After falling a couple of goals short in Game 1 of the NLL West Conference Finals, the San Diego Seals will rely on their strengths (and a little bit of mystery) to steal a road win this Saturday night against the Colorado Mammoth in Denver.
Last weekend the Seals were entrenched in a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle against the Mammoth and unfortunately came out on the wrong end of a 14-12 loss. Seals Forward Wes Berg noted that although the team lost, there wasn’t necessarily one thing the team dropped the ball on.
“You can’t knit-pick on just one play because anything can happen in a game – you get lucky bounces or unlucky bounces,” Berg said. “That’s why [we] have to do our job for the entire game and not let it get that close then depend on a call or last-minute goal.”
The question then becomes: how do you put yourself in the best position to come out with a comfortable victory? The answer may lie in the team’s diversely talented lineup and the multitude of strategies the coaching staff likes to implement for various situations.
If there’s one thing you can say about the San Diego Seals, it’s that they have a wide array of talent at every position. Whether it’s a seasoned veteran like Brodie Merrill, a youthful wizard with the stick like Austin Staats on offense, the experienced Cam Holding, or the up-and-coming Patrick Shoemay on the backend, this team is stacked with weapons. Berg added that a significant reason the Seals are such a threat on offense is their unselfishness.
“That’s a huge part of our makeup on offense,” Berg said. “Sharing the ball – not depending on one or two guys on offense to do everything every game. Whose ever hot, you feed them the ball. It’s an offense by committee.”
In this NLL postseason, the Seals have seven players with multiple goals, including six defensemen who have scored a point. Through Week 3 of the NLL Playoffs, Rookie Patrick Shoemay leads all defensive players in scoring – he has three goals. Shoemay is also one of only seven defensemen to have recorded three or more points and is one of only two non-forwards to be listed in the Top-20 in goal scoring.
Another one of the Seals’ energetic playmakers, Drew Belgrave, noted that one strategy of this Seals team is to get the guys on the backend pushing the ball up the floor and then contributing on offense if they can.
“That’s something we’ve definitely been emphasizing more in the back half of the year,” Belgrave said. “We want to try and create three – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a defensive player scoring – transition opportunities. It would be nice to get at least one of those in a period.”
Belgrave added that there is a multitude of ways to potentially shut down this Mammoth offense now headlined by Zed Williams, Connor Robinson, and Eli McLaughlin. Targeting that trio – Williams and Robinson combined for 10 goals last weekend. It could play a significant factor in the Mammoth’s offensive gameplan.
“Of course, we want to get the ball out of those guys’ hands as much as possible,” Belgrave said. “There are situations where we’ll double-team guys, but it’s more situational. It’ll never be an all-the-time thing. When Zed gets the ball down low, and he’s attacking the net, he’s a bit of load, so we’re definitely going to need to send help down towards him. We’ll look to mix in some doubles, mix in some pressure looks and keep them on their toes.”
With the pieces in place to rebound from the unfortunate result last week, the Seals understand the task: they must win to stay alive in the NLL Playoffs. If they can utilize their strengths against these Mammoth, who are quickly becoming one of the NLL’s most formidable opponents in the league right before our eyes, the Seals can force a game three back home in San Diego, stated Belgrave.
“We’re looking to play up to our strengths as a defense using our speed and physicality,” Belgrave said. “We feel like we can put anyone against us in a bad position, regardless of who they are, as long as we can play the defense that we know we can.”
Oddly enough, Berg believes that being in a win-or-go-home situation on the road could be precisely what this team needs to step up to the occasion. He noted that there’s a different approach to road game because you aren’t faced with the same distractions.
“We’ve got a lot of balance,” Berg said. “We have a lot of confidence in our team. We have a team that’s built to play well when our back is up against the wall – that’s when we seem to play our best lacrosse.”
“We’ve done a good job all year at limiting the distractions. Sometimes being on the road is nice because all you’re doing is focusing on the game.”
You can bet that leaders like the championed Dane Dobbie and the future Hall of Famer Brodie Merrill – who has yet to win his first NLL Championship – will be urging their teammates to keep their nose to the grindstone and to focus 100% of their collective energy on winning.
This year’s Seals are built to be a threat from all over the floor. There is no one way to shut them down. Last week, it came down to the few saves and the few calls that Berg was alluding to earlier. This week, the Seals will look to dig deep into their bag of tricks and empty the gas tank to ensure that a Game 3 will be back on their home floor.
Game 2 of the West Conference Final starts at 9:30pm ET and can be seen on ESPN+ and TSN.ca.