NLL: Mammoth win for Colorado at ACC

Familiarity breeds contempt. So what happens when two unfamiliar NLL teams play each other? Let’s be serious, it’s still a great game.

Due to a scheduling oddity, the Colorado Mammoth and Toronto Rock generally play each other only once a year. Between 2013 and 2016, they saw each other three times, whereas Toronto saw geographic rival Buffalo 13 times.

This past Saturday was the only meeting of the season between the Mammoth and the Rock, and the first time the Mammoth have been in Toronto since 2013. It was a close affair between two teams near the top of their respective divisions and a taste of what the 2017 final could look like. The Mammoth prevailed 14-11, their first win at the Air Canada Centre since 2007.

“It was a character win, a team win. We needed to come back and make a statement and we were able to do that tonight,” Mammoth forward Callum Crawford said.

The Mammoth led after every quarter although the Rock never let them get more than two goals ahead until their empty-netter with one minute remaining.

“No teams get blown out and if they do it’s a rare event, it’s just an off-game for somebody,” observed Crawford.

When you’re playing a team you don’t know much about, you have to do more secondary research – watch more game tape, or rely on reports from coaches and scouts. It requires a full week of preparation.

“There’s a lot of making sure we put the work in through the week and at practice the night before to make sure everyone’s on the same page with tendencies and that helps out a lot throughout the game,” defenseman Robert Hope said. “You have to make sure you watch the game tape and get familiar with the guys. Toronto has a lot of young guys we hadn’t played against.”

Rock forward Kasey Beirnes said that preparation wasn’t the reason for the loss.

“I played against many of them for years so I’m pretty comfortable with a lot of the Colorado guys,” Beirnes said, “but for a lot of our young guys it’s the first time they’ve seen a lot of their players. That’s what our coaching staff is here for, we had a lot of video we had preparation. That definitely wasn’t the issue; it was just our execution.”

“You have to pay attention,” Crawford stressed. “Spend your time during the week getting in film. We see them once a year… Lots of film, lots of communication with the coaching staff. Just like any other game though, you have to prepare.”

Beirnes and Stephan Leblanc each had a hat-trick for the Rock. Brett Hickey, Tom Schreiber, Phil Caputo, Reid Reinholdt and Damon Edwards also scored. Crawford and Stephen Keogh had hat-tricks for the Mammoth, while Ilia Gajic and Jacob Ruest had a pair each. Chris Wardle, Joran Gilles, Eli McLaughlin and Joey Cupido added singles.

Nick Rose and Dillon Ward have been battling for the top goalie spot in the league for a few weeks. Rose, who was the clear-cut number one to start the season, has fallen slightly as the Rock have racked up more losses than wins lately. Ward made 44 saves on 54 shots, while Rose stopped 31 of 44. Rose still leads the league with a 9.77 GAA but Ward leads with a .804 save percentage.

It made sense that the team’s enforcers would try to square off at one point, probably based on reputation alone. Sophomore Bryce Sweeting tried to take on resident Rock tough guy Billy Hostrawser, who actually hasn’t fought at all in 2017 and had only six PIMs prior to the game. However, the referees jumped in as soon as the two took their buckets off and disappointed the 8596 fans in attendance.

“They’re both tough guys and it would have been a good fight,” Hope said. “It was just one of those things bang bang that happened where Sweeting was sticking up for a teammate.”

Colorado had an extra-large cheering section at the Air Canada Centre. In addition to the usual support system the visiting team has at the ACC due to the majority of players from the area, the Rock sold around 200 tickets to the Peterborough Minor Lacrosse Association, promoting it as John Grant Jr.’s probable last game in Ontario. Unfortunately, Grant didn’t make the trip as he still languishes on the IR. The Rock have two PMLA grads on their roster in Brock Sorensen and Turner Evans, but both are on Toronto’s IR, meaning Hope and Sweeting were the only two PMLA alumni on the floor.

Neither Hope nor Sweeting had played at the ACC in the NLL before so it was a new experience being able to play so close to home.

“Through the PMLA and having family and friends up here it was nice to have that hometown feel,” Hope expressed. “It was nice for everyone to come up and enjoy it especially on St. Paddy’s day and for us to get the win in front of them. When we scored they had lots of cheers for us.”