Editor’s Note: Just in time for tonight’s season opener, it’s the Colorado Mammoth. Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we are beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage for 2016, starting with a preseason preview series! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
The last team to get our treatment was the recently relocated Georgia Swarm. This time we’re breaking down their first opponent of the year, the Colorado Mammoth.
2016 NLL Preview: Colorado Mammoth
Before they take the floor in tonight’s NLL opener against the newly relocated Georgia Swarm, we’ve got to take a look at the Colorado Mammoth. The story of the Mammoth offense is going to be the addition of the Swarm’s all-time points and goals leader Callum Crawford, signed from free agency to bolster the left side.
Last year the Colorado Mammoth finished the regular season at an even 9 and 9 before losing in the first round to the Roughnecks, 11-6, which they beat twice in the regular season. The Mammoth were 6-3 in the Pepsi Center but couldn’t carry the momentum on the road where they posted a dismal 3-6 record. Last year’s draft class brought a fire to the Colorado locker room, four players were named to the NLL All-Rookie team. Third on the team’s scoring list, the monstrous Drew Westervelt is out for 2016 but will be replaced by Crawford. The team will also start the season without a face off specialist as they’ve parted ways with Bob Snider.
Somethings have clearly changed, but many others have not. Let’s breakdown the rest of the Colorado Mammoth lineup.
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/1/16 vs. Georgia Swarm
- Arena: Pepsi Center
- 2015 Record: 9-9 (Regular Season), 0-1 (Playoffs)
- 2015 Attendance: 14,787
- Mascot: Wooly (Mammoth)
- Dance Team: Wild Bunch
- Website: ColoradoMammoth.com
The Mammoth didn’t have a draft selection until the 4th round where they selected Jr. A Peterborough Lakers defenseman Bryce Sweeting. Part due to his athleticism and skill, part due to the homework of the front office, Sweeting got the call to dress opening night against the Swarm. He’s is a big kid at 6’2”, 190 lbs and isn’t afraid to get in the mix. The seal was broken with Sweeting’s first big league tilt coming over the preseason. Sweeting is prone to the penalty box and posted some pretty high PIM numbers over his junior career, but that’s because this stay at home defender protects his team and strikes fear into forwards that try to post up in his zone. He’s like the new guy in prison with something to prove. If given solid minutes early, there’s no way this kid is going even a game without a fight.
Another rookie is getting the nod, 6th round draft pick and fellow defenseman Jordan Gilles of the Jr. A Delta Islanders will also be suiting up on the 1st against Georgia. Gilles is fast and put up solid points during his BCJALL career. At 5’11”, 190 lbs, Gilles should be filling a more transition heavy role with the likes of Cupido and Holding. The offense hasn’t had much trouble scoring in recent years but the revolving defense needs to find footing in 2016 to help improve the team’s regular season record.
The biggest offseason pickup for the Mammoth is easily 10 year veteran Callum Crawford, the all-time leading scorer and points man for the Swarm. On the block due to free agency, the veteran lefty is going to be a huge presence on the floor with Grant, Jones and McLaughlin on the right side of the floor. Crawford posted five seasons in a row with over 70 points for Minnesota before sitting out 6 games in 2015 due to injury. He’s seen a lot in his NLL career, but never an experienced group of lefties like he’s working with in Colorado. If he stays healthy, Crawford will be jockeying with the best of them to see his name on the Pepsi Center scoreboard. Scoring hasn’t been much of a problem for the Mammoth and Crawford will keep the theme alive.
Two more defensive guys made their way to Colorado in the offseason. Former Swarm defenseman Greg Downing has been a backbone for his former squad and a big body to deal with in the NLL. Like Crawford, the only other American on the roster, both ended up with the Mammoth from the Swarm due to free agency. Playing all 36 regular season games over the past two seasons, Downing forced 49 turnovers and picking up 138 loose balls. This past September Downing suited up for Team USA at the WILC 2015 where he helped the Americans secure the bronze medal against Israel in the finals. Downing’s presence will be huge on the back line for Colorado and he will be joined by former Mammoth Ilija Gajic who spent 2014-15 with the Vancouver Stealth.
Gajic represented Serbia at the WILC 2015, leading them through their first international box lacrosse competition. In a game against Turkey, Gajic took a nasty check to his bottom hand leaving it broken. With enough time to rehab, Gajic should be at full health to kickoff 2016. Last season he put up 28 points, 87 loose balls and 21 caused turnovers in 16 games as a transition role for the Stealth. The Mammoth will be best suited to keep Gajic in a similar role, they struggled to get the same results from him in his prior seasons with Colorado.
Colorado will also dress the Coquitlam Adanacs Josh Sullivan who made the cut for Calgary last season but didn’t see time. Sullivan is a strong kid from Alberta that has impressed a lot of people around the WLA. He’s a finisher that can run transition for the Mammoth or play solid righty defense.
