The 2014 Major League Lacrosse season ends with the 2014 MLL Championship Game this Saturday, August 23 at 7 p.m., at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in Georgia (tickets for the Championship Game can be purchased HERE). After outstanding performances this year, the Denver Outlaws and the Rochester Rattlers have reached the culminating point of their seasons, and are one step closer to taking home the trophy.
To many MLL fans, this year’s Championship Game may seem like déjà vu. Almost six years ago to the day, Denver and Rochester faced off in the 2008 MLL Championship Game at Harvard Stadium. Although the teams were the top two in the league, the Rattlers crushed the Outlaws 16-6 to bring home the club’s first Championship win.
The contenders in the 2008 Championship were determined by two semifinals games (to decide the representative of each conference); Denver defeated the Los Angeles Riptide 13-12 to win the Western Conference, and Rochester took a 16-15 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Barrage to win the Eastern Conference. Both semifinals came down to the last few minutes, much like both games this season. Many were expecting an exciting, close game—the 9-3 Rattlers were playing the 8-4 Outlaws—from the almost evenly matched teams. However, Denver completely fell apart, and once again was forced to take a playoff loss.
This time around, Denver is fortunate enough to have two important members of the 2008 Championship winning Rattlers on their side—Head Coach BJ O’Hara and attackman John Grant, Jr. O’Hara was the Rochester Head Coach at the time, and led Grant and fellow Rattlers to their first championship win. Since that 2008 win, Grant has learned a little something about winning.
Grant, who posted four goals and an assist in his first championship appearance, has been a part of three other Steinfeld Trophy winning teams: the 2009 Toronto Nationals, and the 2012 and 2013 Chesapeake Bayhawks. Grant is 4-0 in Championship Game appearances and was named Championship MVP in 2013. At 39 years old, Grant is having one of his best seasons yet, with 28 goals and 26 assists (54 points) the Outlaws hope that he can help them finally overcome their playoff curse.
Fortunately for Rochester, the Outlaws have the numbers working against them. Denver has made the playoffs all nine years of the team’s existence, however, the Outlaws have never won a Championship. In 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013, the Outlaws were knocked out in the semifinals, and in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012 they were defeated in the Championship. This year, their ninth season, the Outlaws snuck by the New York Lizards in a 14-13 semifinals win, and have once again made it to the Championship. The Rattlers will hope that Denver’s bad luck will once again come to play.
The 2014 Rochester team has a similar look to its 2008 counterpart. The 2008 Rattlers finished the regular season 9-3 and the top seed in the league. This year’s team went 10-4 in the regular season, and also earned the top seed heading into the playoffs. Composed of veteran players such as Kevin Leveille, and young-guns like Jordan Wolf, Rochester has the potential to post 10-plus goals in the Championship, much like they did in 2008.
While the Championship situation might look the same, neither team is viewing it as a rematch.
“This is an entirely different scenario,” said O’Hara. “Two really different teams—it’s more of a rematch of two teams that have played each other during the regular season, but now get a chance to play a third time.”
“I don’t think it’s something we focus on,” said Rattlers Head Coach Tim Soudan. “Obviously it’s in the back of my head—but it’s yesterday’s news and this is a whole different squad, with a whole different feeling.”
With their entire seasons on the line, Denver and Rochester will both look to go out fast and take control of the game, hoping that they can be the ones to bring the Championship home. The rest of the MLL will be watching, waiting to see if history will continue to repeat itself or if the Outlaws will finally bring the Steinfeld Trophy to Denver.