April 10, 2016
The season opened for the Chicago Wildfire at Lane Tech Stadium on a cold, windy, and drizzly afternoon. As was the case in 2014 and 2015, the team faced off against the Minnesota Wind Chill in their very first game on a day when weather conditions made even the shortest passes difficult.
With gusts of over 20 mph coming in from the south, the battle started as an upwind-downwind game immediately after the National Anthem, with both sides struggling to move the disc past midfield upwind. Even the best of throwers had difficulty throwing long passes, as proven by upwind pulls that barely rolled 30 yards. Every disc, if not put perfectly, had a chance of wavering or floating high.
The Wildfire received to start and quickly put the disc in going downwind, taking the first point of the season and starting 1-0. The first quarter was a time of testing, as both squads struggled with the elements and even the best players on both sides made simple mistakes leading to bad passes or drops due to the cold, wet, and wind.
Holding on serve, the Chicago Wildfire scored to take the lead 6-5 early, then managing to hold off the Wind Chill for the last few seconds in a tight first quarter with neither team scoring upwind. Newcomer Brett Hidaka displayed his talent as one of the best throwers in the wind, giving the Wildfire a threatening advantage early.
Mere minutes into the second quarter, Hidaka’s talent helped strike through, as the Wildfire defensive line shut down the Wind Chill and then attacked upwind. The Chicago handlers worked the disc well, before Hidaka burst upline, got power position, and threw a strong upwind huck to Alex Rummelhart who made the skying grab. Rummelhart swung to another newcomer, Dave Woods, who then found Danny Miller in the endzone for a crucial goal.
Chicago had scored upwind first, taken a two point lead for the first time- going up 7-5- and had a chance to add another break going downwind. The next point would be a critical one.
To Minnesota’s credit, the Wind Chill were not deterred by the upwind score and their offensive line fought back and forth in a long point that saw both teams use a timeout in an attempt to capitalize in the key moment. It was a struggling battle, but eventually Minnesota had a chance of their own and threw a deep huck into the wind that was caught for their own upwind goal.
Minnesota then began to employ a downwind zone which gave Chicago trouble. Using double-teams and forcing tight throws that led to mistakes in the bad weather, Minnesota was able to score and tie the game.
The match would go back on serve tied 8-8, but Minnesota had found a combination that worked. The team continually started putting up deep shots going both directions, not focused on pretty offense in the bad weather, allowing their playmakers to come down with the disc near or in the endzone.
Minnesota scored again upwind and downwind in tandem, and took a three point lead heading into halftime.
The second half saw Captain AJ Nelson and assistant coach Mike Shiel lead the offensive line with furious cutting and smart throws; all game long the two were nearly unguardable from the Wind Chill, as they attempted to navigate the downwind zone that was Minnesota’s defensive attack.
But, though Chicago had several close opportunities, mistakes continued to trouble them and keep them out of the endzone on both sides of the field. Minnesota did not hesitate after these red-zone turnovers, but instead hucked freely, successfully relying on solid throws and good grabs on floaty passes.
Chicago struggled to stay tight enough on defense to stop the passes and the huck attack, and on offense had trouble breaking through the zone without making a mistake. The weather was making the points longer and longer, and Minnesota had momentum on their side. Smelling a chance at an upset, they weren’t going to let go of their lead. They reeled off several points to take a commanding lead and with time running out late in the game, it was too much to overcome.
Chicago fell in the first game of the season 11-17. Though disappointed by the loss, the team knew it had two more chances to take on Minnesota; they’ll have their first opportunity at revenge next week in a rematch of the two squads in Minneapolis on Saturday night.