On Saturday, April 8th at Randall’s Island Field 10, the Empire open the 2017 regular season at home against a familiar and vexing foe, the Toronto Rush. The season-opening matchup will provide an early test for the East Division rivals, and another chance for New York to notch its first ever win against the only champion the East Division has known.
For the 2017 season, the Empire are bringing back most of their key players, with 23 individuals returning from the 2016 squad. The team has also made some key additions, including Ben Jagt, Ultiworld’s 2016 College Offensive Player of the Year and a former All-Division player for the Minnesota Wind Chill. New York will look forward to full seasons from Jeff Babbitt and John Wodatch, two key mid-season additions in 2016, and Chris Kocher, who missed most of the 2016 season due to injury and U.S. National Team commitments.
The Rush will be returning much of the same core which has led them to four straight division championships, although they also continue to restock the depth of the team with young, talented players. Jeff Lindquist, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Thompson McKnight, and Cam Harris will likely work on Toronto’s offensive line, while top defenders like Andrew Carroll, Remi Ojo, and Jonathan Martin patrol the other side of the disc. One key departure for the Rush is lockdown handler defender Anatoly Vasilyev, who signed on with the Vancouver Riptide for the 2017 season, but the Rush won’t be lacking for experienced AUDL playmakers.
The Rush and Empire both started play in the AUDL’s second season in 2013, and both have made the playoffs in each of their first four seasons. However, the team’s fortunes in the playoffs could not be more different. Toronto won the 2013 AUDL championship and has advanced to at least the AUDL semifinals every season, knocking New York out of the playoffs on the way on three occasions. The 13 all-time matchups (including the postseason) between the two teams have resulted in 13 Rush victories.
Despite those results, New York has had more than a couple of close calls over the years, with five games between the two decided by three goals or less. In the 2016 regular season finale, the teams’ last meeting, New York took the Rush to overtime in the second game of a road back-to-back before falling by two. That loss culminated a promising yet ultimately disappointing regular season for New York, as they finished in third place in the East with a 7-7 record that included three overtime losses.
But with a new season comes a fresh start, and New York hopes to start putting the pieces of a deep playoff run together on Saturday afternoon. After a long offseason, New York gets a chance to flip the script against their Canadian rivals to open the 2017 season.