By Heather Crowley (Major League Lacrosse)
The Denver Outlaws (2-1) beat the team that caused them heartbreak at the end of last season, in week three. Revenge came in the form of a 15-12 victory over the defending champion Toronto Nationals (0-3) and puts Denver in a four way tie for the top spot in the league.
Denver’s offense was clicking, led by Drew Westervelt who scored five goals on the night, earning him the games’ Bud Light Most Valuable Player award, and Dan Hardy who added three goals in the win. Hardy showed off his talent with a behind the back shot that beat Toronto goalie Brett Queener. Brendan Mundorf scored two goals and dished out five assists for the Outlaws.
The team went three-for-five on the power play and moved into the top spot in the league for power play efficiency with a success rate just over 35% on the season.
“It’s the first time our true extra man group was together,” Head Coach and General Manager Brian Reese said. “In game 1 we were missing Matt Brown and Dan Hardy was out in game 2. All of those pieces are important and they work really well together and know what to look for.”
On defense, Outlaws goalie Jesse Schwartzman turned in a solid performance, making 15 saves on 27 shots.
The two home games were Denver’s first of the season and now the team faces an intense four-game road trip that will keep them away from INVESCO Field for over a month. The road trip begins against a familiar foe in the Long Island Lizards.
“We just need to keep our focus,” Reese said. “Playing on the road is a challenge but it also can be a chance to really focus on our team. We can create that ‘us against the world’ mentality.”
Despite the Lizards early season losses, the Outlaws will not tread lightly when they travel to Long Island. At 0-2 the Lizards were searching for answers and in their first home game managed to knock off the then undefeated Boston Cannons, 13-11.
Long Island is starting to put together the pieces and improving their play. After struggling with face-offs early in the year, Long Island managed to dominate Boston winning 17 of 25.
Since the beginning of the season Long Island’s goalie Drew Adams has managed to lower the amount of goals allowed each week from 16 to 13 and last week 11.
“He played great against us last time out,” Reese said. “We need to be really smart about how we shoot on him. He made a number of really good saves. He is gaining confidence so it’s important for us to get a good start.”
The bad blood between the two teams continued in week 2, yielding 13 penalties, five of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct. Although Denver grabbed the 13-10 victory in their last meeting, the game was tied at 7-7 five minutes into the third quarter.
In this matchup defense will be key. Look for Long Island to step up their defense and force Denver into low percentage shots. Watch for Lizards defender Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco to hand out hard hits Saturday night. The Outlaws defense led by Eric Martin and Matt Bocklet won’t let the Lizards offense off the hook either as this battle will be physical.
“That’s the way they play, and we certainly won’t back down,” Reese said. “It’s chippy because both teams are playing hard and that’s the way it should be.”