The Colorado Mammoth are about to experience their most grueling month of regular season games in their team’s history. By the end of March, the lacrosse world should not only learn the identity of this 2018 Mammoth team, but they should also have an idea what playoff seed the Colorado franchise will have… if they have one at all.
This March, the Mammoth will play seven regular season games. They have never played more than six non-playoff games in any month over the club’s 16-year existence – they have played seven total games before in April 2011 but one of the match-ups was a playoff duel.
Having played just eight games over the first three months of the season, this year’s team has not had many opportunities to mesh in real game situations. Their eight games played in 2018 are the fewest in the NLL, and, of particular importance, they have played at least two games less than any of their Western Conference opponents and have even played three games fewer than both the Vancouver Stealth and the Saskatchewan Rush.
While the Mammoth’s schedule has not been the most conducive to creating player familiarity and on-the-turf chemistry, the team will now face seven opponents – twice playing back-to-back games – in a 29-day span, something Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle says should show what this team is made of.
“It’s hard not to be a little frustrated with this schedule,” an eager Coyle said a few days before their first back-to-back game weekend. “We had these bye weeks where we easily could’ve had one game. But, the schedule is what the schedule is. I believe that steel is forged through fire. This is an opportunity this weekend to really forge who we are as a team.”
The team will have plenty of time to find its identity during their league-most games this month during actual contests, but they will also have ample to blend as a finely-tuned unit through their many practices and their flights to and from Georgia, to Vancouver, to Toronto, and a bus ride from Toronto to Rochester.
With such a busy schedule ahead of them, staying healthy and fit will be essential if the team wants to play at its best. Joel Raether is Head of Sports Performance for the Mammoth. He and the rest of the training staff have been working the players tirelessly to prepare them for months just like this one.
“A lot of what it takes leading up to this coming month is what we’ve done over the last couple of months,” Joel said. “As I look at the schedule at the beginning of the year, it’s making sure that we’re forecasting what will be the most critical times of the year and how we are going to plan and prepare for that.”
In preparation for their hectic March, the training staff has taken advantage of the many bye weeks, trying to fit in practices where they can to keep the guys in simulated game situations. Joel and his team take the responsibility to stay in touch with the players via phone calls even while they’re spread across North America.
“The hope is,” Joel says of the plan to get the Mammoth ready for the seven game stretch this month, April, and the potential playoffs, “After this week with having back-to-back games, travel included, we’ll be trying to get back to neutral in terms of our recovery… We’ll be preaching to the guys in terms of sleep, hydration, nutrition and do every in our control to put those guys on the right path. Everything little thing is going to matter over the next four weeks.”
If the team can stay healthy – remembering that Zack Greer, Scott Carnegie, and Chris Wardle are all newly returned from injuries – the Mammoth will have 420 minutes of minimum game time to play all seven matches with a full unit. It will also give Mammoth GM Dan Carey more than enough time to see each of these players show why they deserve to be on the team’s roster.
With all the trades that have taken place in the last week alone – the New England Black Wolves/Buffalo Bandits swap of Shawn Evans for Callum Crawford and the Rush getting Dan Dawson from the Rochester Knighthawks – it is clear that other teams are trying to make a serious push to not only prepare their respective organization’s for a playoff run, but a Champion’s Cup run.
While Carey stated that this month will not be a time for player evaluation, he did not rule out the possibility that the team would make any deals before the March 19th trade deadline. “The more you talk, the more things come up,” Carey admitted. “If you’re struggling a bit in the win column, making those phone calls is a little bit easier. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting in those conversations and sometimes things can come out of nothing.”
Now that the team is healthy, Carey wants to see what a full lineup has to give because he believes that there are better things to come from this unit when all the pieces are working together on a regular basis.
The Mammoth will need to give it all they’ve got if they want to come out of March with a record still above .500. With games against the Bandits who have won four of their last five, a Georgia Swarm team that is looking more and more like their 2017 Champion’s Cup-winning squad every week, a massively consequential conference match-up with the Calgary Roughnecks, a game on the road against the Toronto Rock and their impeccable forwards, a battle against a Knighthawks team that has shown they can compete with Champion’s Cup quality, and two games with the Stealth who are beginning to look much better than their 1-10 record suggests, this month could make or break the Mammoth’s playoff hopes.
In a worst-case scenario, the Mammoth could fall behind the Stealth in the Western Conference, and thus, out of a playoff spot. Their best case scenario would see them challenging the Rush for the Western Conference title.
Heading into their first two games of the month, the team’s confidence is at one of its highest points all season. Coming off a “near-complete game” victory by Coyle’s standards against the Black Wolves a couple of weeks ago, this team is ready to show who they are. There’s a clear difference, the Mammoth’s head coach says now that Greer, Carnegie, and Wardle are back in the lineup. “With three veterans out of our lineup and getting them back,” Coyle explained. “You can see the difference that it makes with our confidence and adds a bit of swagger.”
Confidence is fragile, though, and must be maintained, especially in a league where week in and week out any team has a fighting chance to pull out a win. The ever-steady focus and persistence from Coyle and his Assistant Coach’s Dan Stroup and Chris Gill will be necessary to lead their warriors to more wins than losses this coming month.
The players are there, the conditioning is there, now all the Colorado Mammoth have to do is put everything they’ve trained for together over the last several months in order to place themselves in a comfortable spot in the Western Conference standings before they play their final three games of the regular season versus the Rush, Black Wolves, and Rock respectively. If all goes according to plan, those games season-ending games will have little to no factor on where this team sits heading into what would be the Mammoth’s eighth-consecutive NLL Playoffs.