Saturday night saw five games on the NLL docket but none was more crucial than the Mammoth’s home game against the Rock. Carrying an 0-2 record into the bout, Colorado looked to rebound from a slow start to their season, and for the most part they did. Although the eventual result, an 11-10 Rock victory, wasn’t what they were looking for, the Mammoth have taken great strides towards returning to proper form.
Although there were setbacks, the energy that Colorado brought to the floor was phenomenal to watch, and was reminiscent of the Mammoth squad from last season. Dillon Ward anchored the team right out of the gate, and made 57 saves on 68 shots on goal (an unreal number). And although the defensive unit gave up that many opportunities, Ward was strong and saw the ball cleanly the whole game. There’s a big difference between being peppered all night and your defense forcing the opponent to take what little opportunities they have to get the ball on net, and Colorado worked to force the latter.
Momentum has been a big issue for Colorado this season, and they finally proved that they could keep it as well as wrangle it from their opponent, as Toronto took a 4-1 lead in the second quarter only for the Mammoth to charge back and tie it 5-5 at half. I think that is attributed to the team investing in doing the little things right as they won the loose ball battle 71-67. Even though that’s a small margin, they were grinding all night and going into the corners hard, willing to put in the dirty work. It’s a big culture change from their first two games and it’s indicative of the Mammoth team we should be expecting the rest of the way forth. And speaking of loose balls, congrats to captain Dan Coates who scooped up his 400th career loose balls and alternate captain Robert Hope who ragged his 500th career loose ball this past weekend.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Mammoth were led by Jacob Ruest (3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 8 LB), Eli McLaughlin (2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, 2 LB) and the always reliable Ryan Benesch (2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, 5 LB). While there’s still room for improvement, and besides the first quarter which Toronto won 3-1, the scoring was balanced and the offense seemed to be on the same page. The Mammoth took an identical 5-5 score into halftime last weekend against Calgary, and they only managed three goals the entire second half. This game was a big turnaround, and Colorado only lost such a close a contest because Toronto keeper Nick Rose was clutch late. Any doubts I had before about the Mammoth offense are beginning to wane, and it goes to show that sometimes all anyone needs is a little extra time to bring the pieces into place.
Overall, the 11,678 in attendance at the Pepsi Center were treated to a real gem of a game, as neither team led by more than two goals the entire second half. But after Colorado went up 8-7 on a Benesch goal early in the fourth, Toronto, led by stud Rob Hellyer (3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 6 LB), sealed the deal on a three-goal run that the Mammoth couldn’t overcome. Hellyer saved his best for last, scoring two in the final frame to seal the deal.
It definitely wasn’t the outcome the Mammoth wanted, but at least now some fears can be assuaged. Some bounces just didn’t go Colorado’s way; for instance, in the third quarter an Adam Jones shot took a lucky deflection off a Mammoth defender’s stick and ended up behind Ward for a Toronto goal. It’s little things like that that will propel a game in one team’s favor or another and on Saturday night the Rock came out on top in terms of fluke plays. But, if the Mammoth keep up the intensity they brought this past weekend, the bounces will soon be coming their way.
Colorado (0-3) ends up their four-game home stand against foes Calgary this coming Sunday, January 20th.