Thursday, June 6, 2013

Game Preview: Denver vs. Hamilton

Opponent: Hamilton Nationals (5-0)
When: Saturday, June 8, 6 p.m. MDT
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver
 All-time vs. Hamilton: 8-3 (Home: 4-0)
Promotions: The game will feature 80s night and the first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive Outlaws sunglasses. Following the contest, fans are invited to come down to the field to watch the movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids on the stadium’s new HD scoreboard.

The team is holding a ticket special that includes two drinks (soft drinks or beer), two hot dogs and a pair
of tickets for just $29.

Matchup: The Outlaws and Nationals are the lone remaining undefeated team in Major League Lacrosse this season and after Saturday's matchup, one will move into first place all alone atop the league's standings.

At 5-0, Denver and Hamilton are two games in front of the third-place team, Chesapeake (3-2) and three games ahead of the next grouping of teams -- New York, Charlotte and Rochester that are each 2-3.

It is the first meeting of the season between the two teams, with the return matchup at Hamilton scheduled for the last game of the regular season -- Saturday, Aug. 10.
“I look forward to every game," Head Coach Jim Stagnitta said. "These guys are well‐coached. The level of competition – I don’t care who we’re playing – is high. It is a big game because of where they are in the standings, but every game is huge for us.”

History: Denver is 8-3 all-time against the Nationals with a 4-0 record at home. During the regular season, the Outlaws have dominated the series with an 8-1 record, but Hamilton has won both playoff matchups.

The Outlaws swept the Nationals last year by a combined score of 36-18. Denver has won the last six regular-season meetings in a row.
Last Week: The Outlaws tied their second-highest scoring output in team history in a 24-10 win against Boston. Four players recorded hat tricks in the contest, led by Drew Snider's five goals. Snider, who earned Player of the Game honors also added an assist to finish with a career-best six points.
Jeremy Sieverts tied a career-high and a franchise record with a pair of two-pointers as part of his three goals on the night and added an assist to finish with six points as well. Snider and Justin Turri also buried two-pointers to give Denver four in the game, which matches a team single-game record.

“Two‐pointers are unique," Sieverts said. "They’re a big momentum thing, and it was nice to have a couple fall for me.”
Jesse Schwartzman saved 15-of-27 shots on net and defenseman Lee Zink limited Major League Lacrosse's all-time leading scorer, Ryan Boyle to one goal and one assist, with the goal coming on a powerplay situation.
For the second game in 2013, Hamilton earned an overtime victory. Jordan Hall netted the game-winner 1:55 into the extra session to give the Nationals a 12-11 decision on the road over the defending MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks.

Preview: Implications from this game are fairly obvious, with the winner coming away with the top spot in the MLL standings all to themselves.

Denver is off to its hottest start in team history and is enjoying a franchise-record 11-game win streak that dates back to last season.

Hamilton's 5-0 start also represents the best in team history -- the franchise, which deals with heavy personnel loss at the beginning of the MLL season each year due to the NLL season, has only one its season opener once in its history prior to this season.
The Nationals have never beaten the Outlaws in Denver, which represents the reverse stat leading into last week when Denver had never defeated Boston in the Mile High City. 

“We expect to be playing a 5-0 team that certainly is playing well and has a lot of different weapons," Stagnitta said. "They play a unique style of play – a little different from what we’ve seen from week to week in our first few games. A number of difference challenges – just above and beyond your usual game preparation. The way they play offense is different from what we’ve seen from anyone in the league thus far.”

When Denver has the Ball: The Outlaws have been extremely efficient with the ball in 2013. The team has six players in the league's top 10 in shooting percentage and four players in the top seven in shots-on-goal scoring percentage.

Chris Bocklet has scored goals on 16 of his 22 shots on goal (.727 pct.) to lead the league and Jeremy Boltus has scored eight goals on 12 total shots (.667 pct.) to pace Major League Lacrosse with Zach Greer just behind him with seven goals on 12 shots (.583 pct.).

