The Denver Outlaws have secured their spot in the Major League Lacrosse history books by becoming the first team to complete an undefeated regular season, finishing 14-0. But coach Jim Stagnitta is fully aware that if Denver does not defeat the Charlotte Hounds (7-7) in Saturday’s semifinal and beat either the Chesapeake Bayhawks (9-5) or Hamilton Nationals (9-5) in Sunday’s final at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., that distinction won’t mean much.
“I think a lot of people will be disappointed,” he said during a conference call Wednesday of the prospect of failing to win the championship. “But it’s always disappointing when you get to this point and you don’t win. But as I said, this team is focused and they’re built for this weekend, and we’re focused right now and taking the same approach we’ve taken all year, and that’s what’s been at stake. Nobody’s looking past Saturday. Charlotte has given us fits the two times we’ve played them, and our guys know that and they’re going to be prepared and ready to go. We’re healthy right now, and that’s a big difference from where we were last year.”
The Outlaws have qualified for the playoffs every year since they joined the league in 2006. But the franchise is just 4-7 in the postseason, including 0-4 in the title game. That is partly why CBS Sports Network analyst Evan Washburn thinks the pressure is on Denver to capture the Steinfeld Trophy this weekend.
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“I think there’s immense pressure on Denver’s shoulders,” said Washburn, who will provide commentary on Saturday’s second semifinal between the Bayhawks and Nationals. “They’ve gone 14-0 and have drawn comparisons to the 2005 Bayhawks and the 2001 Lizards as the best team ever. It means absolutely nothing if they don’t win the championship. That would be the case if any of the other seven teams in this league went 14-0, but because it’s Denver and the fact that they’ve been synonymous with having really good regular seasons and then sort of falling apart in the postseason, this weekend becomes that much more of a big deal because if they go 16-0, there’s no argument. They’re the best team that’s every played. But if they lose either Saturday or Sunday, they’re just a really good regular-season team and they just feed that stigma of not being able to finish.”
The Outlaws have lost by 10 goals or more in three of their four championship appearances, including last year’s 16-6 shelling by Chesapeake. But Denver’s lack of playoff success does not resonate with Stagnitta.
“The history, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” he said. “I think there’s two guys on this team who have been here for that period of time. Most of our guys, if they played last year, that was their first time in the finals. So that doesn’t impact me. It doesn’t even bother me. It’s not an issue with our guys. They just want to win just like everyone else. I don’t know why the history is the way it is or what it was because I wasn’t there. I know why we lost in the finals last year, and we did everything we could as a staff and as a general manager to make sure that wasn’t going to be the case this year.”