On June 18, 2022, the Colorado Mammoth made history when capturing the franchise’s third-ever NLL championship (2006 and in 1987 as the Baltimore Thunder), courtesy of a thrilling Game 3, 10-8 victory on the road at the Buffalo Bandits. The triumph was made that much sweeter because the club was able to defeat the uber-talented Bandits minus the services of regular season leading scorer Ryan Lee and playoff goals and assists stalwart Eli McLaughlin.
With a new season upon us, and the Mammoth now firmly ensconced at the peak of the NLL mountaintop, NLL.com caught up with the aforementioned McLaughlin, along with head coach Pat Coyle, to discuss where the team that plays a mile high has been and what steps are being taken to remain atop the summit.
After being nothing short of dominant during the West Conference playoffs, including posting a sock trick in the conference finals, McLaughlin was forced to sit out Games 2 and 3 of the NLL Finals with a shoulder injury. As one would imagine, being a spectator proved very hard for the Mammoth star.
“It was pretty tough mentally to sit out like that, especially with how I was playing. I felt like I could have helped the team out better if I was playing, but that’s why it’s a team sport. You have trust in those guys no matter what,” said McLaughlin.
“Those were two of the most stressful hours I’ve ever had to sit through in my life, added the 29-year-old, when discussing the dramatic Game 3.
With the trophy and league bragging rights in hand, the Mammoth headed to a rooftop bar in Buffalo to celebrate all they had accomplished. While the players and their families rejoiced, Coach Coyle and his staff took on a more subdued approach.
“The coaches sat back and watched the players really enjoying themselves. One of the best things was watching to see how happy our guys were,” recalled Coyle.
The five-time champion as a player then described the stark difference of winning on the field, as compared to when standing behind the bench.
“It’s really different. I felt like as a player you had more of a say in the outcome of the game. And I know I do somewhat as a coach, but it’s really up to the players. So, I’m more happy for them I think. When I won, I was more happy for me,” explained the Canadian Lacrosse and NLL Hall of Famer.
With the season now officially in the books, two days later, Coyle was already in British Columbia, assuming his offseason role as Head Coach of the Western Lacrosse Association’s Coquitlam Adanacs.
For McLaughlin, it was back to Denver to savor the title.
“We had quite a decent crew living in Denver, nine or 10 guys,” noted McLaughlin. “We were able to party with the trophy for a couple days. Then, when it was my turn, I had a little party in the backyard for my friends to come and drink out of the cup if they wanted. And then I took it to my family the next day, grandparents, dad, mom and brothers.”
Playing professional lacrosse in Denver involves some pretty unique intangible benefits, including the fact that many Mammoth players reside in the area year-round.
“It definitely helps when you can be around your team 24/7. You can hang out with your buddies, grow as friends and teammates, work out together and push each other,” said the British Columbia native.
An additional advantage of donning the helmet and pads in Denver involves the popularity of field lacrosse at the youth and collegiate levels (including the long successful University of Denver program) and the level of community enthusiasm that it conjures.
“When we start scoring a couple goals you can actually feel the building (Ball Arena) change and that doesn’t happen if there’s not a fair amount of people in there. If you don’t have that fan-base, you don’t have that many people in the building to create that buzz. That buzz really gives us an advantage at home,” boasted Coyle.
The foundation that comes with being a part of the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment empire, the ownership group that won the NLL, NHL and NFL championships, all within the course of 2022, adds additional bonus points to life as a Mammoth.
Regarding working under the Kroenke umbrella, McLaughlin proclaimed, “I think our facilities are great. They do take really good care of us.”
Once training camp came around, the Mammoth coaches and players made every effort to turn the page from last season and focus on the task at hand. Now playing the role of the hunted, as opposed to the hunter, the team knows that every opponent has the champs circled on the calendar, as evident by the opening weekend 18-6 thrashing, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Rush.
“I thought we had done that, up until our first game, but it seemed like we were still celebrating, or still focused on last year, “decried Coyle.
Coyle added, “Every team when they’re doing their prep is going to be talking about how we won last year. If we don’t have that in our rearview, the other teams are going to let us know really fast.”
The Mammoth resume their title defense Saturday, December 17, at Panther City, before finally hosting the franchise’s first home game as reigning champions, Saturday, January 7, versus the Calgary Roughnecks.