The Colorado Mammoth (6-6, 2nd in the West) are set to host the Rochester Knighthawks (2-8,4th in North Division as of March 6, 2020) on Sunday, March 8 for the final game of a busy Week 16 around the league. This will be the first time this version of the Knighthawks will play the Mammoth and the first visit to the Loud House. Although this will be the first matchup between these two teams, there is some familiarity between these squads.
Dan Carey will return to Denver for his first time since leaving as the Mammoth GM in December of 2018 to accept the same role for the expansion Knighthawks. Carey was only the second GM in Mammoth history, taking over from Steve Govett prior to the 2017-18 season and led the Mammoth to an 11-7 record in his one full season as GM, second in the West. Carey was drafted by Colorado as a player in 2005 and won a Champions Cup with the Mammoth in 2006. He spent most of his career playing in front of the Loud House faithful before his retirement. After his playing days, Carey was hired as the Mammoth’s Director of Player Personnel in 2015 prior to him being elevated to GM. Carey is well acquainted with the bulk of the Mammoth roster since he had a hand in assembling the roster as it currently sits. He acquired a couple of his former Mammoth players in defenseman Julian Garritano and Doug Utting (signed by Colorado under Carey prior to 2018-19 season) and goalie Steve Fryer.
For the Knighthawks, it has been a frustrating season as an expansion team with some growing pains and learning experiences. A couple of different bounces could have gotten this team three more wins, as they have three one goal losses this season. The goaltender position has been a revolving door, trying to figure out who has performed the best in practices and prepping for the future. All three goalies on the roster have over 150 minutes played each. The youngest goalie, Rylan Hartley has seen the bulk of the action recently, playing the majority of the last three games for the Knighthawks including last weeks win over the New York Riptide. The former second round pick of the 2018 NLL Entry Draft to San Diego is leading all three goalies on the roster with a .790 save percentage and is allowing a team best 12.80 goals against average. Hartley did win the TRUE Rookie of the Week Award for his performance last week. Another rookie, second overall pick Ryland Rees, is having a successful rookie campaign as a transition player, tallying six points and is fourth among rookies in loose balls.
Rochester mixed up their roster prior to last weekend by trading their sixth and seventh picks in the expansion draft in Frank Brown and Dan Lintner to Buffalo in exchange for Thomas Hoggarth and Dallas Bridle. Rochester also placed their first pick in the expansion draft and second leading scorer, Shawn Evans, on the injured reserve list prior to last weekend. Bridle played in last weekends contest versus New York while Hoggarth has been out for this entire season after suffering an ACL injury during the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships prior to the season. If Evans is unable to play this weekend, the bulk of the scoring will look to come from Holden Cattoni and Curtis Knight. Rochester also signed two new forwards to their roster late this week, adding Cam Milligan as well as Liam Osborne. Milligan played three games last season for the then Rochester Knighthawks, scoring one goal and three assists in that time. Osborne was a draft pick of the Mammoth this past entry draft but was unable to make the roster out of training camp.
The Knighthawks will have a long weekend ahead of them. First, they will travel to San Diego to take on the Seals on Saturday night at 10:30pm ET. The Seals have put together two solid wins in a row to get back into the division race and will be hungry to keep that momentum. After the game, they will have to fly to Colorado for a tilt at 7:00pm ET on Sunday. Playing two full games in less than 24 hours, including a decent flight time to Colorado with the altitude could make for some heavy legs come the start of the game on Sunday for Rochester. Depending on health and matchups, Knighthawks GM Dan Carey will have some decisions to make on the fly to make lineups for Sunday’s game. Don’t be surprised to see two different goalies play this weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday as well as the potential to move players around on the practice roster and injured reserve list.
For Colorado, they are riding a high of a two-game win streak from their past two games against San Diego and Philadelphia. They will play their third straight home game on Sunday before a bye in Week 16 then returning home to play Calgary in a West Division matchup. The Mammoth are one of four teams to have completed 12 games coming into this weekend. Every matchup will be critical down the stretch since other teams in their division have games in hand on the Mammoth. The good news is for the Mammoth is they do have three bye weeks to rest weary legs, aches and bruises before a couple of key games and the potential playoff run. Much is made about whether strong teams should rest their players heading into the playoffs or if it is key to get the team hot at the right time. The latter has been seeing the best dividends recently with Calgary winning the championship last year, going on a tear through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. With every division and spot up for grabs, don’t expect teams to rest their best players. Colorado is hoping this is the part of the year they heat up in a similar fashion.
The Mammoth play both expansion teams as well as the Vancouver Warriors the last regular season game for the Mammoth. They also play four of six at home to finish the season, already compiling a 3-2 record at The Loud House, making for a more favorable schedule then what the team started off the season with.
In the Mammoth’s last game against Philadelphia, Colorado got a five goal early in the fourth quarter. Looking to cruise to a victory, the game got nerve-wracking towards the end as Philadelphia made it a one goal game with 32 seconds remaining before sealing the win. Ryan Lee has been the steady hand on offense for the Mammoth, leading the team with seven points in the win (4g, 3a). He also leads the team in goals, assists and points and currently ranks seventh in the league in points. Tyler Digby made a big difference in his debut, tallying six points (2g, 4a). The other key weapons for Colorado have all been contributing, some for career highs already at this point of the season. Chris Wardle has now set a career high in assists and points and Jacob Ruest is five goals away from tying his career high.
The defense has been what was to be expected of this team coming into the season, a tough and gritty team that limits high quality shot opportunities. The icing on the cake is having former NLL Goaltender of the Year, Dillon Ward, in net to soak up the easy shots as well as make the unreal saves. Robert Hope is third in the league in loose balls and ranks first among players who have not taken a faceoff. Joey Cupido is doing his best to win his third Transition Player of the Year Award. Among players listed as defense or transition players, Cupido is fourth in goals behind Kiel Matisz, Challen Rogers and teammate Dylan Kinnear who spends the majority of his time in the offensive zone anyway.
Rochester will need to get to Dillon Ward early. Although the Mammoth have a winning record when trailing after the first quarter (3-1), they cannot let Dillon Ward feel comfortable in net. Once he is in a groove he is almost unbeatable, especially with a mix of veterans and young guys in Rochester’s lineup. Ward is leading the league in minutes played, is third in goals allowed average, third in save percentage and is on pace to break the single season saves record. They will also need to stay out of the box and control the ball. The Knighthawks lead the league in penalty minutes per game at 17.9. Colorado is third to the bottom at 11 per game. Colorado has been deadly on the power play at home this season, ranking first at 76.9% conversion rate, 19% higher than second place. Rochester ranks ninth in penalty kill on the road at just under 50%. The Achilles heel for Rochester has been the second and fourth quarters, having a goal differential of minus 14 and minus 10 respectively. On the other hand, those are the two quarters the Mammoth excel in, posting their best goal differentials by quarter (+3 and +4).
For the Mammoth, if they stick to what has been their game plan most of the season, they should be able to limit Rochester’s shot opportunities (which ranks second to last in the NLL in terms of shots per game), run the ball in transition where they excel with players like Cupido, Gilles and the hot two games from Tim Edwards, as well as get good shot opportunities in the offensive zone. With another week under their belt with Tyler Digby in the offense, the offense should be able to continue to gel further. This offense can be scary if the top five players are all contributing in a night. Defenses will have a tough time stopping the top five Mammoth scorers. Expect Eli McLaughlin to put a lot of pressure on the Knighthawks defense after being kept out of the net last week versus Philadelphia.
This game along with all games through the 2019-20 NLL season can be streamed via Bleacher Report Live.