Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flying Under the Radar

For the past several years, Vancouver has been in the center of the sports world, especially in Canada. Mainly known for their hockey, Vancouver has become one of the primer sporting cities in Canada, being the most populous city on the Western Coast of the Great White North. When referring to sports teams, especially from the United States, which my opinion is based off of, the first team to come to mind is of course the Vancouver Canucks. Hockey, known for being the sport of Canada, is where Vancouver reigns supreme, the Canucks have won five Northwest Division titles in a row before finishing fifth in the Pacific last season, and in that time being one of the most dominating teams in the NHL.

For those MLS fans there is the Vancouver Whitecaps FC (not to be confused with the Boston Whitecaps of the MLU), they have had mixed results making the playoffs once out of their three year history. However in making the playoffs in 2012, the Whitecaps became the first ever Canadian MLS team to make the postseason. Also lets not forget the women's soccer team, also known as the Vancouver Nightcaps FC, in the USL W-league, which is a Pro-Am league that allows college players to test their skills and play alongside international players. While having won two W-League Championships the team struggled the past couple of years forcing the team to fold, also in due part to competition from the new-found NWSL.

Now all of those teams are in leagues associated more with the teams in the United States, where a majority of the league calls itself home, but lets not forget about the largest Canadian specific league, the CFL. The Canadian Football League, although not as large as American Football still remains a huge part of sporting life in Canada. The BC Lions, based out of Vancouver, average roughly 30,000 fans a game in the past few seasons. Now that number is half of the average NFL attendance but comparing the two leagues are like comparing apples to tomatoes. They are both football but that ends all of similarities between the leagues, besides the primary sport in Canada is, and has always been, hockey. Still lets not disregard the six Grey Cup Championships by the BC Lions as well as holding the second best Win-Loss Percentage of all current CFL teams at .600.

Purposely leaving this topic for last, there is of course the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver. One of the best Winter Olympics put together in my opinion, even better than Sochi 2014, and introduced the world to British Columbia. These Olympics are remembered not only for the individual performances by the athletes but as well as the how well it was hosted and the spectacle put together for the entire world to enjoy. The crowds at all of the Olympic events were spectacular; the populous of Vancouver truly embraced their opportunity to host the Olympics and in doing so, left a lasting legacy on the Winter Games.

The citizens of Vancouver, who pride themselves on being sport fans, have a lot to be proud of in the last decade. With the rise of professional ultimate frisbee in both the United States and Canada, their teams will yet be just another reason the individuals of British Columbia can celebrate and support their own. The two teams that call Vancouver their playing ground in pro ultimate are the Vancouver Riptide and the Vancouver Nighthawks.

The Vancouver Riptide which are in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) just completed their first season as a franchise with an 8-6 record, third in the West Division, one spot out of the playoffs. Lead by the tandem of Darren Wu and Derek Fenton which are both in the top 10 in AUDL in goals, and Fenton even leads the league in assists! Playing in a division where two of the best teams, featuring some of the world's top players, the San Francisco Flamethrowers and San Jose Spiders, finishing above .500 was an accomplishment. In fact if the West Division was like the rest of the other divisions in the AUDL and had six teams, the Riptide would be in the playoffs being the third team from the West. Maybe with the AUDL continual expansion and playoff expansion, next season would be a perfect opportunity to make a playoff run.

Finally the MLU team, the Vancouver Nighthawks are about to finish an incredible season. Starting as preseason favorites to win the four team Western Conference, Vancouver faded quickly and had troubles with cohesion from the team. However these problems did not have a lasting impact on the team, at the end of the season the Nighthawks made a push for the playoffs going on a four game winning streak, finishing the regular season at 6-4. Not only is the team becoming one of the best pro teams in Vancouver without story-lines on the evening news, flying under the radar in the West also let Vancouver play to their advantages and that was putting on shows on offense and defense. After the astounding run by the Nighthawks the team had to travel down to Portland for the Western Conference Championship to face the 8-2 Stags who had dominated the West all season long, losing to only Vancouver and Seattle once. 

It would be so fitting that the game would be a matchup of runs, where teams would score three straight points at a time, putting the team ahead momentarily as they other adversary would then do the same. The defense that Vancouver prided themselves on ended up being the deciding factor as their defense would score practically as much as their offense. Their leader of the defense and the team, Morgan Hibbert, the "Iron Man" of the team played 20 of the 27 points sending the team to their first MLU Championship Game. One of the most recognizable players in the league with his red hair and was just named MLU Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The team's counterpart on offense Brendan Wong, 
MLU Points Title Holder and Western Conference Rookie of the Year, is just as explosive on the other side of the disc by averaging almost five goals a game and recorded 64 points in the season. As mentioned before ultimate is not the main sports story in the daily news, however the Nighthawks have been getting recognition from Vancouver. The team is one of the league leaders in attendance, this season and last, as well as even having their own press coverage. The CBC did give the Nighthawks their first of many moments of fame with their own story on the team featuring Morgan Hibbert. Depending on how the results go in Philadelphia for the Championship, this will most likely not be the only story coming out of the Canadian press on how Vancouver continues to love their sports, even through the sport of ultimate.

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