It seems a given to say that scoring goals goes a long way to winning championships but does that also mean that for a team to win the Champion’s Cup that they must have a dominant scorer (or two) to lead the way?
For the 2018 Colorado Mammoth, it is unclear who, if any man, will step up and put together a 35+ goal season that Mammoth fans and the organization are so accustomed to seeing and relying upon in recent years to make the playoffs and give them a shot at the title. Yet, Mammoth history will tell us that, just because a team has a couple of dominant scorers, it does not mean that that team won’t be able to win it all.
Since the Mammoth’s inception in 2003, the franchise has been spoiled with unbelievable scoring talent. During the inaugural season, NLL Hall of Fame player, Gary Gait, scored 61 goals on his way to winning the league MVP. His tally contributed to the team’s 226 goals scored, which is a team record that still stands today. However, all those goals couldn’t propel the Mammoth to championship or even the championship game.
This trend would continue in the following couple seasons,: The Mammoth would be led by Gait as a 50+ goal scorer, the team would score 200+ goals, and they would make the playoffs but not the championship game.
In 2006, now coached by Gait, the Mammoth adjusted their strategy to fit their universally dynamic offense. Scorers such as Gavin Prout, Brian Langtry, and Dan Stroup had proven that they could net between 25-35 goals a season, but only Chris Gill, the current Mammoth Assistant Coach, had tallied 40+ goals in a year and that was a few years before their historic run -he scored 51 in 2002 and 40 in 2003.
The Mammoth would finish the year with a NLL-best 200 goals scored that title-winning year but did so without a singular commanding offensive leader. Gill and Prout shared the Mammoth scoring title that season despite only punching in 29 goals a piece. Langtry and Stroup also contributed with 20+ goals while five other Mammoth players each put in 10+ goals during the 16-game regular season.
Over the team’s 15 full seasons played so far, 2006 has been the only year in which the Mammoth did not have a 30+ goal scorer, and yet, they were able to win the championship.
Although the Mammoth might have been able to conquer the league without a 30+ goal scorer and still win in 2006, that doesn’t hurt the case to have a prolific offensive performer. In each of the seasons in which the Mammoth won more than 10 games (04’, 07’, 12’, 16’) they had at least one player with 35+ goals except for 2007, where instead, the Mammoth had three players that had 30 goals or more. On the other hand, during their four sub-.500 seasons the Mammoth have had since their inaugural year (09’,10’,11’,13’) they did have a 35+ goal scorer except for 2010 when Jamie Shewchuk put in a very respectable 31 goals into the net -Shewchuk’s 31 tallies are a career-high.
During those abysmal years, what proved to be the nail in the coffin was the team’s lack of offense over the course of each of those seasons. For the most part, those poor seasons put the team near the bottom of the league in offensive production.
This year, the Mammoth are quickly having to adapt to a drastically transformed team up front. A few months before the beginning of the 2017 season, the team’s long-term scorer, Adam Jones, was traded to the Saskatchewan Rush for another explosive scorer, Zack Greer. Following an injury-plagued 2017 campaign in which John Grant Jr. participated in only two games, the NLL legend announced his retirement in July. Then, just two weeks after Grant Jr.’s retirement, Mammoth GM, Dan Carey, traded short-term visitor and one of the league’s current top offensive players, Callum Crawford to the Buffalo Bandits for Ryan Benesch.
In 2017, Crawford led the Mammoth in goals scored (36) and points (98). The year before, Crawford, Jones and Grant Jr. were the top-three goal scores and point-getters for the team. And, from 12’-15’, Jones and Grant Jr. were comfortably sitting in the top-two spots for goals and points, leading the way for the Mammoth. With all three gone from the Mammoth lineup, the obvious question becomes: Who will take over the reins? If you ask anyone with the Mammoth, the answer is: The whole team.
GM Carey addressed his vision of a complete team effort when addressing the season-ending injuries to defensemen, Dan Coates and Cameron Holding, in the respective press releases about the two.
“Losing Cameron and Dan for the season presents a challenge for us all, but it gives other players an opportunity to step up, take more of a leadership role, and now, more than ever, work as a team.” Carey stated. He had previously echoed a similar sentiment when addressing the injuries saying, “We are focusing on building a cohesive, prepared team in training camp.”
Defensively, there are surely holes to fill meaning that the offense might need to overcompensate throughout the season due to those key absences.
As head coach, Pat Coyle, said about his offense before the season, “Hopefully, it will be offense by committee.” He continued, “In the past, if you had a guy like John Grant Jr. or Callum Crawford, as good as they are, if they have an off night or if the defense really keys in on them, the offense can be shutdown. Ideally, we want our offense to not be effected that way. One guy can have an off night, but you can’t even tell.”
In the Mammoth’s opening game of the 2018 season versus the Vancouver Stealth, fans saw Coyle’s strategy play out perfectly with nine men getting on the score sheet. Chris Wardle led the way with four of the team’s 15 goals followed by two a piece from the sticks of the reliable Jeremy Noble, rookie Ryan Lee, and newcomer Ryan Benesch, one from rising star Eli McLaughlin and one each from defenders, Tim Edwards, Joey Cupido, Bryce Sweeting, and Jordan Gilles.
Offensive production like that is beautiful to watch and fairly rare. Last season, the Mammoth only had nine or more different goal scorers twice -once against the New England Blackwolves and once against the Rochester Knighthawks. Both games ended as a win for the Mammoth.
So far, this method seems to be working for the Mammoth, but can it last? And, if it can’t, who then should we expect to take responsibility for the offense? Carey has high hopes that Greer, McLaughlin, and Benesch can create a potent combination as the season progresses. “I think those three guys are top-tier forwards and offensive players in our league and we’re fortunate enough to have three of them playing this year.”
Considering that Greer is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) and McLaughlin and Benesch combined for three of the team’s 15 goals -he did also contribute six assists- the Mammoth are showing that they have a complete offensive powerhouse that should be feared even without a true goal scorer like a Gary Gait, John Grant Jr., Gavin Prout, Adam Jones or Callum Crawford.
“We believe in a team that plays like a team and not as individuals.” said Coyle. If there is any staff that knows that, it is coaches Gill, Stroup, and Coyle as well as GM Carey who worked brilliantly together and with their teammates during their 2006 championship run in which no one player scored the majority of Mammoth goals.