The Rochester Knighthawks (10-4) travel to Denver for a rematch with the Colorado Mammoth (8-7) at Pepsi Center on Friday at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be on WatchESPN in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada. The two teams faced off last week at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester where the Knighthawks emerged with a dominating 14-5 win.
“I think last week we were good everywhere,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “The defense comes from a lot of hard work but also comes from our offensive guys buying in and getting off the floor to allow us to play five-on-five and they did that in spades last week. We feed off each other. One guy is doing well, then the rest of us follow suit. Stevie [Keogh] was having a dynamite night as well.”
“We pride ourselves on being a defensive-minded team,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “We said it from the get-go, it’s the backbone of our organization. When you have total faith in what they do back there, it means sometimes we don’t take that shot with five seconds left in the shot-clock. We dump it into the corner because we know they’ll be able to do their job. We’re pretty blessed to have some good goaltending and defense.”
Now the Knighthawks go from dominating the Mammoth in the friendly confines of the BCA to entering the Pepsi Center for the rematch, looking for a win to clinch at least one home playoff game.
“Moving into this week, we were in the position not too long ago Colorado was,” Hasen said. “Going into their building is a totally different atmosphere, a totally different place. They’re going to be at their best. We need to be better this week.”
The combination of a prideful team getting dominated and getting a rematch in their own barn means the Knighthawks are certain to have their hands full with the Mammoth’s intensity and trying to match it.
“It’s something we’re going to have to do, number one,” Hasen said. “I think the lessons we’ve learned a couple weeks ago from our Edmonton game, our debacle, we’re going to be prepared for what they’re going to bring. Going to that building, it’s always a great place, always a great atmosphere to play in front of. They’ve got a whole lot of screaming fans there… We’ll be ready.”
Friday night is the first game of a two-game West Coast swing for the Knighthawks. Back-to-backs happen in the NLL and it can be a good thing for a team.
“It’s good being on the road here for quite a few days with these guys,” Hasen said. “Just all being in the same place, doing the same thing. Just working together as a group trying to get everywhere. It’s good that way. We’re all looking forward to it.”
For the Mammoth, “ugly” sums up the team’s performance in Rochester last week, and that’s putting it lightly. While the first quarter seemed competitive between both squads, the remaining 45 minutes of game time seemed to last an eternity for the Mammoth before the final horn signaled a 14-5 loss on the scoreboard.
John Grant, Jr. couldn’t agree more, who quickly addressed the elephant in the locker room earlier this week, as well as addressing how important it will be to rebound this weekend, beginning with the three-time defending champions.
“I thought we played pretty horrifically last week and we don’t want to continue down that path,” he said. “We have to come and play, [and] focus on being better at both ends. We have to play better lacrosse.“
Colorado’s five-goal game ranked among the lowest outputs in franchise history. The last time the Mammoth did so was in 2010, when they scored five in back-to-back weeks.
“As good as they were in every area of the game it felt like we were bad in every area of the game,” said Mammoth coach Pat Coyle. “The only good thing about last week was that we get to play these guys right away again, and try and do better than last week. It’s hard to think that we could play that bad again.”
And with two games against the first place Edmonton Rush awaiting Colorado to end the regular season, the stakes will remain high til the final buzzer.
It makes Colorado’s goal this weekend simple though: compete at a harder level.
“Going into the playoffs with confidence is something that’s very crucial in our league, especially if you’re in the second or third spot and have to play the one-game elimination,” Grant added.
A silver lining in Colorado’s loss however was the return of goaltender Dillon Ward, who was added to the active roster from the IR list prior to the game last week. With a back-to-back weekend however, it is unknown if Ward will start both games, or split time between youngster Alex Buque.
Both teams will hit the road right after the game for matchups on Saturday with Rochester headed to B.C. to face off with the Vancouver Stealth at 10 p.m. ET while the Mammoth travel to Alberta to play the Edmonton Rush at 9 p.m. ET.
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.