The Eighth Man

Boston, Ottawa to Battle North of the Border

Credit: Danny Ly

Credit: Danny Ly

This is a season full of firsts for Major League Quidditch, from the first match to the first goal to the first-ever timeout. But this weekend marks a new milestone for the league, as it hosts a match in Canada for the first time — the Ottawa Black Bears against the Boston Night Riders on Saturday in Ottawa. The match is not just historically noteworthy for the league, but also marks the first time Americans  have crossed the border for competitive quidditch since Global Games last summer.

Boston enters the match as the heavy favorite, but as we have learned over the first two weeks of the season, the difficulties of newly-developing on-field chemistry can be a pitfall for even the most talented of team. And Ottawa is no slouch, with a roster that is a veritable who’s who of Canadian quidditch and the benefit of a talent smokescreen created through a year of separation of the two national leagues. But will it be enough to grab a game in this opening series? Let’s find out.

Opening Thoughts
It’s become clear so far this season that opening matches are a chance for us to see what a team has discovered about itself in a few months of practice. For Boston, that is going to be a test of who it trusts to ball handle—especially with the absence of Harry Greenhouse—and whether the Night Riders choose to go deep into their roster like New York did last weekend, or rely on a couple of lines, as Washington did. For Ottawa, it is going to be a test of who is ready and willing to put this team on its back. For a team that is structured very much like last year’s Team Canada, one of the key differences is the absence of key contributor Hugh Podmore. This match will be a chance to see who can pick up the offensive slack, whether it will be Jonathan Parent, Devin Dutt, Adam Robillard or someone else altogether.

But regardless of what happens in the quaffle game, Ottawa is going to need to find a way to compete with Boston in the beater game to make this match competitive. Max Havlin, Andrew Miller and Aaron Wohl of the Night Riders will be the best beaters on the pitch this weekend, and Colin Wallace is going to need to find a way to break even with them to give his chasers a chance. If he can’t, it could be a long weekend for the Black Bears.

Matchup to Watch: Boston Fast-Break Offense vs. Ottawa Fast-Break Defense
The recipe for upset all season so far in MLQ is the offenses of favored teams stalling in early games, reducing their ability to extend the point margin and keeping the underdogs around. This is in no small part due to the difficulties of developing a coherent, half-court offense in the amount of time these teams have had to practice together. And when you look at the Boston roster, you see a number of players that come from elite fast-breaking teams that can struggle in the half-court. So for Ottawa to compete in this series, the Black Bears going to absolutely need to limit the points in transition from Boston. Every time they get caught turning the ball over with their beaters out of position is going to be another free 10 points they give their opponents, and with the sizable questions that there are about Ottawa’s offense, that is an added deficit they cannot  afford. But if this Canadian squad is smart about when it makes plays for bludger control, avoids mid-field turnovers and instead gives its defense time to set up, Ottawa can make life a lot more difficult for the Night Riders.

Key Player: Jayke Archibald, Keeper, Boston Night Riders
Responsibility will be heaped on keeper Jayke Archibald in droves this weekend, as, with the absence of both coach Harry Greenhouse and manager Kara Levis, he will serve as the team’s on-and-off field leader, captain, coach, primary ball handler, largest scoring threat and most likely starting keeper. That would be a tall task on a team he had run for years, never mind one that has existed for less than two months and has never played a game together. Simply put, Archibald is going to be on for three straight hours, and even one off game could be incredibly problematic, putting added pressure on a team that’s depth has been in question all preseason. Of course, as important as his play on the field will be, his decisions on the sideline will be just as much so, as he will need to observe, mix and match sub lines and make adjustments in between games, all while playing through much of them. If he can pull it all off, there is no reason this team should not be able to cruise through the series. But even some minor slips—which would be more than understandable—could leave the door a crack open for Ottawa.

Boston Wins If:
The team clicks immediately, dominates the bludger game and gets point in transition in abundance. Boston sees no drop off in efficacy in its second and third lines and manages to take the seeker game out of the equation, taking the pressure off Dan Howland in his first major game in the northeast and patching over the missing Greenhouse.

Ottawa Wins If:
The Black Bears clamp down defensively, keep things incredibly low scoring and manage to keep the score in range. Their beaters maintain enough parity to give their seekers a shot, and a quick pull scores the team a surprising win.

Final Prediction: Boston, 2-1
Predicting sweeps seems a more precarious proposition each and every week. Much like New York and Washington last weekend, expect Ottawa to get a chance in a game early in the evening and take advantage of it before the Night Riders step on the gas pedal and dominate going forward.

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