DENVER — The Outlaws have been here before—four times in fact Denver has appeared in the MLL Championship Game—but it has never been able to walk away with the Steinfeld Cup.
This time, things are different.
This isn’t the Outlaws team that broke into the league in 2006 by finishing first in the then Western Conference before falling in the championship. It isn’t the Denver team from 2010 that dominated all season before being downed in the semifinals. Nor is it the squad from last year that finished with the league’s first perfect season before running out of steam in the playoffs.
This year’s Outlaws team had nothing come easy. Every win was fought for and every loss resulted in a lesson learned.
“Sometimes you need to win ugly and sometimes you need to lose ugly to really get an idea of what your team has inside,” Denver attackman John Grant Jr. said. “When you win so easily throughout the year, once you kind of hit a wall or hit some obstacle, it’s hard to figure out how to navigate around or over it.”
Grant knows a thing or two about what it takes to win an MLL Championship. The 11-year veteran has won all four Championship Games he has appeared in, including three against Denver.
Saturday’s contest, taking place at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., is a rematch of the 2008 Championship Game when the Rochester Rattlers edged out Denver to win it all.
But Denver head coach B.J. O’Hara insists that game has little to do with the upcoming one.
“There are very few people on either side that were involved in that game,” O’Hara said. “This is an entirely different scenario—two entirely different teams. It’s more of a rematch with the teams that played each other this season and split, and now we get a chance to play a third time.”
Earlier this season, the Outlaws cruised passed the Rattlers in their Week 4 game at home, but Rochester had the upper hand in the last contest when it hosted Denver at the end of June. The Outlaws are 5-5 against the Rattlers all time.
In the two games earlier this season, Grant scored a combined three goals and dished for seven assists against the Rattlers. Attackman Eric Law and midfielder Jeremy Sieverts also had success against Rochester this year, scoring a combined nine goals against them.
In net, Jesse Schwartzman saved 21-of-43 shots on goal from Rattlers players this year for a .488 save percentage against them.
On the other side of the field, Rochester has been led by its strong defense. The Rattlers gave up the fewest goals of any team in the league this season and goalie John Galloway has been dominant in the crease. Galloway has collected a league-best 10 wins and his 11.16 goals against average is also tops in the league. His .556 save percentage is second only to Schwartzman’s .560 mark on the year.
The Rattlers’ offense has excelled at sharing the ball and spreading the wealth. The Rattlers feature eight different players with at least 12 goals.
Attackman Mark Cockerton and midfielder Dave Lawson are the squad’s biggest scoring threats. The two have scored 24 and 23 goals, respectively.
Attackman Jordan Wolf as well as midfielders Justin Turri and Jordan MacIntosh have contributed on the offensive end as well with a combined 67 goals to go along with 36 assists on the season.
“Obviously we’re going to see their best. They’ve got a great coaching staff over there and they’ve got an excellent team—there are no weaknesses,” Grant said of Rochester. “It’s going to be hopefully just two teams going out there and trying to execute their game plan. I think the team that executes the most effectively is probably going to lift the title. That’s what we’re both going out to do—is try to execute.”
An Outlaws team that has had a year of triumphs and tribulations—and everything in between—is ready to hit the field with a title at stake.
“We’ve hit the gamut this year as far as getting blown out, blowing teams out and winning nail biters,” Grant said. “We’ve experienced every aspect that we’ve needed to. Now it truly is just doing your absolute best to put your time in, do your homework, and show up.”