Shortly before game time Saturday night, the Colorado Mammoth coaching staff made a bold decision to select Steve Fryer as the team’s starter instead of Dillon Ward – who would’ve played his second game in as many nights – to face the Buffalo Bandits. It appeared that the staff made the right choice of sitting the Mammoth’s usual starter. Fryer came in for his first NLL start and put up one of the best Mammoth goaltending performances in the last few years.
In what would have been the story of the night had Fryer not had a remarkable evening in net, Shawn Evans was held to one point all night – it was an assist. Evans was playing his first game with the Bandits since being traded earlier this week from the New England Black Wolves.
After a defensive first quarter which saw both Fryer and Bandits netminder Alex Buque stop nearly everything they saw, Mammoth defenseman Joey Cupido said, “I think we gotta keep getting shots on [Buque]. It’s really been a lot of transition so far, a lot of unsettled situations. I think this quarter we need to settle it down and get some 5-on-5 looks.”
Not only were the Mammoth able to score within the first 16 seconds of the second quarter, but they would add two more goals in the six minutes following that first tally in the second period. Meanwhile, Fryer, who had 14 stops in the first quarter to set a career-best for a game in his six years in the league, stopped all 11 shots he faced in the second and allowed the Mammoth to head to the locker room at halftime 5-2.
Before the start of the second half, Mammoth assistant head coach Dan Stroup said, “[Fryer] is playing great. It was a last minute decision. He’s taken the challenge on, and he’s playing well. We’re pretty happy with him, but we have a half-game to go, so hopefully, everything stays the same.”
Early in the third, the Bandits looked as though they had solved Fryer, scoring two goals in the first two minutes of the half. However, Fryer regained his form and didn’t allow another goal in the quarter. The Mammoth countered those two scores with two goals of their own from Ryan Benesch and Zack Greer.
In the final frame, the Bandits hunkered down on defense and tried to control the ball in the Mammoth’s half of the turf. They were able to shutout the home side during the last 15 minutes and scored a few late goals – two from Dhane Smith – to pull the game to a score of 8-7. In the waning moments of the contest, the Mammoth and Fryer were able to outlast the Bandits and held on for a victory by that same score.
Fryer’s seven goals allowed were the fewest by a Mammoth goaltender since December 29th, 2017. By the end of the night, Fryer collected a total of 45 saves. Prior to this game, in his career, Fryer had made a total of 22 saves. He had also only played a combined 66 minutes.
Postgame, Fryer was stoked about his outing, “I actually found out I was starting tonight – we had our coaches meeting right before we went out on the floor. Dillon [Ward] wasn’t in the room, so I kind of knew something was up. I walked out; he walked up to me a said, ‘the net’s yours tonight.’ My first start, six years in this league, I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’m happy to do it here in front of the loudest fans in the league.”
Fryer’s incredible effort carried the Mammoth to their second nail-biting win two nights. They have been key wins that have given the team more of a cushion sitting in the second seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
Next week, the Mammoth will return to the Pepsi Center for a pivotal conference matchup with the Calgary Roughnecks who now sit three games behind the Mammoth in the West. The season series between these two rivals is tied at a game apiece. Next Saturday’s battle will be the last and deciding battle for bragging rights and potential playoff seeding.
Offensively tonight, Jacob Ruest continued to distribute the ball well; he tallied four assists to bring his season total to 33. Jeremy Noble added five assists for himself to become the team’s leading assist-getter through ten games with 38.
The Mammoth have now won three straight games and look to be on a roll as they continue to grind through their busiest month in team history. They have five more games in March. If they continue to play the way they did this weekend in Georgia and at home, they may finish the month with a 7-0 record.