MLL Season Previews: Outlaws, Defense

 Photo by Maryland Sports Insider

The Denver Outlaws may be known for their high-scoring style of play that lead them to Major League Lacrosse’s best record in 2012, scoring 15 or more goals in 12 out of 14 games last season. However, the foundation of their success can be equally contributed to the defense.

  Solidifying the Denver back line is perennial All Star Lee Zink, who was  the MLL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. At six-foot-four Zink is a defender that not only brings size and physicality to an already aggressive defense, but also experience with six All Star selections and a MLL title.

  After being drafted by the Baltimore Bayhawks in 2004, Zink contributed 23 ground balls in 12 games to help the Bayhawks to the 2005 Steinfeld Cup. After the 2005 season,  Zink was traded to a new expansion team — the Denver Outlaws — in exchange for two draft picks. Zink made an immediate impact for the Outlaws,  scooping up 26 ground balls in 12 games and helping Denver to the MLL title game in 2006 — where they fell to the Philadelphia Barrage.

 The defenseman was named to his first All Star game in 2007, on his way to six consecutive All Star appearances. Zink also represented Team USA in the 2010 International Lacrosse Federation’s World Lacrosse Championships, where they won gold over Canada.

 Complimenting Zink in Denver’s backfield is five-time All Star goalie Jesse Schwartzman, who was the second-rated goalie in MLL last season. Posting a save percentage of .540 — or saving 54 percent of the shots fired at him —with 175 saves and a 11.03 goals against average, Schwartzman was nothing short of spectacular in 2012 as he helped Denver to its first regular-season championship since 2009.

  Schwartzman was drafted by the Outlaws in 2007 and appeared in five games his rookie season, winning Game MVP and Rookie of the Week honors after his debut against the Chicago — now Ohio — Machine. He took the reigns in goal for the 2008 season and never looked back, helping Denver to the MLL title game three of the five seasons he’s been in goal full time and never missing the playoffs.

  Zink and Schwartzman are just two highlights on one of MLL’s most talented defensive team. Defenseman Matt Bocklet was named to back-to-back MLL All Star games in 2010 and 2011, and racked up 58 ground balls in 13 games for Denver in 2012. Since joining the the Outlaws in 2009 Bocklet has appeared in 12 or more games each season, and will be another dependable factor in the back during the 2013 season.

  Returning to MLL action in 2013 is defenseman Eric Martin, who brings additional veteran presence as he enters his 9th season in the league.  Martin also has an All Star selection under his belt,  and was last seen in MLL in 2011 with the Outlaws. Also returning to the Mile High city — by way of the supplemental draft — is defenseman Ken Clausen, who spent the 2010 season with Denver. Clausen was one of six defensive picks for the Outlaws in the 2012 supplemental and collegiate drafts.

 By bringing back the same defensive core that was part of the record setting 2012 campaign and adding some new — and in some cases familiar —faces,  the Outlaws have solidified their already stalwart foundation. A good defense can lead to offensive opportunities, and with the fire power Denver possesses on the offensive side of the ball  that could be a match made in heaven. Or, at least 5,280 feet.

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