The 2019-20 NLL Season, the 34th season in NLL history, officially started with the Mammoth hosting the Saskatchewan Rush in a rematch of the thrilling West Division Semifinal from the 2019 NLL Playoffs. The November start date marked the earliest the NLL started a season on a chilly and snowy Black Friday from Denver, Colorado.
Scoring began quickly with Robert Church squeaking a ball past Mammoth netminder, Dillon Ward less than a minute into the game. Ward got a piece of the ball, but the end result was 1-0 Saskatchewan. Church followed up his goal with a second goal over 10 minutes later in the first quarter to but the Rush up 2-0. Twenty-one seconds later, Ryan Lee got the Mammoth to within 1 with a nifty dunk from the back of the net, assisted from Jacob Ruest and Dylan Kinnear, Kinnear’s first career NLL point. Kyle Killen ended up scoring with 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a power play goal to end the first quarter tied at 2.
Mammoth fans were anxious in their seats for the start of the second quarter for the Mammoth’s 3rd Annual Teddy Bear Toss, the teams first goal in the quarter would mark the time for fans to toss their teddies onto the turf to donate to a local Denver non-profit. Rush lefty Mark Matthews spoiled the moment initially by netting the first goal of the 2nd. Chris Wardle would be the hero to unleash the bears with a goal 5:03 into the quarter. Colorado would go on a 3-goal run to take a 5-3 lead with goals from Jacob Ruest and Ryan Lee’s second of the night. Saskatchewan would score the final two of the quarter to have the score tied 5-5 at the half.
The energy and physicality of the two division rivals continued into the third. Wardle, who was questionable to play heading into today’s game kicked off the 3rd quarter scoring with a one timer from Jacob Ruest. In the midst of a Rush 3 goal run in the third, Dylan Kinnear placed the ball past Evan Kirk on a deflection which was ruled no goal as Kinnear landed in the crease as the ball was crossing the goal line. Mammoth coach Pat Coyle challenged the call but was unsuccessful in his challenge. Dylan Ward came up with two huge saves towards the end of the third to keep the game at 8-6, one of the saves from his back.
Saskatchewan also got the scoring started in the 4th with a goal from Connor Robinson. Colorado then made an immediate mistake, a penalty on the following faceoff to faceoff man Tim Edwards when his helmet came off, giving the dangerous Rush power play another opportunity to extend the lead. Colorado almost capitalized on a beautiful opportunity on the short hand, Ward made a save and sent a long lead pass to Chris Wardle who put the ball just wide of the net. After the Mammoth player released from the box, Saskatchewan sent a man to the box for an illegal substitution. Jacob Ruest netted his second goal of the night on the powerplay to bring the Mammoth to within 2. When it looked like the Mammoth wouldn’t be able to get another one past Kirk, who made multiple stops, Jacob Ruest got his hattrick goal wit 2:35 remaining in the game.
The Mammoth had two opportunities with six men on the floor to tie the game, but an errant pass gave Saskatchewan possession to run out the clock and secure a 9-8 victory. Colorado was able to keep the powerful Rush offense to under 10 goals, but just were unable to catch back up after relinquishing the lead in the 3rd quarter after the Rush went on a four-goal run.
Even with all the physicality, both the Rush and Mammoth did a good job of minimizing their opponents’ man up opportunities. Both teams only committing four minor penalties each. Each team was able to score a powerplay goal, Colorado netting two. Saskatchewan dominated the shots on goal with 63 to Colorado’s 42, although Colorado was much more efficient with only 13 shots off net.
Three stars for the night are Saskatchewan Rush goalie Evan Kirk with 34 saves on 42 shots, second star was Colorado’s Jacob Ruest with 3 goals and 2 assists. Number one star was Rush forward Robert Church who totaled 8 points (3g, 5a).
The Mammoth return to action after two weeks off for another critical division matchup at the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday, December 21. Saskatchewan will also enjoy a bye themselves before heading home to take on the New England Black Wolves on Saturday, December 14. All the action through the NLL’s 2019-20 can be seen on Bleacher Report Live.