In 1789, Benjamin Franklin famously uttered, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” However, National Lacrosse League enthusiasts know that Franklin actually said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes, and an NLL Playoff matchup between the Colorado Mammoth and the Calgary Roughnecks.”
On Friday, May 6th, the Mammoth and Roughnecks will square off in Calgary in the NLL postseason for the 12th time. This 12th meeting will tie the NLL Playoff record for the most games against one opponent – the Buffalo Bandits and Halifax Thunderbirds (formally the Rochester Knighthawks) have also met 12 times.
Unfortunately for the Mammoth, since the team rooted themselves in Colorado before the start of the 2003 NLL season, they have had a 1-10 record against the Roughnecks in the playoffs, and that last win came all the way back in 2006. One positive takeaway from that tidbit: after winning that postseason game against the Roughnecks in 2006, the Mammoth won the NLL Championship.
If there is a broader takeaway from all of that information, it’s the fact that what has happened in the past stays in the past. According to Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward, while the Roughnecks won the regular season series between the two this year, this season’s Mammoth feels different. So, this postseason could produce a different result regardless of past results.
“One thing that was awesome about this season is how we were able to win in all kinds of different ways,” Ward said. “In that past, we were one of those teams where we’d grind it out to 10 goals, and whoever got to 10 goals first was able to win that game. This year, we won low-scoring slugfests and high-scoring shootouts, we came from behind, held leads, and won all sorts of different ways. I think that will help us going into the playoffs because we’ve been in every situation you can imagine.”
Having faced many challenges throughout this season will be incredibly beneficial to Mammoth when they suit up on Friday night, but what could be equally helpful is that they know exactly what to expect from the Roughnecks.
This will be these teams fourth meeting this season. Not only that, the Mammoth and the Roughnecks played each other last Saturday in Calgary for the regular season finale. That would mean there will only have been six days between these two clubs’ critical meetings. Mammoth Head Coach Pat Coyle believes that having so many shared experiences this year (and in the past) will make it challenging for these teams to surprise each other.
“This will be the fourth time we’ve played each other this season, so I don’t think there’ll be too many surprises either way,” Coyle said. “We know what to expect from them, and they know what to expect from us. We know that they’re a hardworking team that is very methodical in how they play and how hard they work. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Anchored by a meticulous and physical veteran defense, the Mammoth’s offense has exceeded the expectations of many. The trio of Connor Robinson, Ryan Lee, and Eli McLaughlin combined for an NLL-best 114 goals. And, with other skillful pieces to that system, such as Zed Williams and the recently added Tyson Gibson, this is a Mammoth team with more offensive weapons than they are used to.
Then when you add Ward in between the pipes, it’s hard to argue that this year’s Mammoth team isn’t the most balanced and dangerous team in the franchise’s recent memory. There were glimpses throughout the season series of how each team can capitalize on one another’s mistakes. Coyle recalled how his team’s run in the 2nd half almost flipped the contest on its head and took the rowdy crowd out of the equation.
“They had a great crowd last week, and they were really loud, but when we went on our run, I thought we did a good job at taking them out of the game,” Coyle said. “That’s going to be our goal this weekend, too, to try and not give them a lot to cheer about.”
Now, while there is so much familiarity between these two clubs, they’ve had their fair share of varying results, and when you’re in the postseason, the odds that things will play out as you expect seem to decrease. Even guys like Ward, who have been involved in many of these intensely important battles, don’t know exactly what to expect when these two teams meet up in the playoffs.
“I’m not sure what kind of game this one is going to be like, but there’s a good chance that a tight game that’s going to get chippy and emotions are going to get high,” Ward said. “Whether it’s a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game, I think it will be a tight, hard-fought emotional lacrosse game.”
Whatever the outcome of Friday night’s Western Conference Playoff clash is, there’s an excellent chance this game will be can’t-miss action all over the floor. Can the Mammoth break their generationally-long postseason losing streak, or will the Roughnecks be moving forward once again to become repeat champions of the NLL? We don’t have to wait too much longer to find out. It all goes down Friday at 9:30pm ET on ESPN+ and TSN.ca.