It was tougher than expected for the Colorado Mammoth at home versus the incomplete Vancouver Stealth who were missing two of their secondary scorers in Logan Schuss and Joel McCready. Regardless of the visitor’s absences, the Stealth challenged the home side in the Pepsi Center down to the final buzzer but ultimately fell to the Mammoth 14-13.
Both the Mammoth and Stealth were coming off two-week breaks, and it was evident that the sides were not in a hurry to push the pace. Early on in the match, the two teams needed time to feel each other out; they played a meticulous and settled game.
It took nearly seven minutes for Tim Edwards to score the game’s first goal. It was a beautiful one-on-one transition goal where he was able to fool Stealth goaltender Eric Penney with his stick-work and put the ball in the back of the net. The game didn’t pick up much after that as the opening quarter would end 2-1. Ryan Benesch added the second tally on the powerplay before Andrew Suitor cut the lead in half.
By the second, it looked like the game might be headed in the wrong direction much like the game against the Rush. The Stealth were getting a bunch of shots on net -they would outshoot the Mammoth 18-13 in the quarter- and Mammoth netminder Dillon Ward would let six goals get past him. The six goals tied the most that Ward had allowed in any quarter this season; he gave up a half dozen goals in the third quarter against Saskatchewan. But, the game would remain within reaching distance for the Mammoth with the halftime score at 7-5.
In the second half, the teams traded runs, goals, and leads. After Vancouver broke the seal in the second half to go up 8-5, the Mammoth strung together three goals in the span of just 1:11. Benesch got his third powerplay score of the game followed by a Stephen Keogh score and a quick goal off the face-off from Joey Cupido.
Vancouver bounced back to restore their lead to two goals off the stick of Anthony Malcolm who completed his hat-trick with that second goal. Malcolm would finish the game with four goals, doubling his season total coming into tonight’s match.
Towards the end of the third, things began to get a little sloppy. In the final two minutes of the frame, the teams combined for five penalties, three from the Stealth and two from the Mammoth.
The Mammoth began the fourth quarter on a decent run. They scored three of the first four goals to retake the lead 12-11. The Stealth had no quit in them, though, as they would score a pair, once again swinging the lead back to the Stealth 13-12 with only 2:30 left in the game.
It was at that point that the Mammoth clamped down. The Mammoth defense, who had been physical throughout the game, didn’t allow the Stealth to get a shot on goal in the waning moments. They out-hustled the Stealth and were more aggressive on the loose balls to stop the Stealth from getting chances. They also crafted great plays in the settled offense to give Jeremy Noble the space to score two goals to put the Mammoth on top for good. His third goal was not only a game-winner, but it gave him a hat trick on the night.
For a team that has been playing without its two defensive stars in Cam Holding and Dan Coates, not to mention finding out that they would be losing Scott Carnegie to a lower-body injury for three to four weeks earlier in the day, the guys who were suited up showed great poise and determination down the stretch to grind out and steal a win.
Noble was not only clutch, but he finished the night with eight points (3G, 5A), Benesch had six points (4G, 2A) and Eli McLaughlin added a pair of scores and an assist to help the Mammoth to a 4-1 record to tie them atop the West. They pulled off the win despite missing one of the premium scorers in Zach Greer who missed the game for personal reasons.
Powerplays and penalty kills played a significant role in tonight’s Western Conference showdown. The Mammoth came into tonight’s game with the third-worst home penalty kill in the league stopping 28.6% of the chances. Tonight they only went a man-down twice and were able to stop half of the Stealth’s opportunities. In turn, they had eight chances on the man-up and delivered in five of those moments. That’s a much better ratio than usual at home. Before this match, the team had only scored on 33% of the powerplays in the Pepsi Center
From the sideline, Coates could see that the special teams game was playing a big factor in the match. Coates said, “We haven’t played to what we’re capable of and we’ll look to tighten some things up heading into the second half. Our special teams have kept us in it.”
Defenseman and Captain of the Mammoth, Robert Hope, understood that limiting penalty kill chances and stopping those shots was something the team needed to address leading up this duel. “It’s really a unit thing. Captain Robert Hope said of the Mammoth’s less than average penalty kill (46%) to start the season. “[getting better] doesn’t happen over night. It’s getting comfortable with one another, making sure we know the set plays that other teams like to run or knowing their tendencies. Making sure we watch the film during the week. We want to dictate, even though we’re down a man, giving up the looks that we want.”
Mammoth forward Jacob Ruest spoke for his team after the hard-fought game saying, “Everyone contributes. We didn’t give up. We veered away from the way we wanted to play for a while, but in the final minutes, we stuck to our game plan.”
Next Friday, when the Rush come back to visit the Pepsi Center, the Mammoth will want to continue a strong penalty kill. The Rush have the best powerplay in the league at 66% including a 76% man-up success rate on the road. They know that they can’t repeat a 17-12 loss to conference rivals if they want to have the upper-hand against them in the West.
The game versus the Rush will take place on Groundhog’s Day, February 2nd at 9:30 pm EST. The game will be featured locally on Altitude and worldwide on NLLTV.com. The match will have the West’s top teams going toe-to-toe for the second time this season. It will be a match you won’t want to miss.