Philadelphia Wings (6-11) host Colorado Mammoth (7-10) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Bartley Young)
The 2014 National Lacrosse League regular season wraps up this weekend, and for the Colorado Mammoth (7-10), it is a dress rehearsal for the postseason when they visit the Philadelphia Wings (6-11) at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live exclusively on UniversalSports.com, available for U.S. subscribers of Universal Sports Network and non-subscribers in Canada only.
Colorado punched their playoff ticket last weekend after a 18-12 win on the road against Minnesota, eclipsing what has been an up-and-down year for the Mammoth.
Interim coach Chris Gill and company take no credit for the team’s turnaround; that honor goes to the men on roster.
“You've got to give a lot of credit to the players,” Gill said. “Every game we seem to be getting a little bit better and we've got a long way to go still. They’re buying in and it’s really all about them.”
But despite having nothing to gain or lose, the Mammoth will be firing on all cylinders Saturday according to Gill, who simply stated, “We play every game to win. So we’re expecting a full lineup.”
The Wings were the first team to throw a wrench in the new Mammoth engine back in Week 14. A last minute go-ahead goal lifted Philadelphia from a back-and-forth battle in Denver; a game that Gill recalls all too well, and has high hopes his team can return the favor before their semi-final matchup against Calgary.
“Our second game as a coaching staff, Philly came to Colorado and beat us there. There’s that thought of 'we want to get them back in their arena'…it’s going to be pretty loud there…we’re expecting a real tough game but we got to keep our game moving forward, we have a lot to improve on.”
Nine of Colorado’s 12 goals came from three players in that Week 14 game against the Wings: Athan Iannucci (4), John Grant Jr. (2) and Drew Westervelt (3), versus 10 different shooters that registered goals for Philadelphia. Sean Pollock could be a quiet offensive player to keep an eye on, who scored twice last week for Colorado. Westervelt could also have a big game against his former squad, who tallied four points (3+1) and 10 shots against the Wings last outing.
Defensively, Dillon Ward continues to shine between the pipes. Since getting the green light as the outright starter for Colorado back in Week 10, the rookie netminder has the fourth most saves in the NLL (550), as well as the fifth best GAA in the league (11.55). But like coach Gill, Ward is anticipating the typical track meet Saturday, hoping to ride the momentum wave into their road playoff matchup next week.
“We’ve been clicking down the stretch here, and the defense has come together,” Ward commented. “The shots that I’m seeing are the ones that I feel comfortable making the stops…couldn’t be happier with how that’s working.”
Celebrating Fan Appreciation Day in their home finale, the Wings look to complete their season with an excellent showing in honor of their loyal following.
“I think it’s always nice to play in front of your fans,” said Wings head coach Blane Harrison. “They’re certainly not a discriminating fan base, that’s for sure. They keep you honest and I think that’s the beauty of what they bring. You always have to put your best effort forward. They’ll never let you get away with anything but your best effort, so I always appreciate that kind of environment. We’ll go out and give the best we can for them, because they paid the money to be entertained.”
Despite failing to find a spot in the playoffs this season, Philly played strong last weekend against the Vancouver Stealth, sporting a 15-11 win without their starting goalie, Evan Kirk who was absent due to illness.
“It was a very interesting weekend, Evan Kirk did not make the trip,” Harrison said. “He came down with a foodborne illness that was pretty intense and they actually hospitalized him for the better part of the weekend, so we landed in Vancouver with not a whole lot of information other than that he wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. We had to make some accommodations so we put Kevin Croswell in—he got down the stretch for this very reason, he’s a veteran guy and he came in and made the saves he needed to make.”
Now as Philadelphia gets ready to take on the Mammoth for their season finale, they’ve got a mindset to win again.
“When you think about it, if we do well this weekend we can tie them for overall record,” Harrison said. “With a difficult tiebreaker and if the league had ever done a crossover playoff format, it would’ve been an interesting weekend of the lacrosse— so well certainly take that in the locker room and rally around the aspect of things. It certainly doesn’t get us into the playoffs and it’s all woulda, coulda, shoulda, but this kind of goes to show that Colorado is a legitimate team— they're very strong and we’re right there with anybody, so we’ll certainly be taking that kind of mindset into the game Saturday.”
Wings defenseman John Ranagan felt similarly to his coach, knowing that a win is something his team wants to give back to their fans.
“I think everybody’s very excited for Saturday night,” Ranagan said. “We have a really great fan base who’s very loyal. It’s going to be an exciting time to get one more game out there. We have a team that’s coming in and they’ve got something that we want, and that’s a playoff game next week— so I'm sure we’ll be ready to go on Saturday night.”