By Heather Crowley, Major League Lacrosse
Playing less than full strength, the Denver Outlaws overcame a third quarter four goal deficit to beat the Chicago Machine 15-11. With the win, the Outlaws nabbed a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season. Although the team boasts an impressive regular season record and history of making the playoffs, it’s what actually happens when they get there that is not too pleasing for fans and players.
Their upcoming matchup against the Boston Cannons should be a great tune-up for the post season, as it has the potential to be a preview of the Championship game. The Cannons have made reservations for the playoffs as well and for the Outlaws, that is not good news. Boston is 2-0 against Denver this season and with both teams back at full strength after the World Games, the third and final game should be a competitive battle.
The Cannons feature two deadly shooters in midfielders Matt Poskay and Paul Rabil. Over the weekend Poskay became the Cannons’ all-time leader in goals when he tallied his 134th goal and tied Michael Watson for the team’s single-season record with 39 goals. Rabil had a stellar weekend of his own, winning World Games gold and MVP.
After seeing Poskay score four goals in their first meeting, he still victimized Denver in their June 12 meeting with five goals. The attacker faced both goalies as Jesse Schwartzman started in the Cannons first meeting and Adam Fullerton started game two.
This will be the first time that the Outlaws will play the Cannons at INVESCO at Mile High this season. The key for Denver will be defense and shutting down the high powered offense. In their first two meetings, Poskay and Rabil combined for a total of 13 goals and five assists. If Poskay gets hot early the Cannons will be well on their way to a season sweep.
As for defense, it will be a challenge. Lee Zink is the long-pole Denver defender that typically draws matchups against some of the toughest shooters in the league. Since coming to the Mile High City, Zink played in 56 of the 57 games on Denver’s schedule and has never had less than 20 groundballs in a season. In 2008 and 2009 Zink was selected to play in back-to-back All-Star games in front of the home-town Denver crowd. The defender would have been selected for a third time in 2010 but instead was selected as an alternate for Team USA.
“Throughout our team’s history, there has been one constant on our defensive end, and that’s Lee,” Reese said. “I still don’t think Lee gets the credit he deserves but he is a rock back there for us. What makes him so special is that he is a complete defender. He can cover the best dodgers as well as cover the good off ball guys. He is a leader back there and has been since day one of our franchise.”
He will get help trying to shut down the Cannons from Matt Bocklet. Bocklet brings his shooting ability to the Outlaws, having tallied five goals and four assists on the season. But more importantly, Bocklet is a defensive machine and will need to help Zink shut down Poskay and Rabil.
In 2009, Bocklet played in every game for the Outlaws and led the team in groundballs with 42. This season, the former Bayhawk was selected to the All-Star squad and is second in the league in groundballs with 53 just three behind league leader Chris Eck of the Boston Cannons. Bocklet brings solid fundamentals and avoids making errant plays. This season he only has one penalty minute on a Denver team whose 53 minutes is good for second highest in the league.
“I think being a good defender is more than just scoring points. It’s being able to cover guys, defend your goal, play good team defense and get groundballs and clear in out of your end,” Reese said “Scoring goals is icing on the cake but it can be a huge game changer when long sticks score. Matt has great hands. He can pick off passes that come near him, dig out tough ground balls in scrums and clear it out of our defensive end. What he does is not easy but he makes it look easy sometimes.”
The team needs to avoid bad penalties and play good defense to slow down the Cannons offense. The Outlaws will get one last crack at the Cannons in the regular season Saturday and a win would help the team’s confidence entering the playoffs. As of right now, the teams would not meet up in first round.
If they both advance to the title game, one organization will be guaranteed its first ever Steinfeld Cup.