For the Colorado Mammoth, beating the Calgary Roughnecks in the NLL Playoffs was essentially the next best thing that could happen to them other than winning the NLL Cup.
Now with that daunting task behind them, the Mammoth are gearing up for the highly competitive best-of-three matchup against the West Conference’s top-seed, the San Diego Seals, which begins on Friday night.
This is the Seals’ first time in the second round of the NLL Playoffs in just their third season. But, for the Mammoth, they’ve been in this seat before. As recently as 2019 and 2017, the Mammoth were vying for a spot in the NLL Championship. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the NLL Finals in either of those years.
Regardless of the Mammoth’s inability to make it to the championship game since 2006, what’s in the past is in the past. According to Mammoth Alternate Captain Joey Cupido, this year’s team feels different in many different facets of the game.
“This year just feels different,” Cupido said. “In previous years, it felt like if we didn’t hold a team to eight or nine goals, we wouldn’t win; this year doesn’t feel like that. We have an offense that can put the ball in the net consistently. If [the defense] has an off game, it feels like the offense can pick us up, and we can win in a shootout.”
That revamped offense that includes players such as Connor Robinson, Ryan Lee, and Eli McLaughlin has taken a lot of pressure off defensive-minded veterans like Cupido, Robert Hope, and Dillon Ward, which in turn makes those guys better.
Yet, despite how good the Mammoth were during this regular season – this was the fifth time in the last 15 years that the Mammoth have had 10 or more wins in the regular season. And despite their 16-12 win against the Roughnecks, which was the second largest margin of victory for the Mammoth in their team’s history in the postseason since moving to Colorado in 2003, the Mammoth’s offensive coach Jason Bishop still feels the team can play at an even higher level.
“We still think we can play on another level,” Bishop said. “San Diego is good; they are really good, so we’re going to have to play on another level if we want to win. I don’t think we’re done growing yet, but the young guys have bought in, and the older leaders are really stepping up.”
There’s no doubt that the Seals are fighting with a chip on their shoulder. As an expansion team only three seasons ago, it was up for debate if they could become one of the few teams to make the NLL postseason in their first season, and they did it. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the Seals’ three-game win streak in the 2019-2020 season, which had brought them to 6-6 and back in the playoff hunt. This is the year that the Seals hold their fate in their own hands, or flippers, if you will.
Whatever may be motivating the Seals, the Mammoth are playing to prove that their widely respected elite talents can win an NLL Cup. Veterans like Dillon Ward, who is a former NLL Goaltender of the Year, Robert Hope and Eli McLaughlin, who were both on the 2015 All-Rookie team and have grown into bright stars in this league, and Cupido, a former NLL Transition Player of the Year, have all never won an NLL Championship. Now, Cupido feels more confident than ever before about the team’s chances to finally pull it off.
“I feel good about this matchup, but I feel good about any matchup no matter who we would be playing,” Cupido said. “I have confidence in our coaching staff and in our guys to come up with a good gameplan. I think for us, we need to focus on game one, that first period, and that first shift, as cliche as it sounds. We’re going to try and go out there, win that first shift, keep that momentum rolling, and hope that leads to a victory.”