The Colorado Mammoth (10-3) clinched a home playoff game after a tough test on the road, beating the New England Black Wolves (7-5) by a score of 12-10 on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Black Wolves fought hard and kept pace offensively, but the Mammoth defense took full advantage of key mistakes by the Black Wolves’ offense and held on defensively to take the win. The Mammoth break a tie with the Saskatchewan Rush (9-3) to grab sole possession of first place in the West.
“It feels great,” said Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle. “As players, the three of us coaches, we played when the Mammoth were great and we won there, and it feels like since then the Mammoth have not been where we want them to be. That’s where we’re heading and to be a part of that is awesome. Our goal is obviously to get a home playoff game, but we don’t want to be done with that and to come in here and beat New England says a lot for us. They’re a really good team and we’re proud of what we did.”
“It’s a good team so you don’t want to overreact, but you don’t want to underreact,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “I think at times you fall into that trap as a team of reading your own press clippings and thinking you’ve arrived and as soon as you do that you’re done. We were a little sloppy at times and we turned the ball over. We just weren’t crisp and lean and purposeful on the floor, and some of those turnovers and mistakes ended up in our net. You learn lots from losses, and it’s time to reload.”
“It was our game to lose,” said Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans. “If we played the same way we have the last couple of games, we would’ve had the upper edge, but we didn’t come out with that upper edge tonight.”
In a rematch of their March 5th game, the Black Wolves and Mammoth picked up right where they left off, with the first face-off of the game ending with a pile of players against the glass fighting over the ball. The Mammoth stuck first, scoring just over a minute into the game. The Black Wolves responded with forward Shawn Evans putting it in the back of the net off a deep pass from defender Zac Reid following a big defensive stop. Sloppy turnovers and passes by the Black Wolves offense allowed the Mammoth offense to take over and they led 4-2 after the first quarter. Even though the Black Wolves fought back a bit in the second quarter, the Mammoth held a 7-6 lead at halftime.
“I feel like that’s one of the big differences with our team this year,” Coyle said. “It’s that we can be down a goal or two, and have the confidence that we can come back. We don’t want to do that, but I think in years past when we were down one or two goals, there was a sense of panic. There’s a sense of calm on the bench, and that translates on the floor.”
“The defense we played against tonight, they played a little bit different,” Evans stated. “They put a little more pressure on us and made us make decisions. Obviously tonight we didn’t make the right decisions.”
The Mammoth started the scoring in the third quarter, taking an 8-6 lead. However, quick passes and sloppy turnovers by the Mammoth allowed the Black Wolves to crawl back and take a 9-8 lead with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter. The Mammoth answered back quickly with an Adam Jones goal to tie the game at 9 going into the fourth quarter. The Mammoth took a 10-9 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Black Wolves answered within less than fifteen seconds and tied the game at 10. Callum Crawford blocked an Evan Kirk clearance and put it in the back of the net to give the Mammoth an 11-10 lead, and from there it was a defensive battle until another Mammoth goal put the game away.
“It’s hard because you just played a good shift at defense and then they get a layup,” Clark said. “Those ones sting, but the game is in its entirety too. We didn’t do enough collectively, it’s not on one play. We didn’t do enough as a group to be successful.”
“I think Crawford got up there 15-16 feet,” stated Black Wolves goalkeeper Evan Kirk. “He’s a pretty tall guy with big arms. I want that back, of course. It’s a bad goal, and that’s just a mental mistake I’ve got to figure out.”
Defensively, the Mammoth held strong and closed off major passing lanes for the Black Wolves, quickly shutting down any momentum shifts with ease. Goalkeeper Alex Buque had a great outing, making 31 saves on 40 shots faced. Forward Callum Crawford led the way with five goals and four assists, while Eli McLaughlin collected three goals and one assist. Defender Cameron Holding got in on the action offensively, adding two goals and one assist.
“He [Crawford] played like a man,” Coyle said. “I think he had five goals, and I don’t know how many assists. What’s great about him is that if you don’t play him hard enough, he’ll score, but if you play him too hard, he’ll pass the ball. To me he’s a great feeder he’s a great shooter; he’s a double threat and we’re lucky to have him.”
For the Black Wolves, the defense held strong and kept the pack in the game, but the offense could not overcome a constant one-goal deficit. While the Black Wolves were able to keep pace with the Mammoth most of the way, costly turnovers cemented their defeat. Goalkeeper Evan Kirk had a phenomenal game, making 43 saves on 55 shots on goal. Offensively, forward Shawn Evans led the way with four goals, while Kevin Buchanan collected one goal and three assists. Kevin Crowley and Kyle Buchanan each added one goal and two assists, while Pat Saunders had two goals.
“Yeah I made some saves, but I’ve got to make some more,” Kirk said. “There’s some times where our offense puts everyone on their back; I’ve got to do that, and our defense has got to do that. I think all around we just weren’t ready to come out, so going into next weekend we’ve just got to be ready to go out.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Callum Crawford
2) Evan Kirk
3) Shawn Evans
The New England Black Wolves (7-5) return to action April 8, 2016 as they take on the Saskatchewan Rush (9-3) at 7 p.m. ET at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Colorado Mammoth (10-3) return to action April 10, 2016 as they take on the Georgia Swarm (4-9) at 12:05 p.m. ET.
By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.