By Matt Cullen/NLL.com staff writer
The Colorado Mammoth (7-6) earned a rare road win in Toronto, clipping the Rock 14-11 in front of 8,596 fans at the Air Canada Centre on Friday.
Callum Crawford recorded three goals and three assists while Stephen Keogh (3G, 2A) and Zack Greer (5A) were also key offensive contributors. Crawford, who entered Friday’s game tied for second in NLL scoring, set the tone early as the Mammoth bounced back after losing two straight games last weekend.
“This was a must win,” Crawford told NLL.com. “This was a team win – a character win. It didn’t matter who we were playing this weekend. We had to get a win.”
The Rock (6-5) have dropped four of their past six games, including three of its previous four.
This was the only regular-season meeting this year between the two teams. In fact, it was just the third-ever meeting in Toronto and the first since March 8, 2013. The Mammoth’s only other win in Toronto was March 17, 2007 – exactly 10 years ago to the day.
Stephan Leblanc (3G, 3A) was the top offensive player for the Rock while Kasey Beirnes scored a hat trick, his first goals since returning from a four-game stint on the injured reserve. Although the Rock opened the scoring 2:10 into the game, that was the only lead that Toronto held.
“Our team is a better team when we play with the lead,” Beirnes told NLL.com. “It’s quite evident. We seem to be more comfortable with the lead. It wasn’t the start that we were after.”
Trailing 8-6 late in the first half, Toronto pulled within one goal five times before the final horn, but Colorado never yielded the slim lead.
“This was like a championship game,” Colorado head coach Pat Coyle told NLL.com. “I’m really proud of the way the players pulled it out. Resilient. There were a couple of points where we could have been score watching and thinking ‘oh no, oh no, here they come.’ Every response that we had, it made us more confident.”
Colorado goaltender Dillon Ward was excellent – particularly in the fourth quarter – making 44 of 55 saves on the night. Toronto’s Nick Rose stopped 31 of 44.
The Mammoth had a strong contingent of fans at the Air Canada Centre as Colorado has 13 players from Ontario.
“I think it’s a little sweeter that [we] got the win in front of many families,” Crawford – an Ottawa native – said. “It’s a bit of a home game for the guys here.”
Crawford and Eli McLaughlin led the way for the Mammoth in the first quarter, each picking up a goal and an assist. Despite being outshot 15-10 in the opening frame, Colorado led 4-2.
Crawford capped a three-goal run for Colorado with his 24th on the power-play with a wicked shot that beat Rose five-hole at 3:02 of the second quarter. But the Rock scored four of the next five goals including a pair from Leblanc. Beirnes finished the run with his second of the night to tie the game 6-6 at 9:00 of the second. After another flurry of goals, Colorado took an 8-7 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, Ilija Gajic put the Mammoth up 9-7 with a goal-of-the-year candidate, taking a pass from Jeremy Noble right on top of the crease before going behind-the-back to fool Rose at 3:42. With the score 10-8, Toronto closed the gap with a goal from leading scorer Tom Schreiber, who buried his 18th of the season at 13:23. The goal cut Colorado’s lead to 10-9 heading into the fourth.
Schrieber, who recorded a goal and three assists on Friday, leads the Rock with 57 points in 11 games.
The teams traded goals early in the final frame with Colorado’s Keogh and Crawford scoring their hat-trick goals. But both times, the Rock had a direct answer – Beirnes netted his third of the game just 56 seconds after Keogh’s goal. That was followed by Phil Caputo’s sixth of the season to make it 12-11 just 22 seconds after Crawford beat Rose. After defenseman Jordan Gilles made it 13-11 at 6:01, the Rock had several good opportunities but couldn’t beat Ward before the final buzzer. The Rock and their fans were given a faint glimmer of hope as the Mammoth hit two posts with Rose on the bench in the last two minutes. Eventually, Joey Cupido tucked it in the empty net to seal the victory with a minute left.
The Rock have been in no shortage of close games this year. Excluding empty-netters, Toronto has lost its five games by a total of seven goals.
“It’s a learning experience,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said. “But sooner or later, we’ll have to pull a game like that out. It’s really easy to play the game when everything is clicking. The true test of character is to be able to find your game when everything is a bit off. We weren’t able to do that tonight.”
The Rock were sporting a different look on Friday, wearing green uniforms with gold helmets in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
The Rock now head to Georgia for a key matchup against the Swarm on Friday, March 24. Toronto plays five of its remaining seven games on the road. The Mammoth return home for a crucial game against the West-Division leading Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday, March 25.
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