Parity is one of the most exciting things about the U.S. Open Club Championships, particularly given the six-team pools. That pretty much everyone can play with everyone else makes things really exciting, even if there are “favorites” going into the weekend. That certainly was the case in the men’s division on day two.
The perennial favorite, San Francisco Revolver, had pretty much buttoned up their spot in the semifinals by the end of the day Friday. Raleigh Ring of Fire was in the same boat, sitting undefeated at the top of Pool B. But the second spots in each pool were an entirely different story. Starting the day, basically everyone was still in play for those remaining semifinal spots. In Pool B, Sub Zero took advantage of their last-round game against Tokyo Loquitos to button up their spot in the semifinals. But in Pool A, thing were setting up to be messy.
After the first round of the day, the Buzz Bullets, Doublewide, Truck Stop and PoNY were all sitting at 2-2, with the last round squaring off the Buzz Bullets and Doublewide at one end of the field complex and Truck Stop and PoNY at the other end. Obviously, winning was the first step for any team to advance, but head-to-head results would also come into effect. The Buzz Bullets emerged victorious over Doublewide and, with PoNY down 8-12 against Truck Stop, looked set to move onto the semifinals. But the new and improved PoNY wasn’t quite done. Their new standouts, Jimmy Mickle and Chris Kocher plus Australian star Alexander Ladomatos, moved over to the D line to try and keep them alive. It worked. A couple of great Ds and several Truck Stop missed throws later, PoNY had scored six straight, and seven out of eight, to complete the ridiculous comeback in the soft cap to take the win 14-12 and take Pool A’s second spot in the championship bracket.
That last round was only a teaser of what was to come.
With the rotating broadcast schedule, both men’s semifinals were played in the main stadium and streamed on ESPN3. Neither game disappointed.
Revolver and the hometown team, Sub Zero, were up first. Minnesotans and I-always-root-for-the-underdog fans were out en masse during the game, which made the atmosphere in the stadium electric. More than just about any team as of late, Sub Zero was able to run with Revolver from start to finish. Style-wise, the two teams matched up well. Both are athletic and rely on moving the disc quickly, no matter if that’s with short, under throws or throws deeper into open space for receivers to run onto. No matter the crowd’s enthusiasm, it’s unlikely many people realistically expected Sub Zero to play point for point with the newly crowned world champions. At halftime, Revolver was up a break, but an imperfect throw or two, and just like that, things were back on serve. Nick Simonelli and Josh Klane and Ryan Osgar were all huge for Sub Zero. Between them, they accounted for 18 of the teams goal and assist tallies. With help from the crowd, Sub Zero was playing like they had nothing to lose – with unparalleled energy that helped propel them to a few spectacular late-game Ds. Those turned into a couple late breaks that tied the game at 14-14 – officially in overtime – and put Sub Zero in the driver’s seat. Despite spectacular efforts from many of the usual suspects (Grant Lindsley: 3G, 2A; Joel Schlachet: 4G, 1A; etc.), Revolver just couldn’t get the break they needed, and on double-game point, Osgar put up a floaty throw to Simonelli in the end zone. John Stubbs just missed the D, and Simonelli just barely closed his hand around the disc. On the way down, the disc was knocked loose by Stubbs. An uncontested strip foul call ended the game, with Sub Zero taking down the winningest team of the last decade in the men’s division.
The game left some big shoes to fill for the second semifinal. But that one didn’t exactly disappoint either.
Despite missing a handful of key players, including Jack Williams, Brett Matzuka and Jacob Fairfax, along with a couple others, Ring of Fire looked strong throughout pool play, and that continued during the semifinals. They got an added bonus with the last-minute arrival of Jonathan “Goose” Helton too, who decided to make a pit stop in Minnesota on his way back home from the Masters World Ultimate Club Championships. That certainly didn’t hurt Ring. Goose contributed three assists and a goal during the semifinal.
Stars were out on both sides, from start to finish, in what was a pretty clean game, overall. Each side had a few break chances, but the first conversion didn’t come until Ring got one to go up 7-6. PoNY kept plugging away and got the next three breaks. Ring got one more back late to keep the crowd on their toes, but PoNY an IO flick from Jimmy Mickle to Sean Keegan wrapped up the win for PoNY. The finish was fitting. Mickle was, unsurprisingly, huge for PoNY from start to finish He ended up with two assists and four goals. Likewise, Keegan played probably one of the best games of his impressive career. He ended up with a three-assist, four-goal stat line, which certainly stands out, but doesn’t show everything else he did on the field to keep the PoNY offense fluid and moving downfield. The same could be said for Chris Kocher, who had a couple goals and assists himself, but also tallied several hockey assists, leaving his fingerprints all over the field.
Ring also looked solid throughout. And barring anything crazy, will look that way for years to come. This team is young. Most of their starting offensive line is U-24 eligible. The same is true for a chunk of their starting defensive line. Ring has done a great job of creating a pipeline to the impressive youth scene in the Triangle Area (also on display this weekend in the Youth Club Championships division of the U.S. Open!) and should remain a part of the national conversation for years to come.
Sunday’s final isn’t exactly an expected or common match up. It will be the first major championship event final for both teams. And it should be fun. Tune into watch Sub Zero take on PoNY at 3:30 p.m. CT on ESPN3.