By: Jeph Novak
Photo by Mitchell May
As the Minnesota Wind Chill walked onto the field to take their place on the sideline ahead of their semifinal game, the crowd erupted in cheers. It was at this moment that the players and fans alike knew that this season was a success. Seeing the hometown Wind Chill just walk onto the finale field was cathartic enough; they had worked for 10 years to get to this moment, and the last four months demanded everything they had. So when they even just had the chance to compete one last time on the biggest stage of the AUDL, they had something to be proud of.
The game that played out in front of the home crowd was electric, one fit for the AUDL title. Despite the Wind Chill dropping their season finale 19-18 to the Salt Lake Shred in overtime, they couldn’t have asked for a much better performance from their active 20. Coming into the nightcap of Friday’s semifinal doubleheader, Minnesota was considered the underdogs. The Central Division had been erroneously overlooked and disregarded as a weak Division, one not quite ready to compete with the best in the league.
They proved the naysayers wrong from the get-go.
The Wind Chill kept up with the Shred, who were considered to have one of the league’s best offensive lines this season. Both teams went blow-for-blow, often trading offensive holds, or stringing defensive break points together before letting up a few of their own. The game was, all things considered, surprisingly even, with never-before-seen player matchups that provided outstanding plays on all sides of the disc.
Minnesota opened up the scoring early in the first quarter, receiving the opening pull and moving the disc quickly. After turning it over within the first minute of possession, it appeared the Shred would find an early advantage, but Jordan Taylor’s patient interception put his team back in control. And thus started a thunderous two hours of highlight-level plays, huge momentum swings, extreme crowd support, and an emotional rollercoaster of what would end up being the Wind Chill’s 2023 season finale.
Throughout the season, the Wind Chill’s defense has been touted as one of the strongest in the AUDL, especially into July and August. Their offense had seen inconsistencies and plenty of weak spots, and they knew that in order to beat the Shred on Friday, that they’d need to be firing on all cylinders. The Chill’s offense didn’t have their cleanest games by any means, but it ended up playing big into how they held a lead for the majority of the game.
Veterans Bryan “B-Von” Vohnoutka, Abe Coffin, and Quinn Snider had games to remember, anchoring the team’s offense and powering them through a tough, tall, and aggressive Shred defense. Young players stepped up in big ways, too. Tristan Van de Moortele, Will Brandt, and Paul Krenik made some noise in the game with four assists, six goals and 726 total yards among the three of them. The regular season called on every player to step up in a big way at one point or another, which helped prepare everyone if their name was called during Championship Weekend. Unselfish ultimate was the name of the game this season, and it carried over into the postseason, as well. Minnesota’s success came from a strong team effort, refining their offensive chemistry and continuing to build on their defensive strengths that would silence a strong opposing O-line.
And for the most part, it worked. They ended up holding a formidable offensive opponent to some of their lowest hold and huck rates of the season. Minnesota’s defense was patient, forcing the Shred to tire out quickly and be nearly perfect. In fact, Salt Lake was forced to throw 348 passes during the game, while Minnesota got away with only needing to throw 241.
This strategic approach on defense put pressure on the Shred’s handlers, who still came out strong. Jordan Kerr finished with a +/- of 10, navigating the Wind Chill waters with success but not without sweating along the way. Minnesota knew that in order to be successful against Kerr and the Shred, this was exactly what they needed to do, and it worked through much of the game.
Energized by one of the biggest and most electric crowds the team has ever had on their side, the Wind Chill were rewarded with one of their best games all season, despite what the numbers may suggest. Punctuated by Dylan DeClerck standing in front of the home crowd waving a towel, the team fed off the energy in the stands and took the Shred deep into the night.
Photo by Daniel Cohen
There were a few key moments throughout the game — a turfed throw, an errant huck, a stall count violation — that, had they gone differently, could have given Minnesota the dub without having to even go into overtime. But in this physically demanding, high-intensity games require players to be at their peak, tapping every ounce of training and endurance from the legs and arms of every player. So these little moments did add up, not making an immediate difference at the time, but piling up to lead to a thrilling conclusion. Each of these moments led to an incredible tipped Hail Mary by Joe Clutton in the final seconds of regulation, which was caught by Elijah Jaime and forced overtime, where the Shred eventually won it all.
But the outcome of the semifinal game against the Salt Lake Shred by no means qualified the success of the Wind Chill’s 2023 season.
From amplifying their defensive strength, to winning 10 regular season games in a variety of ways, to of course playing in their first-ever Championship Weekend game (at home, nonetheless!), the Wind Chill had a season to be proud of. This was by no means a failed season, nor was their success and appearance in the Final Four a coincidence that will be brushed off next year. This Wind Chill team proved themselves week after week, playing with the best and competing with everything they had.
Minnesota has spent the last 10 seasons in the AUDL refining their skills, building a strong roster, growing their fanbase, and cementing their legacy in the league. This year was another chapter in their arc, and their storyline continues to be written. As we head into the offseason and prepare for 2024, the Wind Chill are resting, regrouping, and continuing to find new ways to improve and compete their way to becoming AUDL champions.