This Saturday, the Colorado Mammoth will begin their 17th season when they face one of the league’s newest expansion teams: the San Diego Seals.
While their opponent might be a newcomer to the league, most of the Mammoth’s roster will be familiar to fans. The most glaring changes won’t be seen on the turf, but rather on the benches and in the front office.
Assistant coach Dan Stroup stepped down from his duties over the offseason and the team’s other former assistant skipper, Chris Gill, is now the head coach of the Vancouver Warriors. They have been replaced by Andrew McBride and Shawn Williams.
The Mammoth roster is embracing the changes on the bench. According to defender Taylor Stuart, the coaching changes could be a good thing, particularly on the back end.
“I love [Stroup] and [Gill], they taught me a lot,” Stuart said. “But, sometimes change is good. Bringing in [McBride] on Defence — he’s won tons of allocades and won cups — so just to have him and an extra set of eyes on that end, that’s huge. Shawn Williams has a tremendous resume. He’s kind of hard to compare to anyone to be honest. I know the guys love his intelli-gence and his enthusiasm. We have high hopes.”
Within the last week, general manager Dan Carey has also left his post to join the Rochester Knighthawks next season. For the moment, the team’s head coach Pat Coyle will take over GM duties until they decide on a full-time replacement.
“Pat’s a man with a lot of pride,” Carey said. “He’s somebody that cares a lot about what he does. I know he wouldn’t be in this position if he didn’t feel like he was able to succeed and do a great job. I have full confidence in Pat. I know how much he cares about this organization and he wants to see it succeed as much as anyone.”
Whoever is on the bench or in the GM’s seat, the roster put forth for the home-opener is likely similar to the one we’ll see for year’s to come. Over the offseason, Carey signed long term deals with a handful a Mammoth regulars.
“We have a great core group of players here in Colorado,” Carey said. “Me and the other staff wanted to make sure we had players that were potentially going to be here for a long time. We want good people who can contribute to the organizations and people who want to stick around.”
In terms of those long-term signings that keeps Mammoth players in Colorado, forward Eli McLaughlin signed a two-year deal, defenders Josh Sullivan and Taylor Stuart signed on for three seasons, forward Jacob Ruest signed for three years and the reigning Transition Player of the Year, Joey Cupido, signed a lengthy five-year deal.
Key players like offensive juggernauts Ryan Benesch and Stephen Keogh are also returning. On the back end, fans will see familiar stars like Robert Hope, Jordan Gilles and they can welcome back Dan Coates who missed all of last season due to ACL injury.
With so many returning plays, it’s understandable that the coaching staff feels excited about the chemistry this team already has and will continue to develop over the years.
“When a group gets to play together year after year after year, you can actually see how that helps them,” Coyle said. “The familiarity they have with each other, the more time they have to play with each other and feel more comfortable with each other — especially defenders, they feel more comfortable with each other. I think knowing that we have that core going forward, it give us as a coaching staff a really good feeling, but I think that for the players as well.”
Unfortunately, not returning to the squad on defence will be Cam Holding — Cam now plays for the Seals — Bryce Sweeting and Greg Downing. These will be key absences that will force sig-nificant adjustments according to Coyle.
“I would say that loosing Greg Downing and Bryce Sweeting was more of a loss,” Coyle said. “The first thing that comes to mind is losing Sweeting’s grit. Not too many guys in the league like playing against him, but everyone likes being on his team. It’s hard to find players like that that are really committed at pissing off the other team. Downing’s poise, experience, his athleticism. Again, another really good teammate. It’s hard to find guys like them.”
We’ll see if Coyle and his troops can win their 10th home-opener in franchise history. Currently they hold a record of 9-7 when opening the season at their barn. Coyle knows, though, that it won’t be easy against this Seals expansion squad and that his team will need to bring their A-game.
“I wouldn’t treat these guys like an expansion team,” Coyle said. “Because I would say, 80-90% of them have played in the NLL and many were starters in the NLL. The only real difference is they haven’t played together. If we don’t prepare like it’s any other team, we’ll lose.”