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Stories/Op-Ed

Mammoth’s RIT Connection Could Fuel Future Success

If last week’s Mammoth performances are to be believed as future indicators, the youth movement is alive and well in Colorado.

In front of their home fans last Sunday, the Colorado Mammoth put together their best overall performance (particularly on offence) en route to their first win of the season. It’s fair to suggest that, without the outings of forwards Ryan Lee (24) and Kyle Killen (22), the Mammoth may not have had the same outcome.

Kyle scored two goals in his NLL debut and was clearly hungry for more, while Ryan also added a pair of scores to his season-tally to continue his streak of scoring one goal in each of the team’s first four games.

The production the home side received from these two (hopefully) budding stars was a welcomed sight, but not a surprise by any means. The Mammoth organization has high hopes for these dynamic scorers as individuals, and as a potential attacking duo for the future.

While it might have been Kyle’s debut last week playing alongside Ryan, it was not the first time that these two have competed with each other.

Much like the stellar connection we saw from three Ohio State University teammates on the Rochester Knighthawks (Jake Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell) last season, Kyle and Ryan were former RIT teammates during the team’s NCAA DIII Lacrosse Championship run to the finals in 2017. Their ability to work together has been evident for years.

They only competed together for one season at RIT, but their connection was swift and impactful. RIT’s men lacrosse head coach, Jake Coon, recalls Kyle and Ryan’s ability to work with each other on the field.

“They had one signature move that they tried at least one time each game if not a couple of times each game,” said Coon. “It was kind of a give-and go that we saw them execute right away.”

There may not have been much of that give-and-go in their first contest together – neither of them assisted each other on their goals at least – but as they continue to secure playing time on the floor together, it could likely be something to watch out for.

Kyle remembers meeting Ryan and getting to know him shortly after transferring to RIT and joining the team. Much like Jake said, Kyle recalls the workmanship between Ryan and himself to fairly instantaneous.

“Ever since that first practice we had together, we just clicked,” said Killen. “We knew we each other would be on the field and we worked really well together.”

During their run to the championship game in 2017, Killen amassed 32 goals and 55 points while Lee had 65 goals and 111 points in his final collegiate year. After Ryan graduated, Kyle went on to score a school record 86 goals in 2018.

There was clearly a strong bond from these two Canadians, but they weren’t the only players at RIT from the U.S.’s neighbours to the north.

In fact, RIT’s offence coach, Shawn Wilkins is a Canadian who played in the NLL for the Rochester Knighthawks. His vast knowledge of the box game allowed RIT’s many Canadians to thrive in an outdoor game that is still adjusting to the Canadian-style.

“Every year we probably have about a 50% Canadian roster,” said Wilkins. “I grew up in Burlington (Ontario) with a box background. I’ve been running a “pairs” offence for as long as I’ve been here. I just think it was really beneficial with the talent-level we’ve had.”

Having Kyle and Ryan play more within a system that they were more familiar with definitely helped them to adjust to the field game and each other. However, with just one season of field lacrosse together, it didn’t hurt that before this NLL season, the two could reunite in the box game.

During summer league play in the Major Series Lacrosse league, Ryan was traded to the Cobourg Kodiaks, joining Kyle on the team, albeit for only a few games. These extra games together allowed the two to further build their chemistry.

“We only played a few games with each other,” said Lee. “But, we were able to take it back to the field days. We would know when to do the pick and rolls with each other. It was exceptional that we got a chance to play together this past summer.”

The Mammoth’s offensive coach, Shawn Williams, knows what it’s like to play with teammates who he’s familiar with. He can feel the bond and knows that it will help the two of them long term as they play together.

“For them, it’s about having that trust with each other,” said Williams. “They’ve played together, so things come a little easier with them. Any time you have history with somebody it helps.”

With just 11 combined NLL games to their names, the youthful duo have 12 goals and 12 assists between them. As they continue to grow into their own, there’s no telling what Kyle and Ryan can do as a Mammoth duo (barring that upcoming expansion drafts won’t get in the way).

“We’ve already played together, so that’s helped us a lot,” said Lee. “We’re both so young and we both have a good future of lacrosse ahead of us.”

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