July 3, 2014

MLL Weekly: Denver Set for Annual Fireworks Night

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The weekend the league and the Denver Outlaws have circled on their calendar is finally upon us. With Independence Day comes the annual Outlaws Fourth of July game.

The team has hosted a game on the Fourth of July (only twice not playing exactly on the fourth) in each of its eight seasons of existence and has set a new attendance record each time. Last year's game had an attendance of 31,019.

"The guys will tell you, it's what they play for," Outlaws head coach B.J. O'Hara said. "It's an exciting event. It's a beautiful stadium. It's the kind of night you hope you play your best. We're preparing for a big night."

Boston, 6-2 in 4th of July games in the team's history, hops to provide its own fireworks in Denver. (Bill Danielewski)

The Outlaws are 6-2 on Fourth of July games. Their only two losses both came to the Boston Cannons, their opponent this weekend.

The last time the Cannons visited Denver on July 4 was 2011 – the season the Cannons won the MLL Championship – and they topped the Outlaws 15-12.

Boston has experience playing in this environment and the veteran-heavy roster and coaching staff will not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the game.

"We have to take some of those elements out," Cannons assistant coach Jim Murphy said. "It's part of the game but what happens between the lines is worth more."

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses last week.

The Outlaws lost a Sunday afternoon road game to the Rochester Rattlers, 19-14, in a game O'Hara said the team came out flat and dug themselves too deep a hole to recover.

For the first time in franchise history, the Cannons were defeated by the Charlotte Hounds, 15-12. Murphy said the game was more about what the Hounds did right than what the Cannons did wrong.

The Cannons and Outlaws played each other in Boston on May 10, with Denver winning 10-9 in overtime.

"We had a great game with them last time, an overtime win for us," O'Hara said. "I'm expecting it will be much of the same. It will come down to the tail end of the fourth quarter to see who has a victory."

O'Hara believes the game this weekend will provide plenty of exciting lacrosse before the bounty of exciting fireworks afterwards.

"We hope we can come out of the gates better than we did last week," he said. "The guys will have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We also know Boston, on paper, is an awfully good team. They've been up and down. We have to believe they're going to bring their best. We don't have as much wiggle room."

HOME OF THE BRAVE

Home-field advantage is not a made-up cliché, it truly exists. Denver (first place), Rochester (second place) and New York (third place) are all undefeated at home, while Charlotte and Boston (tied for fourth) have only one home loss.

This weekend, Denver, New York and Charlotte are all home as they try to distance themselves from the pack.

Coaches said that fan support is huge, but there are other distinct advantages home-field provides.

"This week is not easy to travel," said Lizards head coach Joe Spallina, whose team plays on Thursday night. "It's not just playing on the road like in the NBA. It's the travel, getting guys in, being able to prepare and practice. We'll get two good looks with the guys. It's tough to fix things when your guys aren't together."

Preparation is different and there are aspects that affect the game play as well.

"Playing on grass helps a lot," Hounds head coach Mike Cerino said. "The ball didn't roll out of bounds. You'd have a restart at Harvard Stadium, not a battle for a ground ball."

OFFENSIVE FIREWORKS

Rochester has provided plenty of offensive firepower all season, coming into the weekend just a goal behind Ohio for the MLL lead. (Bob Markey II)

Several of this weekend's games will have post-game firework shows. There also will be fireworks on the field. What may be most surprising are the teams providing the offensive spectacle: the Ohio Machine and Rochester Rattlers.

The Machine (119) and Rattlers (118) are first and second respectively in goals scored.

Ohio was last in goals scored last year. This year, the additions of Kyle Harrison, Peter Baum and Tom Schreiber to Steele Stanwick, Logan Schuss and Marcus Holman have changed their fortunes. Machine head coach Bear Davis admitted it wasn't just his offensive players that are to thank.

"I think what's been great is our defensive guys have been scoring," he said. "[Brian] Farrell has been a monster for us. Jake Bernhardt has been a two-way middie and been a great threat."

Many believed Rochester would fail to score this season, especially after trading away Ned Crotty and Matt Striebel. They have exceeded expectations, however, and rookies Jordan Wolf (nine goals, seven assists), Miles Thompson (six goals, three assists) and Mark Cockerton (eight goals) have risen to the occasion.

"We had a great draft. We have guys that are maturing in the league and play really well together," Rattlers head coach Tim Soudan said. "The team really enjoys the time they have together. We're in a really good spot."

THE AMERICAN DREAM

A couple weeks ago a number of the coaches commented that there were so many talented players but not enough teams and roster spots for everyone to play. With so many players playing in the World Championships in July, different players will not only get a shot later but some are getting some reps now to prepare for an increased role.

Florida Launch and Team USA defender Tucker Durkin did not play in the loss to the Chesapeake Bayhawks because of a concussion, according to head coach Stan Ross. Ross activated Chazz Woodson, who had an assist.

The Lizards will be missing key players like Greg Gurenlian, Max Seibald, Rob Pannell and Ned Crotty. In their 19-13 victory over Ohio, Jerry Ragonese took 14 face-offs and newly acquired players Matt Gibson and Michael Kimmel combined for three goals and an assist. The Lizards also recently added veteran Marty Cahill to the roster.

"I think you need to look ahead and plan ahead," Spallina said. "You build depth so when guys are out other guys step in."

TRADE DEADLINE

The MLL trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST. Last year's deadline saw Stephen Berger traded to Boston and Josh Hawkins sent to Charlotte.

The Bayhawks have made several trades already this season, acquiring Stephen Robarge, Jason Noble and David Earl. The defending champions still sit in last place in the standings and still have several key players on injured reserve, so another move or so may still be on the horizon.

"We had to make some deals we probably wouldn't have made. We got really lucky with the Jason Noble deal. He's been phenomenal," Cottle said. "As we've gotten quicker and faster, we've played better. We're building not just for this season but for the future."

Ohio, tied with Chesapeake at the bottom of the standings but only a game out of the final playoff spot, may also be looking for another piece to add to the puzzle.

"I don't think we need to redo the recipe. We're looking at some options now we've dialed in on," Davis said. "I'm not sure we have a true long-stick middie. Brian [Farrell] is great but you may need a true long-stick middie."


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