On the roster we also see lefty forward Chris Wardle. Wardle only played four games with the Vancouver Stealth in 2014.
Where do I begin with man-chine John Grant Jr.? At 40 years of age, Junior played all 18 games for the Mammoth last season and managed to score 34 times with another 57 assists. That makes the third year in a row he’s scored exactly 91 points in a season. Coincidence? I think not. But he doesn’t go at it alone, Adam Jones is a terror on the right side, scoring 93 points in 16 games. unfortunately for Colorado, Jones was handcuffed in the playoff game and could produce while Grant was held to a goal and two assists. Jones finished 3rd in the NLL for scoring and still had another 42 assists last season.
The righties are going to do a lot of work for the Mammoth and the transition team is even stronger but not much pressure was lifted from the Grant-Jones connection. The only other lefty joining the bench to start the year is Victoria product Chris Wardle who didn’t compete in the NLL last season.
Last season, rookie righties Jeremy Noble and Eli McLaughlin played out perfectly for the Mammoth and both were named to all the NLL All-Rookie list. Now they’re going to get help from free agent signing Callum Crawford creating space for the much smaller Noble and McLaughlin. The Jr. A lacrosse all-star McLaughlin had a fantastic rookie season with Colorado, scoring 38 points (15 g, 23a) in 17 games and former Denver star Noble racked up an insane 39 points (13 g, 26 a) in the 9 games that he suited up for Colorado.
Also on the right side, Mike Burke returns to the bench. He had 15 points in his 9 games with the Mammoth last season. Joining Burke is Jackson Decker who has yet to play more than 6 games in a a regular season, scored 11 points (4 g, 7a) in his 5 games with Colorado last year.
Dan Coates was named Captain of the Mammoth for the 2016 campaign as he heads into his 5th year in the NLL and with the team. Coates registered 28 points and 47 forced turnovers in the past two season of which he played in every game. Coates can take draws for Colorado now that Snider is out and will lean toward the transition side of the defense.
The aggressive Robert Hope had an incredible rookie season for the Mammoth defense, registering 28 caused turnovers and 72 loose balls which earned him a spot on the NLL All-Rookie team. His youthfulness allows him to push the ball if needed, but he’s a big piece in the rebuilding of the team’s defense. Things are a bit definite this year, Ball is now with New England, Gallant officially retired and Tyler Codron is listed to the Injured Reserve.
Free agent Greg Downing is a huge pickup for the defensive core to play alongside veteran Creighton Reid. The Mammoth lack stay at home defenders and both of these guys will be the backbones of the back line. That said, both guys are aggressive and can both pressure and push the ball. Reid had 20 CTOs and 81 loose balls last season while Downing’s numbers were pretty close with 21 forced turnovers and 74 loosies.
The rookie pair we looked at earlier, Sweeting and Gilles, will help fix some of the defensive woes in Colorado. The team finished 2015 with a -6 goals ratio even though they finished 2nd in the Western Conference.
Running the show for the transition squad is 2015 Transition Player of the Year Joey Cupido. Cupido played all 18 games for the Mammoth and finished 2015 with a ridiculous 31 points, 117 loose balls and 40 caused turnovers. Ilija Gajic is back to join Cupido, Gajic is a solid two-way lefty that can fill a variety of roles for Colorado and help on the right side with Jr. and Jones.
The team is going at it without face off man Bob Snider and they lost Hawksbee to Vancouver. But one of their main transition veterans is back, Cam Holding returns after recording 110 loosies and 22 points in 2015. Holding has played a full season for the past two years and has been a reliable workhorse in Colorado. The group will look to bring newcomer Josh Sullivan up to speed, as he also made the 20-man cut.
The force is strong with the Mammoth net-minders. The opposite skilled, but almost equally young, Dillon Ward and Alex Buque can get the job done. Ward will be the starter in 2016 despite have a couple hiccups last year. The tall and athletic Ward started 16 games and finished 7-6 with 76% on saves. The second year Ward gave up 7 goals in the first half of their playoff game and was replaced by the rookie Buque.
Minto Cup winning Buque was highly touted coming into the 2014 NLL Draft to which he did not disappoint. He saw 256 minutes in 2015 to which he posted 80% on 168 total saves, finishing with a 203 record. In the playoff game, Buque came into play slightly over a half and registered 19 saves and only allowed 4 goals in the loss. These numbers earned the backup a spot on the NLL All-Rookie team.
Calling it Early
Some fingers are pointed at the Stealth to be the last place team again in the Western Conference but something is telling me that Colorado is going to struggle this year. If anything happens to Jones or Grant they will take an immediate nosedive and being without Westervelt doesn’t help the stability of the offense at all. Their transition is always strong but I’m not sure if the problems on defense will be fixed by a pair of rookies.
I’m sure I made some fans in the state of Colorado a little heated at my final assessment, so you might as well sound off on what you think of this year’s Mammoth in the comments below!
Up Next: Calgary Roughnecks