With just a little under two weeks on the Denver Outlaws countdown till faceoff, the Major League Lacrosse organization hosted their first day of training camp on Saturday, April 8. The organization gathered under the roof of the UCHealth Training Center with large expectations for the 2017 season, after taking home the MLL Championship title in 2016.

“I think the goal for every team in the league, and certainly in all professional sports, the goal is to win a championship,” said head coach BJ O’Hara. “That’s why you step out there, the idea that you’re going to compete for the championship.”

Aspirations of reaching the last game of the season is on the Outlaws mind, yet they still have a lot of ground to cover. The Mile High City’s MLL team has invited 40 elite lacrosse players to camp, but only 25 will make the final cut.

“We’ll probably trim it down after this weekend, somewhat,” said O’Hara. “We are going to be in New York next week, we’re going to train over there, and we’re going to have a exhibition game with the New York Lizards. We will not bring in everybody for that.”

Although the Outlaws have roster spots in question, they are returning several veteran leaders such as star attacker Eric Law, who scored the game-winning goal in the 2016 MLL Championship.

“It’s nice to come in this year and come into camp, we have a good amount of returners coming back, and a lot of guys, a lot of talent players coming to fight and get a spot on this team, which will making training camp even more competitive,” said Law. “It’s going to make our team better.”

Training camp encompasses many elements: it serves as a platform for players to earn a spot on a MLL team, it allows individuals to get their sticks warm and back up to speed and it provides the opportunity for a group of competitors to come together and develop a team identity.

“Unfortunately in the MLL we don’t have as much time as other sports in the preseason,” said Law. “When were here and when we’re together we have to take every opportunity possible, and get as much chemistry together with the little amount of time that we have together.”

The Outlaws have a staple on offense in Law, and although they have numerous talented defenders in camp and on the roster, they will be missing two established defenseman: Max Schmidt and Michael Skudin, who retired earlier this offseason. Yet through their absence, young players such as BJ Grill will be able to take advantage of the opportunity, and fill the void.

“Personally I just want to make the team and be a part of this again,” said Grill. “This experience, being here is great, and with that just help contribute to another championship. I’m again, blessed to be apart of this organization, blessed to be able to be drafted by this team, so I just want to prove my worth and show that I can belong and bring something to this team and bring another championship back to Denver.”

The product out of Marquette University was selected 40th overall by the Outlaws in the 2016 MLL Collegiate Draft. Since then, Grill has played in 12 games, collected 29 ground balls and claimed two ground balls in the 2016 MLL Playoffs. Grill is one of 12 defenseman that has been invited to camp by O’Hara and the coaching staff, proving that the Outlaws are in search of answers on the defensive side of the ball.

“We just felt like we wanted to get a look at as many guys as we can, just to see how we can help fill,” said O’Hara. “They were awfully good, and experienced players for us so it hurts having them not with us any more, but that’s part of it. We think that we’ve got some talent out here that can help fill that hole.”

With the start of the Outlaws season approaching, there is a lot to prepare for in their first game against the Charlotte Hounds. The game will take place in Charlotte on April 22, marking the start of the Outlaws journey in search of a championship-repeat-season.

“Hopefully in these first couple weeks we can find that identity, keep this momentum that [we] have from last year over to this year, [keeping] things going the way we did with our mentality and the way we approached each week, and each game,” said Law. “That’s what I hope for as a team and any year, and obviously the goal is to win a championship. If you ask anyone in this program, or anyone in this organization that’s here, that’s definitely our ultimate goal, but we got to take baby steps to get there.”

Feature image: Grant Larson