A tough test awaits the Colorado Mammoth (4-4) this weekend as the Toronto Rock (8-1) bring the league’s best record into Pepsi Center for a cross-division matchup on Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on UniversalSports.com & USN app (tablet/mobile) in the U.S. and TSN 2 & TSN GO in Canada. Local viewers can also catch the game live on Altitude 2.
After a five-year absence, Friday night’s game marks the return of Colorado’s infamous “Blackout Night,” presented by Venture Technologies. The team will dawn unique black jerseys and shorts, which will be available to bid on in a silent auction through halftime, with proceeds benefiting youth community initiatives of Kroenke Sports Charities.
For the players, the themed night is a backburner thought as a win against the best team in the NLL has been the focus since its outing against Buffalo last weekend.
“It’s a good test. They’re the cream of the crop right now at the top of the league,” said Mammoth coach Dan Stroup.
Colorado failed to score in the entire final quarter of the game, which featured eight separate ties, and ultimately fell to the Bandits by a score of 14-11.
“Last week, we were pretty happy with the guys,” Stroup added. “We played well for three quarters, then we ran out of steam. We couldn’t score in the fourth…we’re going to have to have our best game of the year to compete with (Toronto) this weekend.”
Sitting at .500, Colorado’s performance mirrors that of recent years. Despite the team’s successes in some quarters, one bad stretch of 15 minutes has proven costly for the team. Transition player Joey Cupido added that the game versus Buffalo proved just that, a solid first 45 minutes before the wheels came off on an experienced roster.
“I don’t think anything has necessarily changed,” Cupido mentioned. “It’s a really competitive league, every team can beat anybody on any given night. We just haven’t been able to put it together for a full 60 the last two games.”
The quick-footed Cupido leads the league in defensive scoring coming into the matchup, with eight goals (two of which have been short-handed) and seven assists on the year.
“Transition is definitely going to be a key…it goes the same way giving up transitions against them. We have to limit the mistakes to beat a quality team like Toronto.”
Cupido and the rest of the Mammoth defense will have their hands full with Josh Sanderson and Rob Hellyer on the floor. The pair are first and second respectfully in points in the NLL. Add in Stephan Leblanc, another Rock shooter, who also ranks in the top 10 in points.
Rounding out the top 10 are Adam Jones and John Grant Jr., both posting 47 points so far on the year. The pair, along with Drew Westervelt, were responsible for 10 of Colorado’s 11 goals last weekend.
In the faceoff circle, Bob Snider struggled last game, going 9-for-29. He could have a rebound game against the Rock, who are 27-for-90 (30%) in its last three games in faceoffs.
Four of the next five games will be at home for the Mammoth, an ideal chance to rise in the ‘W’ column. The opponent this week is formidable, and a squad that doesn’t often square off against Colorado. In fact, their last meeting was nearly two years ago to the day, when the Rock topped the Mammoth 14-10 at home on March 8, 2013.
On the heels of their second-straight overtime win, Toronto again hits the road, this time headed into one of the rowdiest atmospheres in pro lacrosse. The Rock have proven that they are as solid as their nickname suggests. Over the last two weeks, Toronto has piled up a couple of overtime victories over New England and Edmonton, sustaining their status as the team to beat thus far.
“Resiliency” is a word best fit to describe the Rock’s recent dramatic two-game tizzy. Against New England, Toronto eliminated a five-goal deficit setting the stage for Josh Sanderson to play hero in overtime. A week later, against the West Division’s top team, the Rock allowed a late Edmonton run resulting in another bid for extra time. This time, it was Rob Hellyer who triumphed.
The test of resiliency comes in a different context for Colorado as the once 3-0 team has lost four of its last five games. Week 10 is an opportunity for the Mammoth to put an end to a sustained struggle and move into greener pastures. Not resting on the laurels of an 8-1 start however, the Rock are armed and ready for a tough battle.
“I think they’re a good team,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “They’re a good defensive team with some good guys on the offense you have to pay close attention to.”
Over the first three weeks of the season, Colorado mounted an astonishing 57 goals and looked poised to be an offensive juggernaut behind the likes of Grant Jr., Jones and Westervelt. However, in four losses, the Mammoth posted a not-so-Mammoth 38 tallies, a dramatic drop in production attributed to “a dry run” by Lovell.
“They got off to a great start and they’ve since had a dry run,” said Lovell. “They have some elite talent there.”
Toronto’s improved defense will surely be put the test as the big guys on the backend will be dealt a hand that includes three offensive threats with 38 points or more. Jones, Grant Jr. and Westervelt have combined for 132 points (56+76) through eight games, numbers that cement them as one of the league’s top trios.
“Again, they’ve got a highly-skilled offensive group,” said Rock defenseman Patrick Merrill. “They have a lot of depth and we’ve got to be very disciplined. We’ve got to be on our toes for the full 60 minutes. If we give them an inch…they’re going to use it against us.”
Merrill plays along side with the likes of his brother Brodie, Brock Sorensen, Jeff Gilbert, three additions that have proved pinnacle to Toronto’s success. All standing at 6′ 4” or taller, the three veterans play a physical brand of lacrosse not seen in Toronto in quite some time.
“Those key additions have definitely been great for us. They’re real good team guys and it’s helped a lot,” Merrill said.
“We’ve refined our systems a little bit and we’ve gotten great goaltending. A big reason for our success is we play together as a team.”
By Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) & Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.