I had the pleasure of speaking with Denver Outlaws Head Coach B.J. O’Hara about the 2014 season and what they are looking forward to in 2015. Being on the sidelines at the Outlaws home games; semi-final playoff game; and the infamous MLL Championship game, it gave me the rare opportunity to learn about the Outlaws and see first-hand why they were the 2014 MLL Champions.
I asked B.J. about his thoughts on their incredible 2014 season. He said:
“After being so close for so many years, I think that finally getting to the top was especially gratifying. We had some real heart breaks over the years and to finally get ourselves there was a very special moment. I think that everyone involved with the organization was so excited, and so appreciative of finally getting there and certainly not something we could take for granted.”
Tell us about the MLL Championship, how did you decide who was going to be on the roster besides the obvious players—Jeremy Sieverts; Matt Bocklet; Chris Bocklet; Eric Law; John Grant Jr.; Drew Snider; Lee Zink, etc., since you were only allowed 19 on the roster?
“Well you have your obvious guys, those who consistently started throughout the year. Each game, we have several spots that we adjust. In that particular game, we decided to go with an extra faceoff guy just in case something happened to Anthony so we had a back up guy, but it turned out that we didn’t even use our other faceoff guy very much if at all. So what that means is that one field guy doesn’t get to dress. Those are decisions we make from game to game. Some weeks we don’t have two faceoff guys; some weeks we dress one less long pole. Pretty consistently you’re going to have your same attackmen and then you’ve got your two goalies; and then some weeks we just go game to game as to how many positions we dress; and sometimes we don’t dress as many defensive midfielders.”
So with the MLL Championship game; how close it was going back and forth, what type of pep talk did you give the guys during half-time to get the guys so fired up?
“Well, I think when you’re dealing with athletes of that level and that experience who have the lofty goals that they want, you don’t have to do a whole lot and they take it upon themselves to get there. We have great veteran leadership in the locker room, guys who have been there before. We added John Grant Jr. to the mix this year and he’s obviously been through it a number of times. I think with all those things combined, we were still in the position to win the game at half-time, which is all we really wanted to be was within striking distance and we still were but we weren’t playing as well as we would have liked, but we definitely felt we were within reach. All those things kind of added up, there was no passionate speech or anything like that.”
How did you feel about Lee Zink’s retirement, since he played almost his entire career with the Outlaws?
“Well he started his career in Chesapeake and won the championship his first year in the league before he was traded to Denver. He saw it at both sides of his career so that’s a nice set of book ends for him. Lee is just a tremendous individual in every way. He’s definitely a great athlete; a serious competitor; and teammate. We knew that the day would come that he would hang it up. We kind of coaxed him along for a couple of years knowing that he had the need to retire, and we were just really thankful and happy for him that we were able to send him out on a high note. That’s the way that everybody would like to retire.”
Tell us about the process you went through with the trades and the Supplemental Draft, especially with trading Terry Kimener for Geoff Snider and picking up Dillon Ward?
“Those were moves that made a lot of sense for both teams. In terms of Dillon Ward, Dillon lives in Denver and Charlie (Cipriano) lives in south Florida. We hated to part with Charlie, and we really think he’s going to be one of the fine young goalies going forward. He was a great team member, a part of our group, but obviously bringing Dillon in particularly with his showing in the World Championships, I think that’s an exciting move for us. We’re excited that Jesse’s coming back since he’s been in the league for a long time, so you kind of go year to year, and to have Dillon in the fold was just a logical move for us.
Geoff Snider started his outdoor career with the Outlaws and we’re excited to have him back in an Outlaws uniform. It just gives us depth at that position with Anthony, and Anthony takes a lot of face-offs which takes its toll, so to have a player with Geoff’s experience and talent in the mix just makes us a little more stable.
As far as the Supplemental Draft goes, as Tony told you, we’re just basically looking at who is committed to the NLL; for how long those guys play, and just trying to fill those holes with some talented players pending the arrival of the indoor guys. Some of those guys will stick, they’re all very good players; some of them have had very good experience in the league and with Buggs Combs whose scored a lot of goals in the MLL, he’s going to give us some experience as a left-handed attackmen; and we’ve had some other guys get drafted, but just never had a chance to break into the line-up and this may be their opportunity so I’m expecting some of those guys to hang even after everyone else arrives, but you just never know with injuries and things like that. You never know what’s going to come up, so anytime you can add depth to your roster you can feel a little more comfortable.”
What about Noah Molnar? He was picked up again in the Supplemental Draft after being cut last year. Wasn’t he picked up in the Collegiate Draft?
“Actually Noah is an interesting story. He actually came to our open try-outs in 2014 and was picked up, he may have been drafted by someone else in the 2014 Collegiate Draft, I believe maybe Chesapeake but didn’t make the roster, so he took another run at it during the try-outs and made the cut. He’s been knocking on the doo; coming close and dressed a couple of games for us last year.”
