June 20, 2013

MLL Week 8: Denver's Success - Finding the Right Players

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com

Continuing to re-stock talent every year - like rookie Eric Law (nine points in two games) - has the Outlaws in the mix every season.
© John Strohsacker 

Since the team's inception there has yet to be an MLL season where the Denver Outlaws have failed to make the playoffs. That's seven seasons worth of quality lacrosse being played at Sports Authority Field Mile High.

What's most impressive about that run is the way they have played the past two seasons, despite trading away some high profile players in the offseason. Before the 2012 season, they trade stalwarts Max Seibald, Drew Westervelt and Brian Langtry. Before this season, Mark Matthews, Peet Poillon and Colin Briggs were similarly dealt.

It seems every off-season there is a large upheaval from the media and fans about why the Outlaws make the moves they do, but it works out in the end. Last year the Outlaws went to the MLL Championship game and this season they are 7-0 at the halfway point, with the most goals for and the second fewest goals against.

"It hasn't been a wholesale turnover like people make it seem," Outlaws head coach Jim Stagnitta said. "There may be a big name person here or there and some of that is the value we get back."

It helps matters when you have the reigning MLL MVP in Brendan Mundorf, the 2012 MLL Defenseman of the Year in Lee Zink and one of the top goalies in the league in Jesse Schwartzman.

Denver is also winning games in large part due to some young players stepping up when the opportunity arises. Second-year midfielder Drew Snider is second on the team in points (18 goals and seven assists in seven games) and has improved all three of those stats from last year in fewer games. Second-year attackman Chris Bocklet is third on the team in points (20 goals, five assists). In two games, rookie attackman Eric Law has nine goals on nine shots. The team has also gotten good contributions at both ends of the field from second-year midfielders Justin Turri and Will Mangan.

"Turri is a big strong middie who was able to play against the Bayhawks middies and go from defense to offense," Stagnitta said. "We needed a righty attackman. We were getting in each other's way. We had lefties and finishers. Now we have righties in [Jeremy] Boltus and Law. It's balancing us out and allowing us to be well rounded."

It seems like no matter who suits up for the Outlaws, the team just keeps getting better and better. Not only are kudos in order for the players but also to the coaching and front office staffs that have a plan in place and aren't afraid to make unpopular moves if it makes the team better.

"They are strategic," Stagnitta said of the team's previous trades. "Not every plan works out the way you want it to work out but they're doing the things we needed them to do to be one of the best teams in the league."

All that's left for the team to validate what the management is doing is a championship, something the Outlaws look to have as good a chance to win as they ever have had.

"We take advantage of opportunities," Stagnitta said. "We're doing what we need to do. We're scoring a lot of goals but we've been winning face-offs consistently and we play good defense."

Bayhawks struggling to score two-pointers

In 2012 the Chesapeake Bayhawks set the league record for most two-point goals scored in a season (28), with midfielder Kyle Dixon breaking his own single-season two-pointer record (15) as well.

The 2013 Bayhawks still lead the league in two-point goals for but they haven't been as effective from long-range in the past few weeks. Two of their past three games (the 6/1/13 loss to the Hamilton Nationals and the 6/15/13 loss to the Denver Outlaws) they have failed to score a single two-point goal.

Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle said the team's game plan hasn't changed but the opposition's has.

"Obviously teams are making it tougher for us to get them," Cottle said. "We have to make adjustments. People aren't stupid. Denver has only given up one two-pointer this year. They play a little further out."

Cottle did point out that it wasn't just the different defense teams were playing against them, that there are things Chesapeake can do to help themselves out.

"For us I don't think we've done a good job in transition or in the substitution game. I think those are areas we can improve and pick up some two-point opportunities," he said. "We're shooting 26 percent ... I think we can shoot a higher percent. If we shoot 28 to 30 percent we have a chance to win every game."

It will be another test this weekend when the Bayhawks go up against the Charlotte Hounds, who have only given up two two-pointers this season.

Lizards to go on the road for key part of the season

Much was expected out of the New York Lizards after the facelift the roster and organization as a whole have undergone in the past two seasons. There was even talk of the Lizards being a legitimate championship contender in 2013, but things haven't gone to plan so far.

