The Peterborough Examiner
Colorado Mammoth ready to defend title
The Colorado Mammoth have another date with destiny, and a chance to defend their title.
The 2022 National Lacrosse League champions knocked off the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Conference Finals and will face the Buffalo Bandits in a rematch of last year’s NLL championship.
It’s a best-of-three series with Game 1 set for Saturday at 7 p.m. in Buffalo. Game 2 is on Monday at 4 p.m. in Denver (Memorial Day in the U.S.) and, if necessary, Game 3 will be back in Buffalo on June 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Last season, the Mammoth defeated the Bandits in three games, winning the final game, 10-8, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. It was the Mammoth’s second championship; the first came in 2006.
Revenge will be on Buffalo’s minds, but for the Mammoth it’s business as usual.
“This is why we play lacrosse,” said Mammoth captain Robert Hope. “You don’t need any extra motivation. You don’t get these chances very often. When we’re here, we’re in the moment and ready to go and we understand the importance of it.”
Goaltender Dillon Ward was named the MVP last season and, based on his play in the conference finals, Hope wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again.
“We’re very, very fortunate to have him. He made some game-saving saves all game long. It’s awesome to see and awesome to have and, hopefully, he continues that streak because he’s one of the best goalies in the entire world.”
Against Calgary, Ward made 106 saves over three games for a .803 save percentage and a goals-against average of 9.00.
His best save came with 20 seconds left in Game 3, with the Roughnecks’ Tyler Pace driving toward the net. Ward threw up his right shoulder to stop Pace and Jordan Gilles heaved the loose ball up to Connor Robinson who scored an empty-net goal.
It was the first game of the series decided by more than a single goal after Colorado and Calgary split the first two games of the series, with each team winning on their home turf.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a close game; the score was tied five times throughout.
Jeff Cornwall scored 49 seconds into the game, short-handed, to give Calgary the early lead. That was quickly equalled by a powerplay goal from Eli McLaughlin. Calgary kept the pressure on and led 4-2 after the first.
Colorado outscored Calgary 4-1 in the second to lead 6-5 at halftime, though Zach Currier’s shovel-shot goal was the highlight of the frame. Shane Simpson took the initial shot off a give-and-go with Currier; Ward made the save, but Currier scooped up the loose ball behind the net and dunked it in low.
Currier was phenomenal in the series, with 54 loose ball scoops, 19 caused turnovers, five goals and three assists.
“Zach is one of the most dynamic lacrosse players in the world,” Hope said. “Some of the stat lines I saw were video game numbers. He’s always a threat when he’s on the floor. We always had to be aware of him.”
Defence took over in the second half. Calgary scored twice in the third for a 7-6 lead. Colorado scored three times in the fourth quarter.
“We have a lot of good defenders, but they do have a very potent offence and so we were fortunate that we were able to put that string of lacrosse together,” Hope said.
Defending a championship will be nothing new to Hope; he has already done that three, soon to be four, times with the Peterborough Century 21 Lakers. Once the NLL finals have concluded, Hope will be back to lead the Lakers in the chase for their fifth straight Mann Cup championship.
The NLL Finals can be watched live on TSN and streamed live on TSN-plus.