There’s still a lot of preparation getting ready for the season, with the upcoming Collegiate Draft. With the success that you and Tony have had with the choices you’ve made; the talent you have; guys you’ve picked up; and guys you’ve traded, what is it that you are looking at with regards to the current roster and selections in the Collegiate Draft?
“Well, I think that with professional sports, the goal is to win a championship. It’s not a school program, it’s not an educational program, it’s a highly competitive endeavor and the ultimate goal is to win the championship. That’s always been our goal and obviously it’s our goal this year. We lose Lee Zink via retirement; we trade a couple of players away, Terry Kimener, Curtis Dickson, and Charlie Cipriano, so those are holes we’ll have to fill, but we have a great core group returning and we’ve bolstered our roster a bit via the Supplemental Draft and hope we’ll get some help with the Collegiate Draft. We’re excited, it’s starting all over again and 2014 is behind us, it was a great run and the celebration is over so it’s time to get back to work and try to win another championship.”
Can you tell us what went into trading Curtis Dickson?
“There was significant interest on Florida’s part to get him, and knowing that we were going to be missing some guys in the beginning of the season because of the indoor, we felt if we could pick up a couple of additional picks in the Supplemental Draft that would help. The timing just seemed to be really good. Curtis is an awfully good lacrosse player, one of the very best out there. We had trouble fitting him in, I mean he’s a really good player, but we have two really good right handed attack players in Chris Bocklet and Eric Law; and they were both playing very well for us. He had some injury issues, got out of the line-up and it just got really difficult to get him back in so we just felt that the timing was just right; Florida had some really keen interest in him and it was a move we felt we had to make. We’ll see, it could come back to haunt us when we play Florida but when you make those moves, you hope the player does well with the new team, but just not against you.”
With the Collegiate Draft coming up on January 23, and so many stellar players coming out of college, what types of things besides position players do you look at when you consider your draft picks?
“It’s just like the Supplemental Draft. You have to look at your roster and see where you feel you have a need. I think there are a couple schools of thought. Some think you take the best player on the board in a particular round. We try to be a little more position specific; try to identify where our greatest needs are; and order our draft that way. It’s like looking into a crystal ball because these guys haven’t even played their senior year in college and it’s not an exact science by any stretch. There’s guys who go onto have great senior years that aren’t even drafted, and there’s guys that go high and end up getting hurt or having a down year for whatever reason. So it’s a little bit risky drafting this early, but that’s the fine line were on.”
So with the 2015 season being moved up a couple of weeks, how will you handle that with several of the players still playing in the NLL?
“Well, I’m not in on that discussion, I’m sure there are reasons for it. I just know that we’ve got to put the best team on the field that we can each week and I think we’ve got enough talent to put a competitive group out there and winning those games early is awfully important. Trying to get some wins in the bank early on is very helpful. Each team is going to improve a lot during the season and to have some early wins is really helpful.”
For those fans who don’t know the number of players allowed on each roster, tell us how that works.
“We’re allowed to have 40 players for training camp, we’re still building the roster up and we’ll add some more players to that. Right now we have about 35 or 36 guys on the roster. We’ll come out of training camp with a list of 25 players that will be on our active roster, and there will be several practice players or practice squad players as they call it. We’re able to protect a certain number of players from the indoor so they won’t count against our 25 man roster early on so when they come available we’ll shift the active roster because they’ll each become available at different times. Those guys that go all the way to the championship in the NLL, we won’t have them until after Memorial Day, whereas guys who are on teams that don’t make the playoffs we have them a month earlier. It’s the same with the college players; you know if you’re drafting a kid whose team goes onto the Final Four, you won’t have them until after Memorial Day either. But there are a lot of conferences that are done the end of April so they’ll become available sooner. Then each week, we’ll decide out of the 25 who we’ll dress. There’s a lot of shifts going on during the year with trades; deactivating; pulling guys out of the player pool; and free agents. The rosters are always being manipulated.”
My final question to Coach O’Hara had to do with his favorite thing about being a coach in the MLL and the head coach for the Denver Outlaws.
“Well, the nice thing about being in the MLL is you’re dealing with the very best. It’s the highest level of lacrosse there is; the athletes are highly motivated; they’re highly skilled; they work really hard on their game; they have high expectations of themselves, of their team and their coaches. We don’t have to worry about recruiting or any of that type of stuff. We just have to deal with trying to get them ready to play each week. Being with Denver makes it even more special because you’re dealing with an organization that’s so professional in every way; they’re so supportive; they’re going to do whatever they need to do to support the players and the coaching staff. They’re going to put the best group of players on the field and obviously their goal is the same as the players and the coaching staff, to win a championship.”
With the Collegiate Draft coming up on Friday January 23; open try outs for the Outlaws on Sunday March 7; and training camp starting the end of March, the Outlaws have a lot coming up to put together the best team possible for the 2015 season and will hopefully walk away with another MLL Championship.
I’d like to thank Coach O’Hara for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of In Lacrosse We Trust. As always, the Denver Outlaws organization; coaching staff; and players are always fantastic to work with and I am fortunate to be able to cover them on and off the field.