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Season Preview: Colorado Mammoth

Every team believes it has the right pieces in the right place heading into a new season. The Colorado Mammoth are no different, and the excitement in Denver for the 2015 National Lacrosse League season is palpable. There are plenty of returning players coming back to a team that was better than its record indicated, and the offseason tuneup with draft picks and other acquisitions have the Mammoth believing this is the year they’ll give their 15,000 fans something extra for which to cheer. Let’s take a closer look at what the Mammoth are bringing into the 2015 season.

2014 record/playoffs: 8-10 regular season, 0-1 in playoffs.

Top 3 returning scorers: John Grant Jr. (40 goals, 51 assists for 91 points), Adam Jones (39-26, 65), Drew Westervelt (30-33, 63).

Key additions: Eli McLaughlin (F), Robert Hope (D), Tyler Codron (D), Alex Turner (F), Alexis Buque (G).

Key losses: Joel Dalgarno (F, released), Casey Powell (F), Mat MacLeod (F, released), Chet Koneczny (D, work), Nick Carlson (D, retird), Tye Belanger (G, traded).

Outlook: The 8-10 record in the regular season wasn’t what the Mammoth hoped for in 2014, obviously, but it is a bit deceiving. The Mammoth clearly were better than their record indicates. They played a league-high 7 games decided by 1 goal and while they were a commendable 5-3 in those games, the third 1-goal loss came in the first round of the playoffs against Calgary.

So what does that mean for the Mammoth going forward? The line between winning and losing is so fine in the NLL and they believe they’ll get over that line this season with the right pieces in place. Some teams last winter were caught up in thinking the game would change with the smaller game-day rosters as dictated by a new labor agreement, but that change didn’t really materialize. While the transition game is important, the Mammoth may have put too much emphasis on it while forsaking some defensive principles, but they learned last year that stay-at-home defense remains vital to success and they believe they have that in place for 2015.

Certainly, the offense is set with the likes of John Grant Jr., Adam Jones and Drew Westervelt leading the charge. Sean Pollock and Athan Iannucci provide critical depth and it’ll be needed even more with the departure of Joel Dalgarno and Casey Powell, who has yet to decide his NLL future. Colorado will also look to rookie Eli McLaughlin for scoring support, while the offseason acquisition of Alex Turner can also provide some points. On the man-up, the Mammoth scored an NLL-best 43 goals, so that’s a trend they’d like to see continue, especially after Grant led the league with 15 of those power-play goals.

Getting the ball to the forwards is in good hands and speedy wheels. Joey Cupido doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the hustle he brings every shift, and Cam Holding is another unsung grinder who brings more confidence after playing a solid role in helping Team Canada win field gold this summer. Rookie draft pick Robert Hope has looked good in camp as well, giving the Mammoth a bit of both with speed and smarts in transition as well as some old-fashioned physical defense. Farther back, Dan Coates enters his third season and is as solid as it gets on defense, while the addition of Tyler Codron brings some quickness and toughness to the back end. Ian Hawksbee is back after a year off  and there’s plenty of veteran leadership in back with guys like Dan Ball, Bob Snider and Creighton Reid. And while the transition game will get plenty of reps, the transition D needs to be better this winter after giving up a league-high 12 short-handed goals in 2014.

All will be counted on to boost a unit that surrendered a league-high 228 goals last winter. But at least this season, they’ll know who the No. 1 goalie is. Dillon Ward didn’t lock down that role until a few weeks into last season but once he did, there was no doubt. Although it was field lacrosse, Ward was MVP of the world final that clinched gold for Canada and while he’s back at the indoor game for the Mammoth, the experience in July can only do good things for his confidence. He’ll need to be sharp and stay sharp with the departure of Tye Belanger (New England). Rookie backup Alexis Buque helped Whitby win a Minto Cup in 2013 and played for New Westminster of the WLA this past summer, so he may need some time to adjust to the new speed and quickness of the NLL.

The biggest challenge for Colorado this season isn’t how much it has improved, because it clearly has. But those improvements are not only just on paper, they’re in a West Division that includes powerhouses in Calgary and Edmonton. So the Mammoth clearly have their work cut out for them because while hitting your stride in the postseason certainly is possible, that’s not something any team wants to rely on. They want to prove during the regular season that they can be a contender so they can bring some confidence into the postseason, and the only way Colorado will do that is by shoring up its defense so that everything else can function without pressure.

Story courtesy of Bob Chavez from ILIndoor.com.