August 23, 2013

Mundorf Healthy as Outlaws Eye Elusive MLL Title

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Brendan Mundorf got through Outlaws practice Friday unscathed and said he feels great after having time off to nurse a sports hernia injury.
© Kevin P. Tucker

CHESTER, Pa. -- Brendan Mundorf was in much better spirits than this time one year ago.

He stood on the grass turf at PPL Park after the Denver Outlaws practiced Friday afternoon, and as he was asked questions about his health, he was able to respond positively.

"I'm counting my blessings I made it through practice," he said.

Last year, the day before Major League Lacrosse championship weekend, Mundorf tore tendons in his ankle on a seemingly innocuous walkthrough at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. He gimped off the field, not knowing what was wrong. He didn't play the next day and played less than half of the Outlaws championship game loss to the Chesapeake Bayhawks, the franchise's seventh straight playoff exit without a title. The injury later required surgery.

This time around, heading into Saturday's semifinal against the Charlotte Hounds, the 2012 MLL MVP said he feels as healthy as he has since last regular season. This year has not been without incident, either. Mundorf has labored through a sports hernia injury for most of the summer season. The injury forced him to sit out the final two wins of Denver's historic 14-0 regular season.

But Mundorf said Friday he feels great after getting a cortisone shot this week. He was able to stay active and get in regular workouts even while sidelined.

"I haven't felt this good physically since last year," he said. "It's been a while, with recovering from ankle surgery, getting the sports hernia injury early in the season, in probably the first game of the season, trying to battle through that. I finally feel some relief."

So did Outlaws coach Jim Stagnitta after the roughly 70-minute practice.

"Made it through walkthrough. No one got injured. Mundorf scored the last goal," Stagnitta said. "Gotta know when to call it."

Denver took the field first at the 18,500-seat PPL Park, located just outside Philadelphia, earning that right as the top seed in this weekend's four-team playoff tournament. Second-seeded Chesapeake plays third-seeded Hamilton at 4 p.m. ET Saturday (CBS Sports Network). Charlotte, Denver's opponent, makes its first championship weekend appearance in just its second year of existence as a franchise and is seeded fourth. The Denver-Charlotte semifinal starts at 1 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The championship is 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2).

The Outlaws, of course, are no stranger to championship weekend. They've made the playoffs in each year the franchise has existed (this is the eighth), but have yet to win a title. After an unblemished regular season in 2013, anything less than a post-game scene on Sunday with the guys in orange, silver and black hoisting the Steinfeld Trophy would be "a disappointment to a lot of people," Stagnitta said this week.

Denver built this team around the idea that it could still win should a freak injury occur to one its stars, a la Mundorf last season. The Outlaws proved they could, having enough depth to beat New York and Hamilton without him to close out its perfect regular season.

"I think this is our best chance yet," said Mundorf, who has been with the team since its inception.

Why?

"The odds," he said. "Knock on wood; I don't want to jinx it. We've been in some tight games, we've been down in games, and we've come back. We have guys at every position that are leaders. But, you know, anything can happen. It's a new season, like we've said 100 times. We can't really count on what's happened in the past to take us through this weekend. But we can be confident because of the way we've played."

Indeed, the Outlaws had six players received votes for league MVP in balloting by the league's coaches and general managers, and had five players named to the All-Pro team Friday. Stagnitta was named coach of the year, Jesse Schwartzman was named goalie of the year, Drew Snider most improved, and Lee Zink defenseman of the year for the second straight time.

"This whole season, we've just worked well together," said Zink, who has also been with the Outlaws since the start in 2006. "Everyone knows their role, is willing to do what it takes and willing to play for each other."

Curse of the MVP?

Mundorf may be healthy, but Hamilton's Kevin Crowley, who this week was named 2013 MLL MVP, didn't get through practice as unscathed as Mundorf.

Crowley left practice with about five minutes left with an apparent ankle injury. During a half-field drill, Crowley came around a pick and was hit to the ground. He came up gimpy, limped toward the sideline and told an athletic trainer that he needed ice. As the rest of the Nationals finished practice, Crowley walked under his own power to the locker room.

Nats GM Stu Brown followed Crowley in shortly thereafter. Brown later said that Crowley was "fine," but felt stiffness in his ankle and was getting it stretched out.

Let's hope "getting Mundorf'd" doesn't became an annual phrase at MLL championship weekend.

Faceoff battles

Denver figures to hold the edge in the faceoff department with Anthony Kelly holding the best win percentage (55.1) of any taker in these playoffs who's taken at least 200 faceoffs. Hamilton's Mike Poppleton won 50 percent this year and Chesapeake's Adam Rand has won 48.

The wild card is Charlotte's Geoff Snider, who was Team Canada's specialist in the last world championships in 2010. He played in just two MLL games this season, neither of which was against Denver, the Hounds' opponent on Saturday. He's 26-for-45 (57.7 percent) this year. Snider has also racked up five penalty minutes in the limited action.

Miscellaneous

Chesapeake, as usual, was the most vocal of the four teams going through walkthroughs on Friday. Bayhawks defenseman Brian Spallina, who is seeking a sixth MLL championship, came sprinting out of the locker room yelling loud enough to echo through the MLS soccer venue... Nationals goalie Brett Queener has battled poison ivy in recent weeks, but appeared to have it cleared up. Nonetheless, Hamilton rookie goaltender Dillon Ward saw a good amount of time in practice. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder out of Bellarmine took one shot squarely off the helmet... Charlotte concluded the day with a practice that went from 6:30-7:45 p.m. The Hounds will have the quickest turnaround of any of the four playoff teams, with a 1 p.m. start against Denver slated for Saturday.

Check back to LaxMagazine.com for live blogs and post-game reaction and photos from MLL Championship Weekend, starting at 1 p.m. ET Saturday with the Denver Outlaws-Charlotte Hounds semifinal game.


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