The Rivalry Continued. The Outlaws win again.
By Derek McLean
The hatred is mutual. For players, there is no match up in Major League Lacrosse which features the intensity and emotion of when the Long Island Lizards and the Denver Outlaws play. “I’m not going to beat around the bush, and I’ll tell you straight out, we don’t like them,” says Lizards veteran defenseman Nicky Polanco. “I don’t like them. I don’t like they’re team, and we don’t like each other. They clearly don’t like us, I’ll tell you that much. Dating back to last year, the two rivals have been involved in numerous fights and altercations. While Saturday night’s game was a little bit more tamed from years past, the physicality of the matchup continued.
The physical play can be attributed to the dominance of the Outlaws. Denver defeated the Lizards 5-0 Saturday night. They improved their overall record against Long Island to 7-0, since its incorporation into the league in 2006. “I think we’ve got to play smarter,” says Lizards Midfielder Matt Zash. “I think we’ve gotten frustrated at times.” The frustration has been evident, as mental breakdowns have turned into penalties, which have turned into goals, which have turned into Denver wins. “They’ve been able to control themselves a little bit more,” says Zash. “We’ve got to have all our guys on the field, in order to win.”
The feud began last year, during a game in Denver on July 27
th. Denver was in the midst of a 16-9 victory. According to Nicky Polanco, Midfielder Brian Langtry made a retaliatory hit on Zach Greer, after Long Island threw a few physical hits on the Outlaws. “Zack Greer was a rookie and is an offensive guy who was considered untouched in my eyes,” says Polanco. “So we had to remedy that and Brian and I got after it.” From there tempers flared and punches were thrown. Those emotions carried out the next week when the two teams met again. “They were beating us pretty good,” says Polanco. “It was actually kind of embarrassing and we probably shouldn’t have done what we did.”
Denver Outlaws midfielder Brian Langtry recalls the feud starting another way. “I think it had something to do with me throwing the ball at Nicky Polanco’s face,” he says. “Then him throwing me over the advertisements like I was a rag doll.” Langtry, who is a Long Island native and a graduate from Hofstra University, along with Nicky Polanco and eight other Long Island Lizards, explains that it is all part of his hometown nature. “Long Island guys in general tend to be a little rough around the edges on the field,” he says. “We like to mix it up a little.”
Denver once again dominated the Lizards Saturday night. Penalties again, was a major factor in deciding the outcome. There were a total of 5 short handed goals and 7 points scored between the two teams. Both teams combined for 10 penalty minutes on 12 infractions. “Things got chippy and both teams have a lot of pride,” says Denver Outlaws head coach Scott Reese. “For us we’ve had a lot of success against them and that’s frustrated them a little bit.” The Outlaws were able to use that frustration, to control the sloppily played game, by the Lizards. Long Island was only able to score four goals through three quarters. It wasn’t until a late run in the fourth, for the Lizards to do anything offensively.
The physical rivalry can be tough. Outlaws attacks have it especially rough. They have the task of going up against Polanco and Brian Spallina, who have the reputation of being two of the toughest defenders in the league. “I think you should always keep your head up, whenever you’re playing Long Island,” says Outlaws attack Matt Brown. “Those guys play really hard. For the 60 minutes we’re on the field and we’re always battling.” Despite the beating, Brown scored a game high 5 goals as well as an assist. In the end, he explains, that is the best form of retaliation.
Lizard’s midfielder Mike Ward knows the rivalry better than anyone. He has experienced it from both locker rooms. “I don’t think there’s a mutual hatred,” he says. “I think there are a mutual respect and a lot of competitive guys.” Ward was traded by the Outlaws to the Lizards over the off season for Kevin Unterstein. Having been inside Denver’s organization Ward has let his teammates know exactly what the Outlaws intentions are when they face-off. “They say that you have to get under their skin a little bit,” he says. “To take them off their game and get ready.” But the Lizards have not been able to turn that knowledge into wins over the Outlaws. The Lizards once again, have lost both of their regular season games to their rival.
Long Island Lizards coach Brian Mule thinks the rivalry would be better served if his team would display better lacrosse. “We don’t really need that in the game,” he says. “We can have a heated rivalry just by playing good lacrosse and that’s what you want.” With the team’s head to head record, Coach Mule is reluctant to even call the two teams a rivalry. “They beat us every time so I don’t know. To them, it’s probably not that big of a deal,” he says.
While there is a competitive hatred on the field, it does not extend beyond that. “I have a lot of respect for them because they play hard,” says Brown. “Afterwards you shake hands and your all friends again.” In the end, the players realize that they are all simply playing lacrosse. “We are all out here doing what we love to do,” says Langtry. “There’s a respect around the field.”
The Lizards and Outlaws will not face each other again in the regular season this year. But like last year, there is always a chance they could see each other on Championship weekend in Boston. “I need to be careful what I wish for,” says Matt Sash. “But it would definitely be nice to beat them in the playoffs.”