The Colorado Mammoth (3-2) are in need of a quick rebound Sunday afternoon against the Edmonton Rush (3-2) for a handful of reasons.
Colorado went into the locker room Friday night at halftime up a goal and fired up. After 30 minutes of game time, they retreated stunned, defeated and humiliated in front of the Denver crowd. If not for a (very) late goal in the game, the Mammoth, the highest scoring offense in the NLL, were shutout by the Rush’s best-in-the-league defense, ultimately losing by a score of 11-7.
After starting 3-0, the Mammoth are looking at .500 if they cannot return the favor to Edmonton on the road Sunday. Watch live on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada starting at 4 p.m. ET.
Zack Greer and Mark Matthews got the better of Joey Cupido and the rest of the Mammoth defense on Friday night.
“We can’t have a low like we did [tonight],” Cupido said regarding the team’s overall performance. “We went the whole second half without scoring until the two-minute mark, we can’t have runs like that in the NLL or you’re not going to beat any team in the league.”
The Rush edged Colorado in shots on goal 45-38; in the end Aaron Bold played a big part in freezing shooters, and could do the same in round two where the Rush could make it five wins out of six versus the Mammoth in recent outings.
Ian Hawksbee was injured in Friday’s game, and is unknown if he will be in the lineup. The team was also without Adam Jones, the Mammoth’s top scorer, and is also unknown if he will suit up Sunday.
Edmonton is coming off of a bye week, but before that won back-to-back games against the Calgary Roughnecks and the New England Black Wolves, scoring a combined 34 goals during the two games.
“We kind of got rolling there a little bit and typically, you like to keep going, but you kind of welcome the bye,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “We are a little bit banged up. I think we needed the rest.”
Now with their season back on track, the Rush will look to recapture the West Division after winning the regular season title last year. To do so, the team might have to win both games this weekend, a tough task facing the top scoring team in the league.
“They’re starting to put the whole package together at both ends of the floor and between the lines,” Keenan said. “I think their transition game has been outstanding. Adam Jones has taken his game to another level and of course [John Grant] Jr. is still Jr., and [Drew] Westervelt is a handful on the other side of the floor. They’re getting solid secondary scoring so they’re solid from top to bottom. It’s a big challenge for us, they’re a top team in the West now for sure.”
The Mammoth score an outstanding average of 17.5 goals per game while the Rush are league leaders when it comes to keeping balls out of the net. So far they have allowed an average of 10 goals per game, a total that Rush assistant captain and three-time reigning NLL Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Rubisch would like to keep low.
“We know they are a high-skilled offense,” Rubisch said. “It’s going to be a tough task. We’re going to have to stick to our game plan and play our system right and play disciplined. We especially can’t give them many power play opportunities because they’re really deadly there.”
Rubisch is tied for third in the league with an average of two forced turnovers per game, just behind teammate Ryan Dilks. Rubisch sits sixth in loose balls per game, and is second amongst players who do not take face-offs regularly, averaging six per game. The defensive stalwart has been a leader on Edmonton’s world-class defense for years and there’s no sign of him slowing down.
Every team has weekends on the schedule with more than one game, but it’s more rare for both games to feature the same teams, a feature that Derek Keenan would like to see more of.
“These are the ideal back-to-backs, I really wish we did more of these,” Keenan said. “It’s a completely level playing field. It’s not like you’re going into a place on the second night with a rested team and sometimes it can work the other way as well where the team that played the night before is much sharper. The day in between gives you time to regroup, rest a bit, and get your body prepared for the second one.”
“It brings on great rivalry,” he admitted. “We have great rivalries in our West Division as it is, but it really adds to that.”
This weekend’s games feature a lot of fire power with Adam Jones, John Grant Jr. and Mark Matthews all in the top five in points per game across the league.
For Colorado, it’s the second consecutive home-and-home series after splitting with the Vancouver Stealth across Weeks 4-5. It was a tale of two games as the Mammoth sailed to easy victory at home, but a dismal third quarter sank them on the road and ended their previously unbeaten season.
Mammoth coach Chris Gill reflected on the team’s previous road game.
“We weren’t overly happy with the way we played, but we ran into a team who was hungry and really they wanted it more that night,” he said. “We had to turn the page on that game.”
This weekend features the top two teams in the West Division coming into Week 7. Colorado and Edmonton both rested in a Week 6 bye. If it was up to Gill and Edmonton’s Derek Keenan, the extra time off will prove pivotal in the next 72 hours.
“It’s a huge game in the West Division…it’s a grind,” Gill said. “[The Rush] play their system so well. And once again, they are leading the league in goals against. Top defensive unit in the league and their offense just seems to roll. It’s going to be a hard-fought weekend…it’s a typical West Division matchup.”
Edmonton is led by young sensation Mark Matthews, who tops the Rush shooters with 26 points (13+13) on the season thus far. He’s been a headache for Mammoth defenders in recent outings, but the young talent on Colorado’s defense could be the deciding factor this weekend.
Joey Cupido has had a breakout year thus far in 2015. Just four games into the year, Cupido’s stat sheet is well ahead of the curve than his previous three seasons with the Mammoth, just five points below his 2014 mark where he tallied 13 points (6+7). He has been a ‘X’ factor on defense, and his speed on transition has re-ignited life in the part of the indoor game that made Colorado intimidating in the past.
“Joey has been playing really well, he’s been a huge impact for us. Everyone knows he’s got the speed and the skill and plays great defense,” Gill added. “He’s really stepped up and made it tough for some offenses…when you’ve got a guy like that, you know when you make a mistake, he’s right back the other way.”
A familiar face has been relatively absent so far this season on the Mammoth defense. 11-year veteran John Gallant has only appeared in one game in 2015. Despite this, Creighton Reid and Ian Hawksbee have stepped up in front of Dillon Ward in net.
Story by Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) & Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.