So, let’s all collectively breathe a quick sigh of relief now that we know lacrosse will be returning this winter. Okay, good. With the new CBA signed and training camps getting underway this past weekend, the Mammoth look to hit the ground running.
With Hall of Famer Pat Coyle returning for his third season behind the bench and the addition of Shawn Williams and Andrew McBride as assistant coaches, the Mammoth look to continue to build on the success of last season. It was one that saw them finish second in the West and tied with Georgia for the second best record in the league.
2018 Finish: 2nd in the West, 11-7 Overall, 5-4 Home, 6-3 Away, lost in 1st Round of Playoffs to Calgary 15-12
In an offseason that’s proven to be relatively quiet for Colorado, the biggest additions may prove to be through the Draft. Bringing in the likes of Kyle Killen (22nd overall, RIT/Coburg Kodiaks) and Dennon Armstrong (30th overall, Coquitlam Adanacs) was a power move by GM Dan Carey, taking two top talents at a relatively late stage in the draft.
Killen, with his athleticism and speed, is a proven scorer, accumulating 118 goals during his two seasons at RIT, and Armstrong has been a solid producer for Coquitlam in his three seasons with the Minto Cup Champions, amassing 203 points.
Losing Zack Greer (15 GP, 18 G, 23 A, 41 PTS, 47 LB) to retirement definitely leaves a hole to be filled production-wise, but if Killen and Armstrong can crack the 21-man roster, the sky is the limit for the Mammoth offense.
On the defensive end, the losses of Greg Downing (18 GP, 6 PTS, 55 LB, 25 CTO), Bryce Sweeting (17 GP, 5 PTS, 39 LB, 11 CTO) and Cam Holding (out last season with ACL injury) to New England, Buffalo and San Diego, respectively, doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for Colorado.
READ MORE: Check out our NLL preview on the Buffalo Bandits as they get set to open their season on Dec. 15. Click here to read.
Captain Dan Coates and Brent Adams are both healthy again after missing last season with injuries and GM Dan Carey spent the rest of the 2018 Draft shoring up his back end, taking Julian Garritano (35th overall, Brooklin Redmen/Sacred Heart), Dylan Laprade (48th overall, Burlington Chiefs) and Steven Lee (72nd overall, Burlington Chiefs).
All three will be in camp fighting for an opening night roster spot, along with John Lintz (12 GP, 2 PTS, 44 LB, 14 CTO), who comes over from Vancouver after spending the majority of his career with the Rush. Training camp will be a real test for the rookies and younger players, but I’m banking on there being at least one dark horse in the pack, if not more.
Despite the dynamic combination of Ryan Benesch (18 GP, 36 G, 57 A, 93 PTS, 96 LB), Jeremy Noble (18 GP, 25 G, 57 A, 82 PTS, 61 LB), Jacob Ruest (18 GP, 22 G, 45 A, 67 PTS, 65 LB) and Stephen Keogh (15 GP, 30 G, 24 A, 54 PTS, 58 LB), who all broke the 50 point barrier, the Mammoth were kept under 10 goals in five games last season; and only two of those were victories, identical 8-7 wins at home over Buffalo and Calgary. The team was also seventh in goals per game (11.89), so new offensive coordinator Shawn Williams has his work cut out for him if the Mammoth are looking to score consistently and frequently this season.
Perhaps the addition of Kyle Killen and his natural ability to find the net will give the team an edge, and it’s yet to be seen if Ryan Lee, former teammate of Killen’s and all-time goal leader at RIT, can stay in the lineup on a regular basis after scoring one of the most electrifying debut goals the league has seen in some time. But consistent scoring or not, the Mammoth continually found ways to win last year and that same drive will most certainly motivate them this year.
One bright spot for the team offensively was their power play unit, which was fourth in the league, but sometimes the numbers belie what’s really going on behind the scenes. Their 49 power play goals was second only to Saskatchewan (59), and they’ll look to continue that success. They say special teams can make or break a squad’s season, and if Williams wants his offense to flourish, he’ll stick with what’s worked in the past.
