzz, their speed and quick-cutting style of play slots in even better than in normal circumstances. Just between the two of them, Lindsley and Kocher accounted for five goals and six assists in the quarterfinals.
On the top half of the bracket, Sockeye was facing a Nomadic Tribe squad that looked a lot different – and a lot better – than they did on day one. They were connecting on a lot more of their OI flicks out to space toward the back corner that Japanese teams always seem to do so well. Sockeye broke first, but Nomadic Tribe got it back, plus another, to put them in front 4-3 early behind the play of Ken Nemoto and Takaharu Komori. The score was back on serve by halftime, with Sockeye leading 8-7. They got one more break to go up 11-9, but the real clincher came after Nomadic Tribe just barely missed the outstretched hands of their bidding receiver in the end zone at 12-10. They set up a zone to try and slow down Sockeye, but Ben Snell, working as the center handler, calmly walked the disc up the field with help from Trent Dillon. Just outside the red zone, Billy Katz put up a throw that was probably a little floatier than we would have liked, but Julian Hausmann went up in a crowd to convert the break chance for Sockeye. Traded holds ended up with a 15-12 win for Sockeye.
In the last quarterfinal, Ring of Fire finally got a win over Revolver in championship bracket play. After many near-misses, Ring’s explosive offense and steady offensive defense did their jobs. The defense converted break opportunities from a Revolver that looks a little different than they have for most of the past decade. They are still working out the kinks with their new roster, but never count them out late in the season. Ring of Fire advanced to the semifinals 15-11.
PoNY v. Truck Stop was the first of the staggered men’s semifinals. In front of a crowd in the stadium, the game became intense pretty quickly, with several PoNY players taking exception to the physicality of some of Truck Stop’s defenders. The Nate Castine v. Sean Keegan or Jimmy Mickle match ups, in particular, created some sparks in the first half. Several side conversations, plus what was basically an unofficial spirit timeout, were had to try and clear up some of the animosity, and it seemed to work. The second half of the game was still play with a high level of intensity, but was cleaner overall.
For PoNY, the big three – yes, even amongst their roster of all stars, there is a big three – went to work. Lindsley is still one of the very top initiating cutters in the country, and when he has Jimmy Mickle to throw to him, it’s a pretty good cheat code option. Even with Nicky Spiva marking Mickle in most cases, Mickle was able to get underneath Spiva’s hand to get off his flick break with regularity. That’s how the game started, with Lindsley bidding to reel in a cross-field blading throw from Mickle for the first point. PoNY converted their first break chance after a drop from Truck Stop, a break Truck Stop was able to get back to tie things up at 6-6 thanks to a good goal-line stand. But despite the best efforts of Truck Stop – and there were some great efforts – that was the only break PoNY gave up in the game. Rowan McDonnell was again Truck’s best player, getting things done on both sides of the disc. Nathan Prior also had a standout game, but PoNY was just too stingy. They got a 14-10 win and are back in the championship game for a second straight year.
The second semifinal was another battle of longtime powerhouses: Sockeye and Ring of Fire. As they have all weekend, Ring of Fire went with their huck-heavy offense, targeting their usual receivers downfield: Henry Fisher and Jack Williams. Dillon Lanier, Liam Searles-Bohs and Noah Saul were doing a lot of the distributing in their direction, and in the first half, things were great. They got a break to go up 4-3. Sockeye got it back to go into halftime on serve. And that’s when the wheels started to come off a little for Ring. They started missing on some of those deep shots that had worked so well in the first half, and Sockeye made those chances work for them – all while letting their offense just do their jobs under the guidance and choreography of Simon Montague. Dylan Freechild kept things moving in the shorter field, with Matt Rehder doing his thing in the deep space. Rehder ended up with two goals and two assists, Freechild with one goal and three assists. Of note is that Ring of Fire played largely without Matt Gouchoe-Hanas and Sol Yanuck, two of the D lines biggest pieces and definitely two of their biggest handler assets after a turn. Both have struggled with little nagging injuries over the course of the summer, which may have been what kept them out of the semifinal. But Sockeye played a solid game from start to finish and earned their way to the championship game 14-11.
The men’s division championship final between Sockeye and PoNY will air live on ESPN2 tomorrow at noon ET / 11:00 a.m. CT. It will also be available on ESPN3 and watchespn.com. Be sure to tune in to what will surely be a great final.