By Matt Cullen | NLL.com Staff Writer
Photo Credit Graig Abel
With the post-season fast approaching, the stakes will be high as the Colorado Mammoth (6-6) take on the Toronto Rock (6-4) for the only time this season on Friday, March 17 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Both teams hold slim leads on second place in their respective divisions. With a convincing 16-10 win against the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday, the Rock have a one-and-a-half game lead over the surging New England Black Wolves in the East while after two straight losses, the Mammoth are just a half game up on the Vancouver Stealth in the West.
Colorado is coming off a disappointing weekend, dropping both games to the Stealth and the Saskatchewan Rush. Just a week ago, the Mammoth were battling for top spot in the West Division against the Rush before dropping the back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. Now, Colorado is two-games back of Saskatchewan for first and third-place Vancouver is looming right behind.
“We really don’t want to make travel the excuse but that was an incredibly tough trip,” Colorado head coach Pat Coyle told NLL.com. “We left the hotel [in Saskatchewan] at 3am. We didn’t get to Denver until 2pm the next day. We lost an hour with the time change. Mentally, we just didn’t seem to have it on Sunday.”
Prior to last weekend, the Mammoth had won four of five games.
“We’re hungry,” Coyle said. “Maybe a little a desperate. We didn’t like how this weekend went at all. We’d like to get back on track.”
The Rock are aiming to close the gap for top spot in the East as they come into Friday one game back of the Georgia Swarm (7-3). Toronto is coming off arguably its most complete performance of the season after dominating Calgary from start to finish last Saturday. Toronto received big offensive contributions from veterans Brett Hickey (5G, 1A) and Stephan Leblanc (3G, 2A) while rookie Tom Schreiber led the way with four goals and four assists.
“That was one of the messages in the locker room – for the team veterans to step up,” head coach Matt Sawyer said. “Those guys are asked to score goals and they are asked to score multiple goals each night. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. That’s a tough job to do.”
The Rock also shut down Calgary’s powerful offense –particularly early – allowing just one goal on 21 shots in the first half.
“Make no mistake, our strength is defense and goaltending,” Sawyer emphasized. “We can’t stress enough. We feel like we are on the right path.”
On Friday, the Rock will also have to deal with another top offensive unit, led by Callum Crawford (66 points), who is tied for second in NLL scoring. Colorado boasts a talented offensive group, which has scored the second-most goals this season (132), only behind the Swarm (138).
Friday’s game will also be a battle between the league’s two-top goaltenders Nick Rose and Dillon Ward. Colorado’s Ward is second in goals-against average (10.32) and save percentage (.804) while Toronto’s Rose is first in GAA (9.45) and third in efficiency (.792).
Friday’s game is a 7:30 p.m. ET start in Toronto and it will be the first game streamed on Twitter as the NLL Game of the Week. The game will also be simulcast on NLLTV.com. For those in attendance, the Rock will welcome The Highland Creek Pipe Band for St. Patrick’s Day. For more details and ticket information, check out www.torontorock.com.