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Bee ready: Mammoth set to host Swarm tonight

01/29/2013, 12:15pm EST
By NLL.com's Mammoth beat writer Nick Salen and Swarm beat writer Jace Frederick

Colorado looks to improve 'D', Minnesota's rookies making an impact

The Colorado Mammoth (1-2) host the Minnesota Swarm (1-2) on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET at Pepsi Center in Week #5 of the 2013 NLL season. Watch the game live on Altitude and on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network. (Photo: Michael Martin)

The Colorado Mammoth (1-2) look for their first home win of the 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season when they host the Minnesota Swarm (1-2), seeking their first road win, on Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET at Pepsi Center. Watch the game live on Altitude and on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Coming off a brutal 19-12 loss last week on their home floor to Calgary, Colorado is still looking for rhythm on both sides of the ball. With a win being deemed critical this week after the slow start, Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley is confident that his current roster can get the job done and that the writing is on the wall.

"We all know what we have to do, we're going to prepare hard with our defense this week,” Hamley said. “It’s everybody's responsibility, even the offense...we all have to do a better job of it. Let's make no mistake, the coaching staff is very confident in the 23 players that we have.”

One familiar face will be absent from that 23-man roster beginning this week. Veteran goaltender Chris Levis, who has spent the majority of his NLL career with Colorado, was released earlier this week, replaced by familiar Mammoth netminder Dan Lewis, who saw limited action with the team last year.

"It's never easy,” said Hamley about goalie change. “Chris has done a lot of great things for our organization; unfortunately the numbers just weren’t there this year. We had to, in our minds, make a move.”

The Mammoth will have their hands full trying to contain a Swarm team that has had the upper hand against them in recent meetings, winning five of the last seven matchups, including their 14-10 road win in last year’s playoffs.

"They sent us home early packing last year and I know we haven’t forgotten about that,” said Mammoth defenseman Dan Coates. “But they are a good team, they are young and athletic.”

But the Swarm have struggled with personnel issues early on as well. With youth sometimes comes lack of chemistry, something the team is beginning to show as the weeks progress according to Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan.

"We try to keep everything in perspective and understand that we're young, and I'm not going to use that as a crutch,” Sullivan said. “But we are a young team that kind of needs to find each other on the floor a little bit. And as they start to play more...the guys will start to learn more about each other, and I see it starting to come around.”

Minnesota is coming off a pair of nail-biting back-to-back games, splitting the weekend series in which both games were decided by a goal. The Swarm earned their first win of the season when they defeated the Washington Stealth by a score of 15-14 on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.

“It was nice to get the win at home,” Sullivan said. “It would be nice to be able to roll with that here in the next little while.”

Despite the victory, the team’s fourth quarter woes continued. The Swarm have been outscored 13-4 in the final quarter of their first three games of the season.

“We’ve got to tighten it up a bit and put a little more of an onus on ourselves in the fourth quarter to either defend the lead or put that stranglehold on a team,” Sullivan said. “The game shouldn’t change so much in the fourth quarter, whether you’re up or in a tight game. We don’t want to change too much. We just want to make sure we’re making the best decisions.”

The Swarm has let significant leads fade away early in the season, and acknowledge a tough West Division matchup lies ahead despite the consistency issues also plaguing their Colorado counterparts.

"We’ve got our hands full, they have an unbelievable offense and their defense is incredible too,” said Swarm captain Andrew Suitor. “So we have to go in there prepared.  We got a lot of video to study and we got to be ready because they are hungry, and so are we."

A key offensive player for the Mammoth has been Sean Pollock, who has had an impressive start to the 2013 campaign. Against his former team last season, Pollock recorded 20 points (5+15) over four games, including the postseason.

Colorado’s defense will focus on Suitor in transition, but will also keep an eye on forward Ryan Benesch, who tallied 24 points (10+14) in four games against the Mammoth in 2012. Minnesota’s offense has received a huge boost from their young players, as Swarm rookies have accounted for 11 of the team’s 27 goals over the last two games. Rookie forwards Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson combined for three hat tricks in the two games and Matisz was named NLL Rookie of the Week for his performance.

“[Minnesota] has a very good offense,” Colorado head coach Bob Hamley said. “Then to add [Matisz and Jackson] is just added weapons to [Callum] Crawford and Benesch. Minnesota’s done a heck of a job drafting and getting young guys in that can acclimate themselves to the NLL pretty quick.”

Minnesota’s defense has plenty to worry about on its end with Mammoth forward John Grant Jr. The 2012 NLL MVP terrorized the league last year, setting the NLL single-season record for points (116), 24 of which came in Colorado’s three regular season games against the Swarm. Grant Jr. followed that up with a five-goal performance in the Mammoth’s 14-10 first-round playoff loss to Minnesota and already has 12 goals in three games this season.

“There’s no stopping ‘Junior,’” Suitor said. “I think you just have to try to contain him. We’re going to do our best to do that, whether it be sending a double or seeing certain match-ups on him.”

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