Have nine minutes ever felt like 636 days to you? If you ask any Colorado Mammoth or Georgia Swarm players, they might jokingly say, ‘yes.’
If the over a year and a half span between games wasn’t enough to build up rust on the player’s proverbial wheels, a nearly nine-minute, unexpected game stoppage just 57 seconds into this past weekend’s cross-divisional matchup featuring the Mammoth and the Swarm didn’t help them scrub it off.
The opening moments of last Saturday night’s game didn’t shine the Mammoth in the best light. Following a disjointed offensive set in which the Mammoth couldn’t produce a shot on goal, the defense allowed the Swarm to find an opening and put the first point of the night on the board.
However, after about 6 minutes of actual game time, it was as if a switched flicked, and the Mammoth were off and rolling. Despite being down a man, one of the Mammoth’s newest and most promising new players and former member of the Swarm, Zed Williams, found the back of the net with 8:25 left in the first quarter. 27 seconds later, Ryan Lee flew across the crease to put the Mammoth ahead. From that point on, the Mammoth would never again relinquish the lead.
When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read: Colorado 16, Georgia 11. The Mammoth had comfortably (and successfully) completed their first of at least 18 missions this season. And, in the process, put the rest of the league on notice.
Following the team’s impressive victory, the always-focused and grounded Head Coach of the Mammoth, Pat Coyle, expressed joy over the result but maintained that this season is only just beginning.
“We kept our winning streak; I believe that’s four games in a row after finishing last year with three straight wins,” Coyle said. “Really though, if you’re going to start the season, it’s nice to start with a win. But, I think any takeaways need to be taken with a grain of salt. It was really nice to see some good things happening out there, but we need to temper our expectations.”
As cautious as Coyle and the Mammoth were to pat themselves on the back too much, there was plenty to be impressed with.
Offensively, scoring 16 goals is quite a feat, especially for this franchise. Since the Mammoth’s inaugural season in 2003, the club has only tallied 16 (or more) goals in 32 games. Furthermore, 8 different players (7 forwards and 1 transition player) scored a goal, while 12 different players tallied points (2 transition players, 2 defensemen, and goaltender, Dillon Ward).
As Ryan Lee, the team’s leading scorer after Week 1, put it, there are still many kinks to work out for the team to be satisfied with offense.
“We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this first game because we have a lot of new guys on offense,” Lee said. “We all worked together, but we have a lot to work on going forward…It was definitely a good start, but there’s still tons to work on.”
Lee attributed many of the improvements to the new offensive system that has been put in place by the Mammoth’s new Offensive Coordinator, Jason Bishop.
“We had a good training camp for four or five weekends,” Lee said. “We’ve been working a lot on the offensive sets that we put in with [Bishop], and it translates pretty nicely to the actual game.”
But all the love shouldn’t go to the offense. Holding the lead for a majority of a game is no simple task. The Mammoth have long been known in the NLL as a defensive powerhouse, and there’s a reason for that: the back end has grown as a unit for many years.
Led by Ward between the pipes since 2014, he’s been aided by very capable defensive-minded veterans of the club, including Josh Sullivan, Jordan Gilles, transition player Joey Cupido and defenseman Robert Hope. They have all played together since 2016.
Hope emphasized the importance of the experienced back end to the team’s goal of winning. He too, though, felt that more could’ve been done to shut down the Swarm offense.
“We have a very veteran roster on the back end,” hope said. “We have a bunch of guys who have a lot of experience in our system and we’re making some adjustments for some of the guys we brought in. The more that we play, the more we practice, the more we grow as a team, the better we’re going to be.”
One of the most notable defensive “mistakes” was allowing the Swarm to string together three goals in a row in the fourth quarter after the Mammoth had extended their lead to 15-8. The team admits that they took their foot off that pedal and that it will be important in the future to play a full 60-minutes.
Had the Mammoth played the full-60 that they wanted to to hold the Swarm to just eight goals, it would have been the 24th time in the Ward-era that this defensive juggernaut held their opponent to eight or fewer goals. Continuing on that thought, it would have been the first time since 2007 that the Mammoth scored the 16 goals and held their opponent to eight or fewer goals.
It may be one game out of 18, but there are few ways a team can make their mark on this new NLL season. The Mammoth hope they can continue to improve, so they can shake things up this postseason – as is always the goal.
The Mammoth have made the postseason every year since they missed out in 2010, but they have not competed in the championship match since they won it all back in 2006, when Coyle was a player on the Mammoth.
Now, it hasn’t been that long since Coyle has felt like one of the Mammoth rosters was this balanced, but he and the coaching staff feel confident that the pieces are there now to scare their opponents anywhere on the floor.
“I think we feel pretty comfortable with the core that we have right now,” Coyle said. “We always felt we were good [on offense], we felt good on the right side, we felt good on the left side, but we want to be better than that. We wanted to be intimidating on both sides of the floor, and now it feels like we are.”