It took 16 years, but the Colorado Mammoth are back in the NLL Finals.
The Mammoth stormed back against the San Diego Seals from four goals down at halftime – the largest deficit in the West Conference Finals series – to clinch a spot in the NLL Championship series following their 15-13 win. They will now face the Buffalo Bandits, the same team they battled against in the 2006 NLL Finals.
Led by their reliable veterans, the Mammoth were pushed to victory behind incredible efforts by Eli McLaughlin and Dillon Ward. McLaughlin tallied 12 points on the night, a total of 27 through the three-game series on 14 goals, while Ward posted 42 saves, including his 500th career postseason save, in the waning moments of the contest. It was the 5th game in Ward’s NLL postseason career where he had 42 or more saves.
But it wasn’t just the mammoth efforts from those two guys that put the team into the NLL Finals. Connor Robinson had three goals and five assists, Zed Williams had two goals and three assists, Tim Edwards won the majority of the draws at the face-off X – he had the upper hand in each game of this series – and Robert Hope picked up 11 loose balls. It is the third time this postseason that Hope has grabbed double-digit loose balls in a game.
When Ryan Lee was sidelined before Game 1 of this series due to an injury, Ward and his teammates knew they needed to find other ways to win this series. That’s precisely what they did on Saturday night.
“We lose our top player in Ryan Lee, but we found a way to keep going,” Ward said. “It’s the ‘next man up’ mentality.”
McLaughlin, Ward, Hope, and Joey Cupido have all been with the Mammoth for seven or more years, and they have all played together since the 2015 NLL season. Their attempts at an NLL title have been thwarted time and time again, but now they finally have a chance to earn that championship that has alluded them for so many years.
The Mammoth’s ability to stay mentally strong after facing the adversity of losing one of their top players is indicative of how dedicated and focused the team is to sticking to their formula for success. Ward echoed that message of sticking to the process after the team’s significant win; it’s a message that has been stated ad nauseam by multiple Mammoth players and coaches throughout this season.
“We just stuck to our gameplan,” Ward said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy – every game has been tight. When we went down [in this game], we kept fighting and found a way to win.”
As incredible as this victory was for the Mammoth, it was equally heartbreaking for the Seals. This team got the most out of their leaders, such as Dane Dobbie, Austin Staats, and Brodie Merrill, and were also aided by up-and-coming heroes that stepped up to the occasion like Patrick Shoemay, Eli Gobrecht, and Drew Belgrave.
Seals Head Coach Patrick Merrill felt this was a year this team could do something special. Over the last three seasons, this young franchise has been building itself up to become a top contender in this league. This year, they proved their worth by winning the West Conference regular season title, but Merrill thought they were capable of more than just that.
“Our thought was we were destined for better,” Merrill said. “I was really proud of the type of character we had in that room [this season] – it’s a great group of guys. To come up short like this is very disappointing and very heartbreaking.”
Unfortunately, there must be a winner and a loser in NLL competition. While the Seals are sad to have come up short of their goal, the Mammoth will continue their chase for the NLL Cup next Saturday against the Bandits starting in Banditland.