The Colorado Mammoth made no hesitation in drafting Dillon Ward in 2013. Chosen third overall, Ward became the first goaltender since Gee Nash (who also played for Colorado from 2004-09) to be drafted among the top three picks in the NLL. The pick immediately set the bar relatively high in terms of expectations for the now 23-year-old Orangeville, Ontario native. During his rookie year, Ward was eased into action early on but quickly earned the starting position along the way.
An imposing presence at 6-foot-5, Ward has quickly established himself as the anchor of the Mammoth defense, a position that had been of relative weakness for Colorado in recent years.
According to Mammoth coach Pat Coyle, Ward’s mental game is an element that stands out more than it is often perceived.
“It’s amazing, you can tell when he’s on his game and it really calms our defense down,” Coyle said. “Some people don’t realize, they see the saves he’s making, but they don’t realize what a level-headed guy he is.”
That steady mentality is contributed by Ward’s unique background. Beginning early on between the pipes in hockey, Dillon transitioned to Canada’s proclaimed national summer sport where he has split time between the indoor and outdoor game. The difference in the two games is without a doubt the biggest for a goaltender of any player, yet Ward says the variety has helped solidify his game on both.
“I think both games really compliment each other,” said Ward. “The outdoor game really gives me a sense of having to work on my leadership and help conduct the defense out there…indoor going outdoors, it really helps me with positioning and using my body on saves when I can’t get my stick there.”
His accomplishments can speak for themselves in a background that is a mile long on paper. As a high school athlete, Ward was already establishing himself as a guru of the crease, where in 2009 he was named the Canadian National Field Lacrosse MVP as a representative of Team Ontario in the U19 Canadian Field Championships.
The honors continued in the box lacrosse universe, where as a member of the storied Orangeville Northmen, Ward won three Minto Cup titles (2008, 2009, 2012), and won the Robert Melville Memorial Award as Junior “A” Outstanding goalie in 2008, 2009 and 2011. He was also crowned Canadian Player and Goalie of the Year in 2010 by NLL Insider.
In college, Ward played for the Bellarmine Knights from 2010-13. In his final season, he led Division I goaltenders in save percentage, was named Third Team All-American (the first Knight to ever be named All-American), and was voted unanimously as the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Goalie of the Year.
Again, Ward is only 23 years old. As Coyle continued, he noted that Ward’s age and mentality between the pipes is second to none.
“To me what’s most impressive…sure his résumé is awesome, and he’s so young, but it’s how level he is. A lot of goalies get rattled, and Ward doesn’t seem to. He leads by doing that, he’s not saying a word to the players, but that levelness can translate to the rest of our team.”
In just over a season under his belt in the NLL, Ward is already making his presence known. In 2013, he was voted to the All-Rookie team and nearly won NLL Rookie of the Year, missing out by just one point in voting.
With the Mile High City practically a second home now, Ward at the moment seems to be a Denver prodigy in the crease. It is almost fitting that he experienced the greatest lacrosse experience of his life just last summer in Denver, where Ward helped lead Canada to a gold medal in the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever been a part of before,” Ward said. “To be able to represent your country, in Denver of all places and in front of a lot of Mammoth fans. It was unbelievable and to be able to come out victorious, there’s no words to describe that.”
After signing a five-year deal prior to the 2015 NLL season, Ward is not expected to leave Colorado any time soon. Which is good news for Mammoth fans, as the netminder continues to stand tall as a dominant force inside the crease.
Story by Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.