The team is 3-4 and still working on chemistry issues that come with the amount of changes on offense the team made in the off-season. They sit in a tie for fourth place in the league standings currently but need to increase their winning percentage.

As if the team didn't have enough pressure on it already, they now go on the road for four consecutive games.

Lizards head coach Joe Spallina isn't too concerned about playing away from New York, however.

"I'll be honest I don't think playing on the road is a disadvantage in this league," he said. "Last year we were on the road and won a couple games and it spearheaded our season. There are less distractions on the road."

Ever confident in his group, Spallina will use the road games as a way to continue to mold his squad into what he hopes is a championship-caliber team.

"We've got to get as many wins as we can and get into the playoffs. If we can get one this week it will be real important for us," he said. "We're relishing the opportunity to go away as a group. We're going to spend some time together and develop that chemistry on and off the field."

MLL Week 8 Preview

New York Lizards (3-4) at Boston Cannons (2-5), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Broadcast: ESPN3

The debut season for Lizards rookie attackman Rob Pannell has seen a lot of hype, and Pannell hasn't disappointed.

But while one rookie gets a lot of attention from the league and the media, the Boston Cannons have their own rookie attackman that Cannons fans heavily anticipated seeing him play and he is delivering on the field. Will Manny, out of UMass, has played in three games and has five goals. New Cannons head coach sees Manny fitting in very well with the multitude of offensive weapons the Cannons have.

"Will has become a big part of our offense. He's a guy who's versatile he can play two positions. He can give defenders a fit," Tucker said. "He is a great feeder. He had a ton of assists his junior year. He's not a one trick pony. He's as tough as they come. He's going to be a big part of this team moving forward."

Chesapeake Bayhawks (4-3) at Charlotte Hounds (3-4), 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: CBS Sports Network

The Bayhawks are known around the league as a veteran team laden with championship experience. Names like John Grant, Jr., Casey Powell, Drew Westervelt, Kip Turner, Brian Spallina, Kyle Dixon and Nicky Polanco are synonymous with success in Major League Lacrosse.

It will be a difference in team philosophies when the Bayhawks take on the second-year Hounds on Saturday. Charlotte has built its team this season with a very young nucleus that includes six rookies playing large roles, including Mike Sawyer, Mason Poli, Jake Tripucka and Matt White, as well as second-year attackman Eric Lusby, who is fourth on the team in points.

"There's a lot of new faces out there," Hounds head coach Mike Cerino said of his youthful squad. "There's a fine line with saying this is our group and this is how we're going to look in a few years with saying this is our group and we're challenging for a playoff spot now."

It will be interesting to see if the young legs of the Hounds players can outrun the smart veterans and proven winners the Bayhawks employ.

Rochester Rattlers (3-4) at Hamilton Nationals (5-2), 7 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: YouTube.com/MLL
at FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, FL

The Nationals were the real surprise of the season, getting off to an impressive 5-0 start, including two overtime wins. It set up a Week 6 showdown with the undefeated Outlaws, but things have gone downhill for Hamilton since then.

The Nationals experienced a 22-9 beat down against the Outlaws and followed that up with a 12-10 loss to the New York Lizards.

The team is on a two game losing streak but thanks to its hot start the Nationals still sit in second place in the league standings. Which of those two sides does Nationals head coach Dave Huntley focus on, the good start or the bad stretch?

"None of the above," he said. "I'm focused on playing Rochester this weekend.  I'm focused on how we need to get better every week. We didn't dwell on 5-0. We're not dwelling on 0-2. We just have to move forward."

Ohio Machine (1-6) at Denver Outlaws (7-0), 8 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: CBS Sports Network

On Saturday the Megill brothers will be opponents for the first time.

Ray, a defenseman with the Ohio Machine and 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland, will look across the field in Denver and see his little brother Brian, a 2013 graduate of Syracuse University.

Brian's Outlaws are steamrolling through the league but Ray's Machine just won their first game of the season and will look to build off that momentum. To do that, Ray and the Machine defense will have to bring their best game of the season against a top-notch Denver offense.

"You're not going to stop them all. Their offensive guys are too good," Machine head coach Ted Garber said. "You have to play good team defense. You have to support the guy on the ball carrier. You have to decide what your slides are going to be and where they're going to come from."

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