The Colorado Mammoth (2-1) return to the Loud House to take on the Vancouver Warriors (1-2) on Saturday, January 4 at 9:30pm ET for the NLL Game of the Week. It’s a long-awaited return to the friendly confines of Denver for the Mammoth, who haven’t played at home since Faceoff Weekend back in late November. For the Warriors, this will be their first road test after starting the season with three straight home games in Vancouver. The teams will see each other again in less than two weeks in Vancouver.
After dropping the regular season opener to Saskatchewan, Colorado waited two weeks before two huge road tests in back to back weeks, starting with defending NLL Champions Calgary Roughnecks on their banner raising night before heading to Georgia to take on the Swarm. The Mammoth were able to grind their way to two gritty victories in both road games to salvage a 2-1 record to start the season, all three games versus the last three NLL Champions.
Confidence is high among the Mammoth players, as they have allowed only 27 goals so far this season and have held deadly scorers in Mark Matthews, Curtis Dickson, and Lyle Thompson to a combined three goals. Leading on the defensive end has been goalie Dillon Ward, who through three games has 136 saves and a save percentage of .834, ranking third in the NLL in both stats. Going into this season, it was known Colorado was going to be a defensive force and it is no surprise they have kept to that mantra.
The biggest surprises for this Mammoth team so far this season have been Jacob Ruest’s scoring from the right side and the emergence of rookie contributors. Jacob Ruest ranks second in the NLL in goals scored this season with 10, only trailing Callum Crawford. Not only is Ruest putting the ball in the back of the net in bulk, he is doing it very efficiently with a .345 shot percentage, which among NLL players with six or more goals ranks second in efficiency. Ruest has been the beneficiary of a balanced Mammoth offensive approach and has taken advantage of the man-up opportunities, scoring five power play goals. Colorado is tied for the best power play in the NLL, converting on 60% of their man-up opportunities. The other key factor has been the emergence of four rookies for this Mammoth squad.
A couple of high selections in this past year’s NLL Entry draft and a couple of injuries have thrusted rookies into the Mammoth lineup early in the season. First round pick, Warren Jeffrey has played all three games and has been a physical force on the defensive end, the stats may not be there, but his presence has been felt. Second rounder Brett Craig got his first NLL action in Calgary, his hometown, and delivered a beautiful transition goal while also scooping 10 loose balls in his one game played. The other two rookies Will Malcom (second round) and Dylan Kinnear (third round) have been playing big time minutes on the left side of the offense with the early season injury to Jeff Wittig and the recent injury to Eli McLaughlin, who has missed the last two games.
For Vancouver, the season hasn’t started the way they would’ve wanted to. With a 1-2 record, including 0-2 against West Division opponents, they know they need to win these division matchups if they want any chance of making the postseason this year. Vancouver is coming off a painful overtime loss to San Diego this past weekend. The Warriors lone win came against the expansion New York Riptide on December 14. This will be the first road test after a home heavy early start to their season. Last season the Warriors were just 2-7 on the road including a 14-4 loss at Colorado on March 23. Good news for the Warriors is road teams are a head scratching 14-6 so far this season, the other four teams in the West have gone a combined 7-1 when away from their home barn.
An early season injury to key offseason acquisition Nik Bilic has hurt the Warriors. On the offensive end, Mitch Jones and Keegan Bal have carried the offense so far this season with 22 (second in the NLL) and 16 points respectively. The Warriors have bounced back and forth each game when it comes to who is starting in net. Eric Penney started games one and three and Aaron Bold started game two. Through their three combined starts, the numbers say they are very comparable on paper and it could be a tossup again as to who gets the start in goal on Saturday night, Bold claimed the one victory. This team has a lot of new, young faces compared to a year ago and may just need more time of the floor together to mesh as a unit.
Last season, the Mammoth took two out of the three matchups against the Warriors. Both wins coming in a back to back weekend in March that almost solidified the Mammoth’s hold on the last playoff spot in the West Division over Vancouver. The Mammoth saw Penney twice and Bold once in their three matchups a year ago. Bold was in net during the Mammoth’s 14-4 win on March 23 which saw Eli McLaughlin get a career high 12 points (4g, 8a) and Kyle Killen almost get a sock trick, ending with five goals on the night. In the Mammoth’s other win versus the Warriors last season, Tim Edwards was 16-20 in the faceoff circle and Ryan Lee led the offense with seven points (4g, 3a). In Vancouver’s win, Logan Schuss scored an overtime winner only 44 seconds into overtime to give the Warriors the win and scored a total of four goals to lead Vancouver a year ago.
In the end, not much separated these teams last season except for one dominant game by the Mammoth. Expect Vancouver to be aggressive early in hopes of not falling to 1-3 on the season and being winless against West Division opponents in a very competitive division. Colorado will stick to their strategy of physical defense and will look for offense by committee and by whoever the hot hand is going into the night. Both teams will want to win this early season divisional matchup, as they will rematch in Vancouver on January 17 and on the Mammoth’s regular season finale on April 17 that could be an impactful game for playoff pushes. A win for either team in this matchup could sway how the remainder of the season pans out, an early lead on the division or on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
This game, along with all NLL games through the 2019-20 season can be streamed via Bleacher Report Live. This game is the NLL Game of the Week! Tune into this game for free via B/R Live or on the NLL’s Facebook or Twitter pages starting at 9:00pm ET with a faceoff scheduled for 9:30pm ET.