The game that was billed, “The Battle of the Undefeateds” surely lived up to the hype regardless of the final score which read, “Saskatchewan Rush 17 – Colorado Mammoth 12.” Fans inside the Pepsi Center were treated to a high-quality matchup which ended with the Mammoth being handed their first loss of the season to go to 3-1, while the Rush became the only remaining undefeated team (4-0) in the NLL.
The Mammoth were looking to prove that they can stand toe-to-toe with the best team in the Western Conference, but the Rush outplayed the home-side throughout the match in a multitude of ways.
Despite a quick 2-0 start and some fancy goaltending from the Mammoth’s star netminder, Dillon Ward, the home team surrendered the lead by the end of the first quarter, leaving the game tied 3-3 heading into the next frame.
Some highlights included an impressive showing on both the front and back ends from Taylor Stuart. Stuart was a menace on defense, playing physically to shake-up the Rush defense and added an assist and a rare goal to his career total of one coming into tonight’s game. Rookie, Ryan Lee, who was back in the lineup after being sidelined last game so Stephen Keogh could play, scored his third goal of the season. Defenseman assistant captain, Joey Cupido, also netted his second goal of the campaign.
Early this week, Mammoth head coach, Pat Coyle, spoke about the decision of which of the two he should play: Lee or Keogh. “We just thought (before last game) that our offense has been doing well with a strong left look -so having only three righties get in- and we wanted to get Keogh back in the lineup. We’re lucky that we have that problem. It’s a really tough decision to sit a player that should be playing.”
The first half of the second quarter was as back-and-forth as the first, and it even looked as though the Mammoth might build some momentum to go a run to pull away from the visitors.
After a Jacob Ruest goal to cut the Rush lead to 5-4, the Rush’s, Ben McIntosh scored what appeared to be a good goal; that was until the challenge flag came flying off the Mammoth bench.
Upon review, it was determined that McIntosh was rolling in the crease before the ball hit the strings in the back of the net. Less than a minute later, Ryan Benesch scored his only goal of the night to tie the game at 5-5.
Yet, the excitement in the arena was short lived. The Rush would rattle in three straight goals -including two powerplay goals to grab an 8-5 lead heading into the locker rooms at halftime.
Before the third quarter face-off, Coyle said of what to expect of his team’s efforts, “We need to work harder. We’re sort of letting them dictate what they want to do. I think we can make them work more.”
The Mammoth were given some hope to start the half when Eli McLaughlin’s shot on the Rush goalie, Evan Kirk, ricocheted off his own defenseman’s stick (Brett Mydske) and found the back of the net. The Rush would not let the Mammoth capitalize on this fortune bounce, however; they would fire in six of the seven goals that were netted in the third quarter making it a 14-7 contest heading into the final frame.
The Rush defense, as they had all night, prevented the Mammoth from getting too many quality shots on net; Kirk only needed to make 33 saves on 45 shots. In fact, it was only due to a last-ditch effort that the Mammoth would out-shoot and out-score the Rush in the fourth quarter -it was the only quarter in which they did either of those.
Eli McLaughlin managed to score two garbage-time goals in the waning moments of the game to complete his hat trick, and Jeremy Noble netted his fourth goal late in the match, but it had no impact on the outcome. The Rush were able to come into “The Loud House” and steal a win and the early-season upper-hand in the battle for Western Conference supremacy.
All night long the Mammoth experienced first-hand how good this year’s Rush are. They saw how good their league-best powerplay is, how good their offense can be (only coming one score shy of their season goals per game average, 18) and how good the other “best goaltender in the league” is in Evan Kirk. As admitted by the Mammoth front office, “The Rush are the team to beat.” The Mammoth will have two more chances to beat the Rush this season including a battle back in Denver on February 2nd.
Whether for good or for bad, the Mammoth now have two weeks to get over this loss and regroup before they take the floor again at the Pepsi Center. They will be facing the Vancouver Stealth who picked up their first win of the season earlier tonight and will be looking to keep that streak going. You can catch that game on Altitude or NLLTV on Friday, January 26th at 9:00 pm EST.