At long last, the Colorado Mammoth broke their playoff drought.
Post-season participants every year since 2011, the Mammoth finally got over the hump and will play in the National Lacrosse League West Division finals.
The Mammoth led from start to finish and held on as the Vancouver Stealth’s Corey Small made his case for MVP, scoring four times in the fourth quarter to finish with six goals. But that would not be enough as Colorado won 13-12 on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre,.
The Stealth had the ball with 17 seconds remaining, down a goal, but Rhys Duch’s shot was deflected out of bounds and then with six seconds to play, Logan Schuss could not score on his attempt.
“Stay composed,” said Colorado coach Pat Coyle about his message to the team on the final possession.
“We have confidence in the guys we put out there and our goaltender. We did our best to not let Corey Small get that last shot. We said we are going to be damned if we let him get seven on us.”
Colorado scored the game’s first three goals and led 3-1 after one quarter.
They built their lead to 6-2 before Vancouver capitalized on the game’s only two power plays as part of a 4-0 run to pull even.
Colorado’s Joey Cupido would score with one second remaining in the half to give the visitors a 7-6 lead.
The Stealth would twice tie it in the third quarter but the Mammoth always answered back and took a 10-8 lead into the fourth. And after Logan Schuss got Vancouver back within one, the Mammoth responded with with a 3-0 run to lead 13-9 with four minutes to go.
Small scored the game’s final three goals to finish with six goals on 13 shots.
“It just seemed like everything was going in for me tonight, so every time i had the ball in my stick, I took a shot,” he said.
On the final play, the Mammoth did a good job of taking Small out of the play.
“We tried to execute but they got a stick on the shot,” he said. “It is a game of inches, where if that is three inches to the left that might be a shot on net that is a goal.”
Two things really hurt Vancouver: the Mammoth transition game and the fact the Stealth were chasing all night. Vancouver never led and every time they tied the game, Colorado had an answer.
In the end, the score was only even for 9:56 of the 60 minutes.
“Obviously you want to play with the lead and put the pressure on them,” Small said. “We have been a pretty resilient team where we have had to come back from before, but you have to find a way to go on a run and we just couldn’t. Too many times exchanging goals and when we did get on a run it just wasn’t enough.”
Small had six goals and Schuss also had a monster game, finishing with a hat trick and nine points.
Jordan Durston added a goal and two helpers but the right-side and the rest of the team only had two goals: a goal and an assist apiece from right-handed forward Joel McCready and from transition player Justin Salt.
Cory Conway and Duch were held to two assists apiece.
Duch, the team’s second leading scorer was held goal-less for the first time in 27 games.
And while Vancouver got the bulk of their scoring from two players, the Mammoth spread things out.
Callum Crawford had three goals and an assist while Zack Greer returned to the line-up with two goals and three assists.
Eli McLaughlin chipped in with two goals as did a pair of the team’s transition players, Jordan Gillies and Joey Cupido had two goals apiece and Brad Self had a goal and two helpers.
“We did an offence by committee, we didn’t have one guy scoring all the goals, it was spread around. And the defence played unbelievable,” McLaughlin said.
Both coaches said the transition game was a key factor in their respective teams’ success.
“When the back end can contribute like that it makes everyone looser and more confident. It makes the Stealth have to adjust their game a little bit,” Coyle said.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole, getting down four and gave up too many transitions, which we identified before the game was going to be something we had to work to not allow and we allowed it,” said Vancouver coach Jamie Batley.
That is frustrating because we know how to stop it and we didn’t stop it.”
Dillon Ward finished with 40 saves as the Stealth outshot Colorado 52-45.
Tye Belanger made 32 saves in the loss.
The Mammoth advance to face the Saskatchewan Rush in the West Division finals.