Riptide Look to Finish the Season Strong in Seattle

By Scott Lewis

The Vancouver Riptide head to Seattle for their last game of the AUDL season this weekend, eliminated from the playoffs but still with plenty to play for.

Motivation will not be a problem.

The opponent is their biggest rival, a rivalry stretching back at least a quarter of a century. And if they beat the Cascades, they will likely deny them the chance to host a playoff game. The L.A. Aviators are almost certain to win their final game against the San Diego Growlers, and an L.A. win and a Seattle loss this weekend would move the Aviators past Seattle into second place by virtue of them winning the season series between the two teams.

“I don’t think getting motivated to beat Seattle has ever been a problem for Vancouver,” commented the Riptide’s Oliver Telfer. “This team is a proud one that believes it can beat any of the West playoff teams on any given Saturday. While we unfortunately fell short of the playoffs this year want to remind everyone we belong in the conversation.”

Telfer also points out that a win would have ramifications beyond the AUDL season, given that these two AUDL teams includes most of the players on the two cities’ top touring teams, who will face off once again this fall in the USAU club competition.

“I also believe the tone on which the Riptide finish up the season will be important for [Vancouver’s] Furious George. Ending strong and proud will help to give us confidence and motivation to perform well in the USAU club series.”

But which Riptide team will show up on Saturday night? As befits a team breaking in a large crop of youngsters and with a rotating roster all season due to players’ other obligations, the Riptide have been very inconsistent. That inconsistency manifested itself in last week’s tough loss to the Aviators.

Due to a scheduling quirk, the Aviators were lucky enough to face a short-handed Riptide roster in each of the three meetings this season, each one a win by Los Angeles. After playing several games minus the veterans who were off on Team Canada duty, last Saturday the Riptide has some of those veterans back but Vancouver was still shorthanded due to other players being unable to make the trip to California.

Telfer didn’t detect any problem with integrating the TC players back into the lineup last week.

“While some of the younger guys’ roles changed from what they had been doing while the veterans were away, overall we still followed the team’s plans and goals and there were no miscommunications or problems. Also, we had a very short line-up again so it felt more like of the other games against L.A. as opposed to some of the other earlier games in the season.”

“The good thing about this team is that any group you bring to a game you are bound to get a strong team,” added Kevin Underhill, one of the returning TC players. “The team played great while the TC guys were away and came out on the unlucky side of a few close games.”

“That’s the way it goes sometimes in our division. Getting the guys back from London is just an added boost, but it doesn’t change how we play our game.”

The Riptide started off the game playing decently, but by the end of the first half they were down 17-12, having converted only a single break compared to the Aviator’s half dozen. Things didn’t start off well in the second half, with the Aviators taking their largest lead of the game at 21-14 with 7:25 left in the third quarter.

But then came what was probably the Riptide’s finest stretch of play so far this season, a 9-1 run including six breaks over eight minutes that had them in the lead early in the fourth quarter. Before the 9-1 run the Aviators had committed only two turnovers the entire game, but the Riptide amped up the defensive pressure to great effect.

“I think our mental focus and defensive intensity during that run was some of our best all season,” said Telfer. “We weren’t playing our cleanest offense but we were able to convert our break chances at a high percentage almost through sheer will.”

“That 9-1 run was a great indication of how our team can play when everyone is dialed in,” added Underhill. “I think during that stretch every single player made at least one good play. We showed that if we are playing at our best we can beat any team in the division. It wasn’t anything exceptional, it was just all of us adhering to the game plan and making plays when we needed to.”

But then the inconsistency once again reared its ugly head. The Riptide failed to force a single break in the fourth quarter as the Aviators responded with a 5-1 run to take a stranglehold on the game. That’s not a surprise really, given the effort it takes to make up a seven-goal deficit with a short-handed roster.

“While we carried the intensity through until the end of the game,” said Telfer, “I think that our mental focus slipped. We made some bad decisions on offense and weren’t able to make plays to get it back on defense. You have to give the Aviators credit. They weathered our run and came back with some great defensive plays and conversions on turns. We both really wanted to win but in the fourth quarter they were the ones generating turns and not us.”

“Maybe it was the fact that we only had 15 guys in the line-up so the fatigue started to catch up,” added Underhill. “but I think that would be doing a disservice to the team on the other side. L.A. righted the ship and brought more pressure in the fourth quarter. We didn’t respond in the same way and the score represented the game.”

“We were right there but couldn’t close it out, ind of a micro-version of the whole season I suppose. We need to exhibit that kind of effort and focus for the full 60 minutes if we want to win games like this.”

Will this Saturday’s game against the Cascades in Seattle reflect the 9-1 run by Vancouver or the 5-1 run by the Aviators? Probably there’ll be a bit of both, but likely more of the former. For the first time in quite a while, the Riptide will have a full 25-man roster available, one that integrates the veterans with youngsters who have developed their skills and leadership in new roles while the veterans were away.

“The younger players have been rock solid all year,” said Underhill “They are steadily improving and I think with some of the veterans gone, they took on a bigger role and are now playing with more confidence. We are looking forward to using the whole roster and finishing the season off right.

Saturday’s game will be carried live on the ESPN3 network in the U.S. However, there doesn’t seem to be any way to access that signal in Canada, so if Riptide fans want to watch the game they’ll have to head down to Seattle.

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