By Jessica Braveman and Patty Shields | 8/28/14 1:00 PM
“Heart.” “Trust.” “Rewarding.” “Crazy.” “Championship.” “Complete.” These are some of the words used by Denver Outlaws players after winning the 2014 MLL Championship. After an up and down year, and nine straight seasons of leaving the playoffs empty-handed, the Outlaws were finally able to bring the Steinfeld Trophy home to Denver.
Winning is not foreign to the Denver Outlaws. They have had an incredibly successful program since they entered the league in 2006, making it to the playoffs every year and enjoying an unprecedented undefeated regular season in 2013. However, it is in those final games where they have struggled to come out on top. But this year was different.
“The success of this team came down to belief and trust,” said veteran and team leader, Jesse Schwartzman. “Believing in the system, believing in your coaches and teammates, and trusting that what they were doing was in the best interest of the team.”
Despite a seemingly successful regular season, finishing 9-5 and earning the no. 2 seed, the Outlaws certainly struggled. But they worked hard to overcome losses and setbacks in order to find themselves in Atlanta for the Championship game.
“We learned how to handle adversity pretty well, and as a result we were able to maintain our composure in the title game, even when our backs were against the wall,” recalls defenseman Michael Simon. “We never stopped believing that we were going to win that game.”
It was not just their competitive nature and skill that led this Outlaws team to victory. The chemistry of the players on this team was incredibly apparent, from their support on the bench, to the locker room, to witnessing brothers Chris and Matt Blocket embrace as the final whistle blew. “This was a special group,” expressed Schwartzman.
Hoisting the Steinfeld Trophy was the experience of a lifetime for many of these athletes, who were continuously tested week in and week out. The veteran Outlaws expressed relief that their hard work had finally paid off.
“I’ve felt like over time you begin to forget about the wins and losses,” said midfielder Jeremy Sieverts. “But I will never forget playing with these teammates and winning the first championship for the Outlaws organization.”
Veteran faceoff specialist, Anthony Kelly, expressed a similar sentiment to Sieverts’, coming back for the final game after battling a brutal Achilles injury late in the season. “I feel proud. Proud of my teammates, proud of my coaches, proud of my organization, and proud of myself.”
As seen by Kelly’s tenacity through the final games of the 2014 season, the Outlaws program is not short on competitive, skilled veterans.
Working under the wings of Kelly was rookie Brett Hiken, who especially felt the influence of such a skilled league vet. “[Anthony Kelly] really took me in and taught me a lot about being a faceoff guy in this league,” said Hiken. In addition to learning from a faceoff great, Hiken was impressed with veteran John Grant Jr.’s game preparation and “the little things [he] taught us as rookies.”
Kelly was also a major influence on new Denver pick-up and former Bayhwak, Simon, who was immediately impressed with the veterans status and consistent performances. “[Kelly] has been in the league for a long time and hadn’t won a championship. It wouldn’t have felt right for such a great player and teammate to go out without one,” Simon said. “On top of that, he risked his own personal health playing injured, and wound up playing fantastic and winning big face-offs when it mattered the most.”
It’s clear the connection that these Outlaws players have developed is special, and certainly played a large role in their fight for the title this season.
However, bringing the Steinfeld Trophy home to Denver had more meaning than just camaraderie or the “Champions” title. The Outlaws were playing for a cause bigger than themselves, and bigger than the city of Denver. As they hoisted the Steinfeld Trophy into the air, they decided that this historic win would not only be dedicated to their devoted fans, but to their beloved owner, Pat Bowlen.
Bowlen is well known for being the majority owner of the Denver Broncos, the NFL team in Denver. In 2006, Bowlen extended his ownership to the Denver Outlaws, who are the most winning team that he has ever owned, holding a .700 win percentage since their creation.
“We wanted this one not only for our fans, but for Mr. Bowlen and his family. They do such a great job with the organization, he deserves it,” said Sieverts after the Outlaws claimed the championship.
Not only does Bowlen provide a positive environment for the players, but he inspires them on the field. “Mr. B has built an environment of winning, with both the Broncos and the Outlaws, and we really wanted this for him,” noted Schwartzman.
All of the players and staff of the Outlaws recognized the importance of Pat Bowlen in their success. Not only did the players want to win the 2014 Championship for themselves, but knew they needed to win it for a much larger cause. The players banded behind Bowlen for the end of the season, culminating as son, John Bowlen, held the trophy above his head at the conclusion of the game, dedicating it to his father.
No matter the length of time spent around the organization, it is easy to see the connection between the Outlaws players and staff and Mr. Bowlen.
Rookie Colin Dunster reflected on the event saying, “[Winning] was everything, without him none of this would even be possible. So to get that trophy for him now, especially in this trying part of his life, is incredible.”
This year’s title is a testament to the Denver Outlaw’s incredible roster of talent. However, it was not just skill or competitive ability that was able to secure this year’s Steinfeld Trophy. The Outlaws brought a level of passion and heart to this final game, and it was their ability to come together as an organization that helped them finish on top at the end of those tough-battled 60 minutes. “It wasn’t one person doing it,” said Chris Bocklet. “Everyone was part of it. It was a team win.”