By Heather Crowley, Major League Lacrosse Writer
Just past the halfway point of the 2010 season, Denver sits in a familiar place in the standings. At 4-3, the Outlaws share the second spot in the league with the Bayhawks and Machine. With five games remaining, Denver’s midseason form thus far is postseason worthy but with room for minor improvement.
The Outlaws are a perennial pain to opposing teams in the postseason, as they have blazed into the playoffs every year since the creation of the franchise five years ago. Additionally, the Outlaws have never finished the season with less than seven regular season wins, while making the championship game three times.
The Outlaws show no signs of breaking that streak anytime soon.
“I think we are still getting better and still figuring out who we are as a team,” Reese said. “That makes me believe that our best lacrosse is still ahead of us. I have seen us play some great defensive games and great offensive games. If we can put them together at the same time, we are going to be pretty good. I also like the chemistry on the team.”
Barring a major second half collapse, the Outlaws will be headed back to Navy Marine Corps Stadium for another shot at the ultimate prize. The 2010 MLL Championship Weekend, presented by Warrior, is set for August 21-22 in Annapolis, M.D.
Throughout the season, Denver has found ways to make its offense superior to most others in the league. In its first two games, the Outlaws averaged 13 points but in their last two games the Outlaws averaged 17 points. By getting sharpshooter Matt Brown involved and finding role players like Brian Langtry, every Outlaw is given opportunities to be successful.
Denver is lucky to receive solid play every season from a goalie that made a seamless transition into the league from college. Goalie Jesse Schwartzman continues to be in top form for Denver and again received All-Star honors for the 2010 season. Schwartzman is 4-2 on the season and posting a 13.11 GAA. Last season Schwartzman saw his statistics improve in the playoffs and pressure situations. Schwartzman’s save percentage jumped to .615 from his regular season average of .548 in Denver’s two playoff games. The goalie also lowered his GAA to 10.13 from and already impressive 11.28, which helped earn him 2009 Goalie of the Year.
Although many fans are familiar with faces like Drew Westervelt, Max Seibald and Brendan Mundorf the Outlaws are far from just scorers.
One of the unsung heroes of the 2010 season has been defender Matt Bocklet. During six games this season Bocklet scooped up a team best 32 groundballs, only ten less than his total from last season. In the past three games Bocklet has vacuumed up 21 groundballs. The next closest Outlaw is Eric Martin with 21 groundballs on the season. Bocklet tied his point total from last season, four, at midseason this year. If Bocklet continues his current pace he is on track for the best season of his career.
As if the team wasn’t already imposing enough one aspect of the second half of the season that bodes well for the Outlaws is their upcoming schedule. Due to their month long road trip in June, Denver will now get four out of their final six games at home, including their final three games at INVESCO to close out the season. The Outlaws are 21-5 all-time in the regular season at home. This season Denver is undefeated at home with a 2-0 record and fan support is incomparable as they lead the league in average fan attendance with 9,223 per game. Last season the Outlaws fans set the MLL single game attendance record as 21,952 fans came to cheer on the Outlaws on the fourth of July.
So what’s left for the Outlaws to change before making that final push to the playoffs? Here are three things Denver can do to improve its chances at hoisting the trophy:
1. Finish Strong: In Denver’s two losses to the Cannons a poor effort was put together in the fourth quarter. In hindsight, this is what cost the Outlaws the championship against Toronto last season. In its past three games, Denver has been outscored 16-8 in the fourth quarter. Not finishing out games will not cut it when the playoffs roll around, as every team will surely be fighting for their lives.
2. Sink the Cannons: At the midway point, only one team has been able to take down Denver, and handily so. The first meeting was a three point loss for to the Boston Cannons while the encore was even worse as they were handed a five point loss. Boston posted a 2-0 record against Denver in the first half of the season and will meet them one last time but on Denver’s turf at Mile High for the final showdown. If Boston is able to defeat the Outlaws and sweep the series, this will not bode well if the two meet in the playoffs. Mentally, a victory against this nemesis would give the Outlaws confidence going into a do or die situation. Then again, maybe Boston is out for a little revenge. After all, last season the Cannons were ousted from the playoffs by, guess who, the Outlaws.
3. Consistency: Great offense, great defense. Now imagine if they showed up for the same games. More often than not Denver puts together a dominant effort on one side of the ball while the other side is simply playing an average game. Perhaps the team’s most complete came against Long Island. Through three quarter the defense managed to hold the Lizards to 0-for-7 on the power play while the offense scores 13 goals of their own. Denver got solid performances from both goalies as they allowed just four goals through three quarters. The Outlaws were also perfect on the power play and won the game. When the Outlaws play together, they are unstoppable.