The 2017 DC Breeze season finished in a very similar fashion to the previous year. With a 10-4 record, the team claimed the No. 2 seed in the East Division Playoffs. After winning their hard earned home playoff game, the Breeze moved on to play division winners Toronto Rush, and for the second straight year they lost to the Rush in the Division Final.
Although the results remain the same, 2017 was vastly different in that the organization achieved two historic milestones. The team finished undefeated at home including the regular season and postseason, and they held their best ever regular season record against the East.
Going 8-0 on your home turf throughout the year is rare in the AUDL. The Breeze were the only team to accomplish this feat in 2017, joining the 2013 Toronto Rush as the only two squads to ever do so in the East. The success is not limited to this year. Dating back to 2016, DC is currently on a 14 game winning streak at Hotchkiss Field. Their last home loss was on April 23, 2016 to the Rush.
The team’s 14 consecutive wins are the longest active streak in the AUDL.
2017 was also the best ever season for the franchise against East Division opponents. With only 13 intra-division games in 2017, their 10-3 mark (.769) surpassed the 2016 and 2014 teams that both finished 10-4 (.714).
Due to the Cross-Coast Challenge, the Rush were able to get an extra win (over the San Francisco Flamethrowers) and the Breeze lost on the road to the Raleigh Flyers. By all accounts the Breeze were the best regular season team in the East. They matched their division record with Toronto and the Breeze also won the season series against the Rush.
The extra out-of-division win was the difference for the Rush, a win that the Flamethrowers would go on to avenge in the AUDL Championship game.
There were flashes from all over the team from beginning to end of the season. The offensive line was unstoppable from the onset, and then rookie handler Nathan Prior stepped up and became a force in the dominant offensive unit after barely seeing playing time in the opening weeks, taking the O-line to yet another level. Completing 250 of his 255 passes, his 98 percent completion mark was one of the best on the team. He was joined by another AUDL rookie, Lloyd Blake, who ended the regular season with 15 goals and 28 assists.
The defensive unit saw new faces join, and it took a while to get into form. However, no one was more consistent than newcomer David Bloodgood, who was the only Breeze player to see action in every game this season. He was joined by defensive superstars Delrico Johnson (like Blake, an AUDL rookie but long time elite player) and Breeze returnee Rowan McDonnell.
Lost in the success the team enjoyed this season was the significant coaching change made during the off-season. Three-year Breeze and U.S. national team head coach Alex Ghesquiere stepped into a new role as Technical Director for the team, leaving the head coaching role for Darryl Stanley. Stanley is a Philadelphia-based coach who arrived in the nation’s capital with a pedigree that included successful stints at the college, club, and professional levels. Stanley won the MLU Championship in 2016 with the Philadelphia Spinners in that league’s final year before ceasing operations last December.
“Having a new coaching staff was definitely an obstacle we had to overcome,” McDonnell said. “Thankfully Darryl and Will were incredible, and they fit in right away. The team bought in almost instantly and we turned a potential obstacle into a non issue.”
Joining the staff was Will Smolinski, an experienced D.C.-area coached who was brought on as assistant coach. Many players on the team were already familiar with Smolinski thanks to his time as head coach of Washington D.C.’s top men’s club team, Truck Stop, in addition to coaching the MLU’s DC Current.
The duo’s first game coaching together was quite an impressive one. Right off the bat the Breeze throttled the Rush at home, making a statement to the entire league in their season opener: there would be no doubt that the East Division was up for grabs in 2017. In the contest, the Breeze saw one of their young stars break out: Tyler Monroe. With seven goals, four assists, and a +/- of +11, the 6’1″ cutter could not be stopped that day. That performance would serve as a precursor to the rest of the season.
“[Monroe] completely took over from a stats perspective. He has really matured as a player and showed his potential to dominate,” O-line handler Alan Kolick said.
It was not just Monroe scoring for the team. Multiple stars were involved in the success of the 2017 O-line as the teams spreading the disc around and shared the wealth. The system Stanley and Smolinski brought to the team this year allowed for all players’ skill sets to be utilized and resulted in one of the most balanced stat sheets in the league.
Four players were able to surpass 20 goals in the regular season, with 12 players scoring more than 10. Five players threw 20+ assists with 13 total getting at least 10. Max Cassell (37 goals, 24 assist) was the other Breeze player to stand out offensively in addition to Monroe (26 goals, 39 assists).
For a full look at how the stats played out for the team, check out Stats Analysis: 2017 DC Breeze Regular Season. In addition, see how the Breeze compared against the East in the East Division Stats Analysis.
Clearly the one thorn for Breeze this year was when they left the confines of Gallaudet University. For one reason or another, the team always had trouble fielding their top lines when traveling. By season’s end they had a 3-5 record on the road including the playoffs, capped off by a second consecutive heartbreaking loss to the Rush in the East Division final.
“The fluidity in the rosters from week to week at times made it hard to build to a level of execution needed to beat Toronto,” Monroe said. “It’s a reality of professional ultimate that guys are gonna have other obligations, but I think to make up the ground on the Rush, who have all played together so much over the years, we needed to have more reps together.”
“Overall we showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season, but the general story was that we were not consistent and we had trouble winning games on the road,” Kolick said. “For myself, interestingly I thought the first game of the season was my best – I probably wasn’t alone there – I struggled to find a rhythm throughout the season and never really felt like I played up to my potential. ”
While the Rush are currently experiencing a changing of the guard, with young fresh talent stepping into roles previously held by ultimate legends, DC is doing the same and is sure to be right back in the thick of things next season. Toronto will be good, very good, especially coming off of their success at Championship Weekend VI. The Breeze have two things in mind for 2018: 1) Hosting the East Division final, and 2) Representing the East at Championship Weekend VII. The passionate and supportive Breeze fan base deserves both, and the team is determined to deliver in 2018.