Even though the stars were aligned for the Mammoth to cruise to a victory on Saturday night, in a shocking turn of events, the hungry Stealth outplayed the home side in front of over 15,000 fans to earn just their second win in 14 games.
The “Loud House” was as advertised this weekend. Not only were the Mammoth coming home to try and secure a record-tying sixth straight win and potentially lock up the privilege to host a playoff game, but each attendee was also wanting to pay tribute to John Grant Jr., whose jersey was being retired in a pregame ceremony.
However, the 30-minute celebration seemed to disrupt the player’s natural rhythms. Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward, who has been one of the best goalies all season long, particularly over the last four games, surrendered four goals on the Stealth’s first five shots on target.
And, while the Stealth’s netminder, Eric Penney, looked unbeatable early, the Mammoth’s precision and flow were also missing a beat. Finally, though, after ten minutes of lackluster play, the Mammoth began to show glimpses of the winning team they’ve looked like throughout March. Starting with a Stephen Keogh score that snuck past Penney, the Mammoth strung together three goals in the final five minutes of the frame to bring the score back to a one-goal game at 4-3.
The home side picked up right where they left off in the first and scored the first three goals of the second period to take the lead for the first time and eventually go up 6-4. Just as they did last weekend, however, the Stealth fought back from their deficit and would retake the lead off three straight goals of their own. Due to a late first-half Keogh score, the teams would head into the locker rooms tied at 7-7 at halftime.
For the Mammoth, Keogh and Ryan Benesch were the two stars through the first 30 minutes – each had a pair of scores. On the Stealth’s side, Rhys Duch and rookie Casey Jackson shined brightest. Duch assisted on three scores including Jackson’s first goal, and Jackson, in only his second career NLL game, netted two goals to bring his early career-total to three goals.
In the third, the teams traded tallies to head into the fourth quarter knotted at 9-9. By the fourth, it was looking as though the Mammoth were going to send their fans home happy. They were challenging Penney far more often then the Stealth were challenging Ward, the energy in the arena was picking up, and they put together another strong run of three goals to steal the lead back to go up 12-10.
The fourth quarter run by the Mammoth had some excellent goals squeezed in it. The first of the three was a spectacular behind-the-back score from Eli McLaughlin to tie the game at 10-10, and the latter of the three was Jacob Ruest’s hat trick-grabbing tally. Ruest, who has been praised this year for his enhanced assist-ability, was showing that he also has the potential to score in bunches – it was the second time in 31 games that Ruest has had a hat trick, his second this year.
Unfortunately for the Mammoth, the Stealth dug deep to stop their historic losing streak at eight games. The visitors punched back with three goals including Pat Saunders second score on the night with only 1:48 remaining to steal a road win.
With the Calgary Roughnecks and Saskatchewan Rush both losing on Saturday, a Mammoth win would have clinched a home playoff game and brought the team closer to the West Division-leading Rush. Instead, the Stealth assured their fans that, while mathematically unlikely, they are still not eliminated from the NLL Playoffs.
Despite the loss, Benesch’s five-point night allowed him to stay in the NLL’s top ten list for points, Josh Sullivan and Ruest picked up their 100th career loose balls, and, thanks to a fourth-quarter assist, Jeremy Noble notched his 200th point in his young career.
The Mammoth will need a short memory when it comes to this loss. The team will head on the road for two games on back-to-back nights in Toronto and Rochester respectively. The first game will be featured on NLLTV.com on Friday, March 30th at 7:30 pm EST, while the second contest will be shown on NLLTV.com on Saturday, March 31st also at 7:30 pm EST.