The Colorado Mammoth (7-10) clinched the third and final NLL playoff spot in the West Division with an 18-12 road win over the Minnesota Swarm (4-13) in front of a crowd of 7,961 at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.
“The guys were focused, we knew what we had to do. All we can do is go out and try to get a win and that’s what we did tonight - the guys are pretty excited,” said Mammoth interim coach Dan Stroup. “Minnesota played good but we came out on top.”
The first quarter displayed a strong Swarm team, indicative of their mission to play for their pride and for their fans. Despite a hat trick in the first quarter by Mammoth forward Adam Jones (4+1), Minnesota came out of the quarter with the 5-4 lead. Captain Andrew Suitor (1+0) was the first to strike for Minnesota. Shayne Jackson (1+2) threw in one of his own and Kiel Matisz (2+2) managed to breeze by everyone and score twice for his team.
The first quarter also marked Callum Crawford (1+3) as the leader in goals scored for the Swarm in franchise history, scoring his 142nd to surpass former teammate Ryan Benesch.
“For Callum, that’s incredible - it’s a great feat,” said Sullivan. “I know he prides himself in being a guy that makes people better and he’s starting to do that.”
In contrast, the second quarter was dictated by the offensive runs made a renewed Colorado team, who outscored the Swarm 5-1. John Grant Jr. (3+2) surpassed the 600 goal mark with his first goal of the night and joins John Tavares (800+) and Gary Gait (635) in being the only players to reach 600 goals in the NLL.
“Guess that means I’ve either played a long time or I’m extremely lucky 602 times,” Grant, Jr. said.
“He’s dynamic, he’s strong, he’s a leader, he’s a fun guy to be around and he makes people around him better,” said Sullivan of Grant, Jr. “He’s deserved of any accolades he gets because he truly is just that good.”
“They came out strong and everything they were doing on O was working so we discussed it and we tightened things up on the 'D' end a little more and put a little more pressure on their shooters,” said Stroup. “We just adjusted a little bit and it seemed to work out.”
The third quarter displayed a revived Minnesota team that sent Logan Schuss (4+3) and David Earl (1+0) to the net to score two within the first 45 seconds. However, a quick reaction by Colorado guaranteed the Mammoth upper hand and they kept it through the finish of the game.
“We got out to a 5-3 lead and felt pretty good about it and then they chipped away, chipped away, chipped away and like a veteran team will do, they were pretty resilient,” said Sullivan. “We started gripping our sticks tight and all the sudden we were missing passes and not making the right ones.”
The competitive start for the Swarm slowly waned into the loss, but not without some shining moments. Forwards Kiel Matisz (2+2) and Josh Gillam (2+1) each knocked in two of their own while Logan Schuss (4+3) worked his way to four goals and heightened his chances for NLL rookie of the year.
“He’s just getting started,” said Sullivan. “That guy is just gonna be one heck of a player and I’m sure we’ll be talking about him for a long time to come.”
But a good offense still relies on the stability of a strong defense to carry through the game and that is something that the Swarm weren’t able to connect with on Saturday night.
“11 is the magic number to get to and if you get more than that, you typically give yourself a chance to win. So we got 12 but our specialty teams didn’t help us out and we went on droughts,” said Sullivan. “When you do that it just puts too much pressure on that young offense.”
“I think our offense did pretty well. I think they had a lot of shots, created a lot of opportunities and they did their part,” said Swarm transition player David Earl. “We gave up a little too much room and shots for them on the defensive side.”
The loss comes as a disappointment for the Minnesota team, who has been showing steady improvement and has been learning how to mesh as a team of young, talented players.
“For the group, we felt like we’d turned the corner. We are where we are because we just haven’t been consistent and thought we addressed everything we needed to address to get around that corner and let people know that ‘hey, we started bad but we are a team to contend with’,” said Sullivan. “We definitely didn’t show that tonight.”
For the Mammoth, former Swarm players Dan Ball (2+1) and Sean Pollock (2+4) stood strong on offense while Athan Iannucci recorded eight points (2+6) to heavily assist his team's scoring spout. Mammoth rookie goaltender Dillon Ward was a warrior in net and saved 51 of the 63 Swarm shots to give his the team the win even though Minnesota outshot Colorado 63-48.
“He’s playing great,” said Stroup of Ward. “The last three weeks he’s played awesome and he’s really coming into his own - he’s great back there.”
Both teams are back in action next Saturday, April 26.
Minnesota will close out the season by hosting the Toronto Rock at 8 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center and the Colorado Mammoth will visit the Philadelphia Wings at Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 p.m. ET.
As they look forward to next week, Minnesota will rely on their competitive spirit and devoted fans to motivate them.
“It’s really about how do we finish this thing off right, not only for ourselves but for our fans,” said Sullivan. “So whether it’s Toronto or Rochester or Buffalo, it truly is just that important to get the win.”
“We have enough guys in the locker room that are competitive,” said Earl. “When your competitive, you want to win at everything you do.”
Colorado prepares for their last regular season as a gateway to the playoffs and will focus on avenging a previous loss to the Wings in front of the home crowd.
“Earlier in the season, we knew had an uphill battle but we ultimately wanted to get to the playoffs. We didn’t want to squeak in, we wanted to get in on our own accord. And we did,” said Grant, Jr. “Our season is not over. Philly beat us in our barn so we’d like to go return the favor.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Adam Jones
2) Dillon Ward
3) Logan Schuss
Both teams are back in action next Saturday, April 26. Minnesota will close out the season by hosting the Toronto Rock at 8 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center and the Colorado Mammoth will visit the Philadelphia Wings at Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 p.m. ET.