Defensively, Dillon Ward (18 GP, 10-6 W-L, 11.06 GAA, .781 SV%) and Steve Fryer (14 GP, 1-1 W-L, 8.55 GAA, .849 SV%) again look to backstop a unit that gave up the second fewest goals last year (199). Fryer saw limited action last season, but when called upon he proved himself to be more than capable at handling the net-minding duties. Defensive Coordinator Andrew McBride has been gifted an already well-oiled machine and the knowledge and experience he brings to the bench can only make them that much more dangerous.
A healthy Dan Coates (17 GP, 5 PTS, 48 LB, 29 CTO in 2017) means that Tim Edwards (18 GP, 6 PTS, 94 LB, 20 CTO) won’t have to be relied on so heavily in the faceoff circle. Edwards was 224-436 in draws last year, a win percentage of .514, but the overall team percentage was .496. Although this didn’t hinder the team as badly as it could have, returning Coates (.540 win % in 2017) to the circle, if that’s what the coaches decide to do, could prove to be a solid move and lead to more quality possessions and, essentially, more goals.
Just like the powerplay, the penalty kill was a key component of the Mammoth’s success last season. The PK was first overall in the league, with a 55.38% success rate, and the likes of Robert Hope (18 GP, 13 PTS, 151 LB, 31 CTO), Brad Self (17 GP, 19 PTS, 83 LB, 17 CTO) and reigning Transition Player of the Year Joey Cupido (18 GP, 27 PTS, 111 LB, 15 CTO) will look to bring about the same results this year. Colorado likes to move the ball and move it fast, and of all the defensive players that dressed for at least one game last season, only two went without a goal. Look for that same formula this year.
2019 Season Outlook
The true question surrounding the Mammoth will be if they can build chemistry between their two new assistant coaches and the team heading into the season opener against newcomer San Diego on December 22nd. The delays caused by the CBA negotiations and the whirlwind training camp schedule definitely won’t help. But knowing that we’re talking about McBride and Williams, two former NLL champions and consummate professionals, as well as former teammates of Coyle’s, I think they’ll have no problem finding their flow, even if it isn’t right out of the gate.
The Mammoth begin the 2019 campaign with a four-game home stand, including two Sunday matinees against Calgary. The January 6th matchup against the Roughnecks takes the place of their canceled December 1st bout, and the Mammoth will be looking to avenge their season ending playoff loss against the Riggers last May. Playing their arch nemesis this early in the season will definitely set the tempo for the rest of the season.
However, the real test for Colorado will be in the last half of the season, where seven of their last nine games will be played against division foes. They close out the month of April with two home and two away games against the Rush, Knighthawks, Seals, and the Rush again (rescheduled from December 8th). Playing the Rush twice in the span of three weeks isn’t ideal, especially if they end up facing Saskatchewan in the playoffs. It’s fair to assume that the Rush are still the team to beat in the West if the Mammoth want to reach the Finals, so their regular season matchups will be a good gauge of where Colorado stands in terms of climbing that mountain.
With an influx of new blood and the return of some savvy veterans, I predict the Mammoth will finish 12-6 and second in the West. Just as last season, they’ll sink or swim based on how their offense plays, but with Ward in net and the likes of McBride holding the reins of the defense, they’ll have their defensive guys to bail them out if it comes down to it. Speed is the name of the game in the NLL, so look for them to be dynamite on transition once again.
To check out the Mammoth’s 2019 schedule, click here.
Projected 21-man Roster
Tim Edwards D
Josh Sullivan D
Ryan Benesch F
Brent Adams D
Ryan Lee F
Chris Wardle F
Robert Hope D
Jacob Ruest F
Jordan Gilles D
Brad Self D
Stephen Keogh F
Jeremy Noble F
Dan Coates D
Steve Fryer G
Rowan Kelly D
Dillon Ward G
Eli McLaughlin F
Dennon Armstrong F
Kyle Killen F
Joey Cupido D
John Lintz D