First of all, what a night for the San Diego Seals! The first game in franchise history could not have gone better, as rookie – but let’s admit it, he sure didn’t play like one – Austin Staats had a night, putting up five goals and four assists against the Colorado Mammoth, and goaltender Frank Scigliano demonstrated that he’s ready to put the San Diego Seals on his back if need be. San Diego walked into the Loud House and quieted the crowd of 13,407 in emphatic fashion, using a huge second quarter to keep the Mammoth at bay.
Despite a shaky start, which saw the first quarter end 2-2 despite how the young franchise looked, San Diego came to play for the remaining forty-five minutes and chased Dillon Ward from his crease in the third. The Colorado Mammoth came out strong, with multiple possessions that were giving them good looks to begin with, but San Diego stayed composed and played like a team that’d been there before. Even from the opening faceoff they were battling, and when their offense got their feet under them, there wasn’t much Colorado could do. Ball movement was crisp and they took advantage of a Colorado Mammoth squad that wasn’t playing with the same level of grit.
As mentioned before, Staats went off, and one of the best moments of the game was when he backed down Joey Cupido toward his own net and muscled his way in, burying his fifth of the night and providing the dagger that would ice the Colorado Mammoth’s hopes of a comeback. To me, this was the moment he really announced his arrival to the league – and it seems like the retweets and likes of the play on Twitter would back that claim up. His size and his presence on the floor commands attention, and while it’s a little early to be making these statements, if he can keep this kind of play up, he could make a case for MVP of the league.
Big ups to Garrett McIntosh for scoring the first goal in San Diego Seals history, and I bet their only regret is that it wasn’t in front of their home crowd. Nevertheless, it was an exciting moment for Seals fans and lacrosse fans in general. Another huge moment had a more personal touch, as Cam Holding, coming off an ACL injury and playing his first game back against his former team, buried an empty-netter late in the game. His elation was palpable, and proved that there’s something special happening in San Diego.
One thing coming from the bench that stood out was coach Pat Merrill discussing the philosophy of his guys playing “five minute mini-games,” taking the game five minutes at a time and breaking it down, always making it manageable. That’s the type of play that sparked their second quarter run (outscoring Colorado 6-3) and their third quarter stand when Colorado attempted a comeback (outscored Colorado 6-5). They played tough and they played hard and were doing all the little things right. When they could have buckled, they didn’t, and that speaks volumes to how quickly they’ve come together and created chemistry amongst their ranks.
The San Diego Seals take their winning ways to Calgary on December 28.
Now, what was supposed to be a cakewalk for Colorado, at least according to most, turned into a quandary and leaves the team with many questions heading into their next game (January 6th versus Calgary). Luckily for them they have a couple weeks to come up with answers, but it won’t make things easier. As I mentioned in my season preview, they had trouble scoring goals at times last season – and scoring goals at the right time – and they suffered from the same affliction Saturday night.
Honestly, the Colorado Mammoth shouldn’t have lost in the manner they did. It was a lack of energy that eventually killed them, and adjustments made by the Seals put the nail in the coffin. But just when the game was in reach, the veterans went quiet. Stephen Keogh, Chris Wardle and Jacob Ruest combined for zero goals and most of the heavy lifting had to be done by Ryan Benesch (3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS), Jeremy Noble (2 G, 3 A, 5 PTS) and Eli McLaughlin (3 G, 1 A, 4 PTS), with Benesch recording his 399th, 400th and 401st career goals – although I don’t think there was much celebrating after the game. When half of your offense isn’t scoring, there’s a problem.
Five-on-five offense lacked cohesion for most of the game, and try as they might, they couldn’t find a rhythm. Better possessions usually lead to more goals, and they spent most of the night trying to figure out Scigliano from outside without putting in the effort to make the Seals goalie work – but I take nothing away from the performance he had. Scigliano is a big keeper (6’3”, 285 pounds), and you have to make him move side-to-side if you don’t want every shot ending up right in his crest. I didn’t see any significant adjustments made in their game plan Saturday, but that tells me they’re coming for sure – especially with a mind like Shawn Williams’s behind the bench.
But, on the opposite end of the floor, Dillon Ward had a rough night to say the least. He stopped only 20 of the 33 shots he faced and Steve Fryer ended up relieving him of duty. He seemed to be seeing the ball well most of the game but he never settled in, letting in some soft shots –especially the first goal, McIntosh’s, which stemmed from an unsettled play that led to the Seals player walking in alone and surprising Ward over the shoulder. It was an uncharacteristic performance, and better to get it out of the way now than later in the year. I don’t fault the defense, for the most part, as the San Diego Seals were quick and sharp, but they definitely weren’t playing up to the level that they can. And even the return of much-adored captain Dan Coates couldn’t rally the troops to victory.
But, like I said, the team has time to do what needs to be done to improve the play on the floor. They need to just enjoy their Christmas, regroup and refocus. Honestly, the San Diego Seals caught them by surprise and delivered a one-two punch. Now, it’s up to the Colorado Mammoth to respond and prove that they’re still the tough-as-nails squad we saw last season.