Groundhog Day 2018 featured the highly-anticipated rematch of the Colorado Mammoth and Saskatchewan Rush’s Week 6 battle. The second meeting of these two giants of the Western Conference did not disappoint. Inside a packed Pepsi Center in Denver, the Mammoth and Rush fought it out till the final minutes of the ball game before Saskatchewan came away with the 13-10 win to take the season-series and extend their lead atop the west to 1.5 games.
The game started in a fast-paced defensive duel. Mammoth netminder Dillon Ward stopped all eight shots he faced. His first-quarter shutout was his first of that kind since the 2017 season-opener when he didn’t allow the Buffalo Bandits to get one by him.
The Mammoth defense was also excellent early on, filling the passing lanes and stripping the ball from the Rush. Their effort helped force those only eight shots on net which was the Mammoth’s lowest shots allowed on goal in the first quarter this season. The Rush’s goaltender Evan Kirk started off equally impressive allowing just one goal to keep the game within reach.
The match was quickly flipped on its head when the Rush scored two power play goals within the first three minutes of the second-quarter to tie the game at 2-2. The Rush continued their run, eventually going up 5-2.
Unlike the last time these two teams met -when the Rush pulled away and maintained their lead- the Mammoth bounced back behind two goals from their star-scorer Ryan Benesch to cut the lead to 5-4 at the half -Benesch’s last goal before the halftime buzzer completed his hat trick on the night. He would finish the night with those three goals to give him 18 on the season.
While the four goals scored for the Mammoth tied for the fewest they had produced in a first half this season, there was no indication as to which team was going to take home the win.
The Mammoth defense resurfaced after the halftime break, allowing nine shots on goal with only two getting behind Ward. The defense seemed to fuel the offense as the home side went on a three-goal run midway through the third to put them up two. Two of those goals came off the stick of Stephen Keogh who tallied his hat trick with his last third-period score.
A Rush short-handed goal from Captain Chris Corbeil -the first short-handed goal the Mammoth had allowed all season- late in the third and an early fourth quarter power play score from Ryan Keenan tied the game at 8-8 before the Rush added two more to extend their lead to 10-8 with 6:51 remaining.
But, the Mammoth refused to quit down by two. They scored a pair of goals to tie the game at 10-10 with just 2:38 remaining. The first of the two goals came from Zack Greer who was back in the lineup after missing last weekend’s match. It was the first Mammoth goal in over 15 minutes during which the Rush had gone on a four-goal run.
Unfortunately for the Mammoth, the tie didn’t last more than 10 seconds as Matt Hossack picked up the loose ball off the face-off, ran it in near the crease, and shoved it in the back of the net. Despite a final push by the Mammoth to sway the game back in their favor, the Rush added two more goals including a Ben McIntosh empty-netter to seal the 13-10 victory.
Two fourth-quarter goals from Saskatchewan’s Keenan gave him four scores on the night to set a new career-high -it was his second hat trick in his 22 games. His last goal was the tally that gave his team that 10-8 lead with 6:51 remaining in the contest. It was arguably his best game in his blossoming career with Saskatchewan, and the Rush needed every bit of it to pull off the victory in Denver.
When Keogh spoke post-game, he admitted that the coaching staff is hoping for better looks in next week’s game, “Our offensive unit dictated play tonight and worked hard to open up opportunities. Luckily, my shots were going through, but as the coaches said, for a win in Calgary we need to work on our shot-selection.”
Better shot selection would likely lead to more goals but would most assuredly at least give the Mammoth more shots on target, something the team has been struggling with of late. In two of their last three games -including the first match versus the Rush- the Mammoth had 31 shots off target, far worse than any of their first three games. Tonight they missed the net 25 times; a few more on target could have proceeded the goals needed to win tonight.
This will be a tough loss to swallow for Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle and crew as they could have altered the Western Conference with a win that would have put them ahead of the Rush with a game in hand.
Now, it looks as though the Mammoth will have to hope for the West’s second-seed playoff spot if they can fend off the Vancouver Stealth and Calgary Roughnecks for the remainder of the year.
The Mammoth will have a week to regroup after the rough loss; they’ll be out on the road late next week to play the Roughnecks in a fierce mid-season rivalry match. You can catch that game on February 10th on NLLTV.com and Twitter for the Twitter Game of the Week at 9:00 pm EST.