In Saturday night’s showdown between the unbeaten Denver Outlaws and Hamilton Nationals, defense will take center stage. Not only are the Outlaws and Nationals two of the best defensive teams in the League, but each team has a widely celebrated defensive player worth watching throughout the matchup.
Lee Zink and Brodie Merrill will face-off against each other for the 14
th time in their careers. Zink and the Outlaws lead the head-to-head games 8-5.
Merrill and the Nationals will have more to prove as this is the first time they play the Outlaws since Zink beat out Merrill for Defensive Player of the Year last season. Merrill was named Defensive Player of the Year 2006-2011. He was dethroned from his six-year reign with Zink’s first time winning the honor.
These two have been rewarded for defensive skill many times. Merrill earned the Rookie of the Year award in 2005. He has been named to the All-MLL team every year since; Zink has joined him on the All-MLL team in 2009-2012. The two have also appeared in MLL All-Star games. Merrill has been named an All-Star every year since 2006, Zink every year since 2007.
Their stories started out very similarly. Born just eight days apart, both standing 6’4” and weighing within ten pounds of each other, Zink and Merrill have dominated on defense for years.
Zink was drafted fifth in the 2004 collegiate draft by the Baltimore Bayhawks after a successful career at Maryland. The Bayhawks drafted two-time Tewaaraton finalist Merrill, out of Georgetown, the following year as the third pick. In 2005, Merrill’s rookie season, the two helped the Bayhawks to a Championship victory.
However, each donned new uniforms the following year. Merrill was traded to Rochester, where he stayed until joining the Nationals in 2009, first in Toronto, then following the team to Hamilton in 2011. Zink became an Outlaw in 2006 and has been there ever since.
Although both are defensive all-stars, their styles of play are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Zink is a lock-down defender. His sole goal is to keep his opponent, usually the best attackman on a team, from scoring. Merrill, on the other hand, thrives in transition. Merrill has never had a season without scoring at least a goal and an assist, including this summer.
Their differences in styles have also lead to differences in statistics. While both lead their franchises for games played, Merrill is a career leader for Nationals in many other categories as well. Merrill holds the League record for ground balls in career with 654. He is the leader in this category for the Nationals with more than 100 ground balls more than the second place total. Merrill is also in the top five for points scored as a National and second for assists as a National. He holds the record for ground balls in a season by a National with his 96 pickups from last season. Zink is in second place for ground balls as an Outlaw with 174, which is fewer than the 207 ground balls Merrill has amassed since the Nationals moved to Hamilton.
Zink and Merrill will be sure to make an impact Saturday night as each of their teams seeks to remain undefeated. Whether it’s incredible shutdown close D or amazing ground balls in transition play, defense will define the meeting between the Denver Outlaws and Hamilton Nationals in the battle of the unbeatens.