“That’s what we’re about," Greer said. "We like to say that we’re offense by committee. Anyone can contribute on any given night, and when you get 24 that’s obviously a good night. Guys sharing the ball, playing well offensively and unselfishly and that was big for us tonight.”

The Outlaws have hit the 20-goal mark three times in five games this year, tying a franchise record for most 20-goal games in a season.

Denver's 92 points on the year lead the league by a wide margin with the next-best team, Hamilton, coming in 21 points behind.

“We’re sharing the ball," said midfielder Drew Snider, who is tied for fourth in the league with 18 points. "It’s cool to watch because certain players on the offensive end will have six points a game. And someone else that game will have zero, but the next game that zero guy will have six.”

Defensively, Hamilton has been among the league's stingiest teams having allowed just 54 points on the year. That is tied for second-best in the league behind Chesapeake's 49 points allowed.

Brodie Merrill, who won six MLL Defensive Player of the Year awards before Lee Zink earned the honor in 2012, leads all non-faceoff men and ranks second overall with 34 ground balls this season.

“It should be a great game," Sieverts said. "They play a very unique style that we’ll have to prepare for. We’re looking forward to the challenge, and it should be a big test for us.”

When Hamilton has the Ball: Hamilton's 71 points rank second in the league and the Nationals have topped the 12-point mark in each of their five wins this season.

Midfielder Kevin Crowley has been the most prolific scorer for the Nationals this year with his 22 points ranking second in the league. Crowley is tied for third with 14 goals and is tied for fifth with seven assists. Attackman Stephen Keogh is second on the team with 10 goals, which have come in just three appearances.

Attackman Kevin Cunningham assisted on five goals last week to move into the league lead with 10 helpers on the year. Three different Nationals players - Crowley, Cunningham and Joe Walters all rank in the league's top 5 for assists this year.

“The fact that they have a lot of the indoor guys makes them unique," Sieverts said. "It’s kind of a different animal, but I think we’re up to the challenge.”
The Outlaws will again rely on Lee Zink to lock down his matchup, an approach that has seen opposing attackman limited throughout the season.
Over the past three games, Zink has held two of the league's top attackman in Ryan Boyle (two matchups) and Ned Crotty to a combined one goal, which came on a powerplay and three assists.
Matt Bocklet continues to rank among the league leaders in ground balls as he is currently second behind Merrill among non-faceoff men with 29 ground balls.
“They are going to run that two-man game," Stagnitta said. "They are going to run it off the wings – they will do a little bit up top. They are so slick and they play in tight spaces and the pick-and-roll and getting underneath – that is something you have to prepare for. It is something that other people do – and it is something that is part of our arsenal, but we are not doing it with box players. We are doing it with guys that played field all their life. They are very good at it. They trust each other. They throw the ball into spaces that maybe other teams wouldn’t throw the ball into. While they are doing that, they are constantly moving off-ball and cutting in the crease.
"You have to be aware and do your job. You can’t be off-ball looking at the picks and being ready to slide because they are going to beat you on those off-ball picks. And when you’re playing the picks, you can’t be worried about keeping your matchups because you are going to give them an opportunity through that. At the end of the day, there are a lot of things going on at one time and it is not that they do a lot, but what they do, they do very well.”
When Nobody has the Ball: For the first time all season, Anthony Kelly won fewer than 50 percent of the faceoffs last week against Boston. For the season, Kelly still ranks second in the league with a .587 faceoff winning percentage. Kelly is 81-of-138 on faceoffs for the season.

The Nationals are expected to counter with either Matt Dolente, who is 54-of-108 (.500 pct.) on the season, or Mike Poppleton, who made his MLL debut going 11-of-27 last week against Chesapeake.
Battle in Net: The game features two of the top goalies in the league this year.

For Denver, Jesse Schwartzman ranks second in Major League Lacrosse this year with 60 saves and third with a .545 save percentage and 10.8 goals against average.

Leading the pack this year in the league is Nationals goalie Brett Queener. He leads the league with an 8.21 goals against average and is well out ahead of the rest of the league's goalies with a .679 save percentage.

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