The Colorado Mammoth (1-0) rang in 2016 a little later than most, but the emotions made it seem like midnight had just struck, as the team edged the Georgia Swarm (0-1) by a final of 16-15 before a crowd of 15,090 at Pepsi Center in Denver on Friday night. John Grant, Jr. scored the game-winning goal with under one minute remaining in regulation in what was an instant classic to open NLL Face Off Weekend 2016 presented by New Era Cap.
Grant, Jr. finished with seven points (2+5) alongside Jeremy Noble (2+4) and Adam Jones, who led the team with a hat trick plus four assists, passing Paul Cantabene for fifth most assists in franchise history in the process with 154.
While smiles were plenty for the home team, so too was the grimace of sloppy play according to Mammoth coach Dan Stroup.
“Got to be happy with the win,” he said. “But I think we’ve got a lot to clean up. And we’ve got a week to do it.”
The game also saw eight ties in addition to several memorable rookie moments.
For Colorado, it was Jordan Gilles, who was ecstatic post game for a number of reasons. Picking up his first NLL goal is one reason and recalling the roar of Pepsi Center after scoring a critical go-ahead tally was certainly another.
“Feels great, I think it’s one of the best organizations I can be in,” Gilles replied. “I’m happy to be here and happy to get the first win under the belt.”
Swarm rookie Randy Staats (3+4) led the team in points, with Lyle Thompson (3+1) close behind.
“We did some good things and some bad things,” said Thompson. “I think we are a lot better team than what we showed tonight. I don’t think we were disciplined, the little things you have to be good at in this league.”
The first goal of the NLL’s 30th anniversary season went to Creighton Reid on a shorthanded opportunity to give Colorado the early lead. Noble followed up moments later with a score on an extra attacker situation. Georgia got on the board moments later, with their first score courtesy of Johnny Powless on the power play. After an even strength goal by David Earl, Callum Crawford earned his first in a Mammoth uniform.
It became a back-and-forth affair in the second stanza with nine goals registered between the two teams. Georgia rallied late in the half with three unanswered scores, temporarily tying the game again, before Mike Burke gave the advantage back to Colorado, making it a 8-7 going into the break.
Lyle Thompson registered his first NLL goal early in the third quarter, sparking a second half duel as the teams went into the final frame tied 11-11. Colorado’s Gilles netted his first NLL goal before Georgia’s Chad Tutton echoed the same, and sparked a three-goal run to give the Swarm their first lead of the night. A four-minute check from behind penalty however would set up Eli McLaughlin’s first of the year, making it 14-14. Thompson gave the lead right back to the Swarm on a diving score at the crease to pick up the hat trick. A minute later, Crawford tallied his second of the game to make it 15-15 going in to the final two minutes. The teams swapped possessions before Grant ultimately sealed the game in the waning seconds.
“Turning it around we did the same thing as they did to us,” Thompson commented. “They just executed a little bit better. But overall all the rookies, I think we played well offensively, good defense, just a lot of transition stuff that wasn’t 5-on-5. That’s where all the goals came in the game.”
Faceoffs were split evenly 18-36, but the Swarm dominated early in shots on goal, and evidentially had more scoring chances in the second half.
“We were more comfortable,” Thompson added. “For me at least, after I got my first goal, I felt relaxed and I felt more confident out there, and I think that was the same feeling for a lot of us out there. We played with a lot more confidence in the second half.”
As rookies got their first taste of the NLL, Crawford got his first lick in a Mammoth uniform. Playing against his former teammates, a win was a personal satisfaction.
“I spent six years with the Swarm organization…the motivation for me was to show why I came here,” Crawford said. “I came here to win a championship and that’s the first step towards it is that first win.
“I was so excited to get out here finally, the whole preseason leading up to this. From the training, to once we got together as a team, and to step on the floor in front of these fans was unbelievable.”
Alex Buque was given the nod to start in net for the Mammoth. The second year netminder recorded 41 saves in addition to a ‘W’. Opposite him was Zach Higgins, who posted 44 saves for the Swarm.
Colorado hits the road next week to face Rochester on Jan. 9. Georgia meanwhile heads home to host Toronto in its first-ever home game at Infinite Energy Center.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) John Grant, Jr.
2) Adam Jones
3) Randy Staats
Story by Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.