Post Season Preview: On the Brink
By Heather Crowley
For the fifth consecutive season the Denver Outlaws nabbed a playoff berth and will be in the hunt for the Steinfeld Cup. Their 14-11 win over the Chicago Machine in Week 10 put them back as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Outlaws have a long and storied playoff history, despite having been in the league for only five years.
Every season since their inception the Outlaws have finished out the season with a winning record and in great position to win the cup. However, in the playoffs they have seemed to run out of gas at the end and watch another team walk away with the championship. Four years of coming up just short is something the Outlaws are looking to squash this season.
The change from regular season to post season is not minute as the Outlaws have had their share of playoff woes. Denver’s all-time winning percentage in the regular season is a staggering 70% but when the playoffs roll around that statistic drops down to 43%. It is not a pretty stat, but many of the Outlaws welcome it as a challenge, especially Denver head coach Brian Reese.
“Every year has been a learning experience. A lot has to happen to win a championship and we’ve been pretty close. We just have to focus on making one play at a time,” he said.
In 2006, their first season, the Outlaws reached the MLL championship game against the Philadelphia Barrage, extremely impressive for an expansion team especially in a city not traditionally known for lacrosse. Despite making an unexpected run however, the Outlaws fell 23-12 to the Barrage which set a unfortunate tone for the future. Denver’s history in the championship game consists of a tough 0-3 record with a -22 goal differential.
In 2007 the Outlaws got a rematch against the same team that denied them the title a year the year before. With a first round matchup against the Barrage, the Outlaws went looking for revenge. After four quarters of back and forth play the game was tied at 12-12 and it took overtime to decide a winner. Despite coming close again, it just was not in the cards for Denver in ’07 either as they fell to the Barrage for a second consecutive year.
In 2008 Denver snuck by the Los Angeles Riptide in a tight one goal game that brought a new championship foe, but a similar result. The Rochester Rattlers dismantled the Outlaws 16-6 and ran away with the Steinfeld Cup.
The next season in 2009, the Outlaws were on a mission and seemed ready to change their destiny; the Outlaws ran through the regular season with a 9-3 record and pulled out an 11-10 victory over the Boston Cannons in the semi-finals. Moving on to the finals, the Outlaws sat just minutes away from their first ever MLL title in a championship matchup against the Toronto Nationals. However with a 9-8 lead, Denver saw the Nationals stage an epic and dramatic comeback to take the game 10-9 and the 2009 championship.
Brendan Mundorf, Brian Langtry, Matt Brown, Lee Zink , Casey Cittadino and Sean McCarthy are six players who have been with the franchise since it was founded five years ago. This year the new mix of veterans and younger players has given the Outlaws another year of solid experience. Rookies from last year enter this postseason with valuable playoff experience and confidence that will only help fuel the fire as the Outlaws seek their first title.
“This is definitely the youngest team we have had in the playoffs so hopefully we can use our young, fresh legs to our advantage,” Reese said. “But our leaders have been here before and they need to step up and help lead this team these next few games.”
Looking ahead to this postseason the Outlaws will have to wait for a potential rematch if they are take on the Cannons. The Cannons have been the one team that had Denver’s number this year and the Outlaws will be hoping for a winner take all rematch. Boston has been kryptonite for the Outlaws this season as they are 0-3 against the Cannons in 2010. Many consider Boston to be a favorite to take the title, evidenced by its No. 1 seed this season. Boston is currently on a three game winning streak and is undefeated since the All-Star break. Its losses came early in the season to the Lizards (Week 3), the Bayhawks (Week 4) and the Nationals (Week 8). The Cannons have been close in every game and have yet to be blown out; their losses have been by just two and three goal games.
If the Outlaws want to win it all, here are a few things they need to make sure they get under control before the playoffs.
1.) LOCATION: This sounds ridiculous, right? But one factor in the Outlaws playoff hunt is always location. Denver is a much better home team than a road team, as many teams are. So far the Outlaws have played their playoff games in Rochester, Carson, Cambridge, and Annapolis. The Outlaws need to be prepared to handle not having the fan support they are used to. Denver finished its season with three home games and will need to adjust to a neutral site, especially with the playoffs set on the east coast for Championship Weekend. The Outlaws came incredibly close in the playoffs last season when they were in Annapolis and this season they ruined the Bayhawks perfect home record at the same stadium. So needless to say the Outlaws have a positive history here. Also, local guys such as attackman Drew Westervelt and goalie Jesse Schwartzman have much less traveling to do then they would for an Outlaws home game and should be fresh after the two week break.
2.) BOSTON: The only place the Outlaws could see Boston is the championship, so they shouldn’t worry about them until that time comes. However, since Denver played its first season in 2006, the Boston Cannons have yet to win a playoff game. The Outlaws need to focus on their first opponent, which will be the Long Island Lizards. This season the Outlaws played two games against the Lizards and came out with a sterling 2-0 record. Although having never won the title, the Outlaws have vast playoff experience on their roster. Outside of a few rookies, everyone on the team has been to the championship game and knows what to expect.
3.) PLAYING TOGETHER: The Outlaws are made up of All-Stars, Team USA members, former All-Americans and past MVPs. As individuals, their accolades illustrate their talent, but one person cannot win a title for a team. If everyone tries to make the big shot or carry a comeback by taking low percentage shots, the Outlaws will find trouble and an early deficit to make up. Patience and working together is when Denver is at its best. Denver does not rely on one primary scorer, evidenced by the fact there are six players on the roster with at least 22 points.
“I think our depth is a bonus. Anyone on our offense can go off and have a 4 goal game. We are talented on defense and have been pretty good at the face off X,” Reese said. “It’s just a matter of playing our best when it counts the most.”
4.) BETWEEN THE PIPES: Perhaps the most important position in the game is goalie. Goaltending is generally one place that the Outlaws can rely on. Last season Schwartzman posted an 11.28 goals against average during the regular season and lowered that figure to 10.13 during the playoffs. This year Schwartzman has been more up and down, having allowed nine two point goals compared to the 11 he allowed in all three of his previous seasons. He is however, the reigning Goalie of the Year and if he can again put together another solid playoff run, the Outlaws just may leave Maryland with their first ever MLL title.
2010 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior
August 21-22, Annapolis, MD
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