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Colorado is the Setting of the Ultimate Lacrosse Success Story

“For both boys and girls, Denver is absolutely the best lacrosse city in the United States. There is pro box, pro field, college and established youth programing that is being mimicked by the NLL and supported by USA Lacrosse.”

The above quotation represents the expert analysis of Colorado lacrosse maven John Gallant, a man who has resided on the forefront of virtually every milestone along the Centennial State’s ascent to the apex of the lacrosse mountaintop.

The Brantford, Ontario native spent 13 of his 14 NLL seasons with the Mammoth. Upon retirement, the longtime defenseman joined the coaching ranks, first serving as an assistant at Valor Christian High School before assuming head coaching duties at Rock Canyon High School (both located in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch). In 2019, he moved to the college ranks when beginning his ongoing tenure as defensive coordinator for the University of Denver Pioneers.

The 45-year-old has also remained closely attached to the Mammoth organization, previously working as an assistant coach and currently operating as the team’s television sideline reporter for games played at Ball Arena.

On the subject of the Denver/Colorado lacrosse scene, this man has seen and done it all.

John Gallant

Gallant credits his adopted hometown’s escalation to the upper reaches of the lacrosse universe on a series of notable events, with two of the most significant occurrences arising shortly after the former Washington Power relocated to Denver for the 2003 season.

“When the Mammoth arrived, the team benefited from a sports enthusiastic city with existing lacrosse fans recognizing the name Gary Gait (who played for and coached the Mammoth) and that brought the presence of knowing that this is a serious sport,” explained Gallant.

The former Mammoth captain then spoke of the tangible impact delivered by the Colorado Avalanche, the NHL franchise that shared the then-Pepsi Center with the newly landed NLL club.

“Guys like Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy helped promote indoor lacrosse and the Mammoth during Avalanche games. We were able to draw in fans who were non lacrosse fans, combined with the Eastern transplants who already knew of Gait. That drove the initial wave of support to the game. The success of the Avs helped legitimize what this game was all about.”

With the Avalanche and Mammoth collectively operating under the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment umbrella, combined with the natural synergies that exist between ice hockey and box lacrosse, the Avs willingness to provide a helping hand to the new kid in town paid immediate dividends to Gallant, Gait and company.

The Mammoth’s first exhibition game, versus the Philadelphia Wings, commenced on a Saturday night shortly after the conclusion of an Avs matchup with the Montreal Canadiens. Fans who stayed for the second game had access to $2 beers and $1 hot dogs, along with the opportunity to witness the NLL product up close.

As the hockey season progressed, prerecorded videos of NHL players hyping their attendance at Mammoth games became a frequent visual throughout the arena, with Avs players becoming fixtures at Mammoth games. For their part, the Mammoth reciprocated the hockey club’s efforts by providing newly inculcated lacrosse fans with a product worthy of their attention.

The Avalanche support the Mammoth (Photo: Colorado Avalanche)

“Kroenke Sports & Entertainment did an excellent job of creating an atmosphere that players nicknamed ‘the circus’ due to the motorbikes on the floor before games, in-arena fireworks and the ability to watch a game while relaxing in a hot tub. A Mammoth game was an event. They really focused on bringing people in who were not necessarily lacrosse people,” opined Gallant.

The defensive ace then added, “by the mid and end points of the first year there was no lull in crowd size, and fans started traveling to road games. That is when you knew there was something special here and the game had a chance to grow in a big way.”

Three years after transplanting from the nation’s capital, Gallant and the Mammoth captured the 2006 NLL championship. The same year, the University of Denver Pioneers established themselves as a national power, making their very first NCAA Tournament appearance, seven years after officially becoming a Division I program.

These simultaneous mid-2000’s happenings, combined with an enduring domestic migration to the Rockies, served as the springboard for the rapid growth of both box and field lacrosse, at all possible levels. A subsequent surge in Canadian field players choosing the Pioneers over that of more established eastern schools thrust the university into 12 ensuing NCAA Tournaments, five Final Fours and the 2015 national championship. And as the local professional and college entities were growing at a rapid clip, the club and high school part of the equation began to follow suit.

“Colorado is such a melting pot of people from around the country. The local high school level, then the club lacrosse at Colorado State and the University of Colorado, they were the three major areas of lacrosse viewing. At the high school level, you had elite Division I caliber players that were playing in the Ivy League or at the University of Denver. There was a lot of talent,” expressed the Lake Superior State alum.

John Gallant

Come the mid 2010’s, when it was time for Gallant to leave the game as a player, the state he had now called home for more than a decade had grown into a lacrosse mecca, with this circumstance progressing during each successive year that followed.

“By the end of my career, lacrosse became a popular, diverse and fully legitimized sport. The success of the Mammoth and the addition of the Denver Outlaws to the MLL really brought a professionalism to the game,” boasted Gallant. “Many of the players from those teams made Colorado home and brought a level of backing to the high schools, along with education to the youth lacrosse community. 10 years into my time here the game grew into a positive alternative to football, baseball or basketball. For both boys and girls, it was seen as a sport that could be enjoyable and fun.”

Fast-forwarding to 2024 and beyond, Gallant is immensely proud of what has occurred during his two decades of Colorado residence, while feeling completely bullish regarding what lies ahead.

“Denver leads the country in the combination of box and field. It’s mirrored the growth of Upstate New York, Maryland and Long Island on the field side, while mimicking British Columbia and Ontario on the box side. You now have organizations in New York, Connecticut and Maryland mirroring the growth of the box game because of what they have seen in Colorado.”

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