The Colorado Mammoth (6-5) hopes to keep its winning streak rolling at home this weekend against the Vancouver Stealth (4-6) in a crucial West Division matchup at Pepsi Center on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Prior to the game, the Mammoth will also honor long-time captain Gavin Prout as they retire his iconic number 9 jersey to the rafters of Pepsi Center. Watch the game live on WatchESPN in the U.S. and on TSN 5 & TSN GO in Canada.
The Mammoth find themselves in a critical game this weekend as they sit a half game behind Edmonton for the top spot in the West. The back end of a home-and-home is also important to the opposition as the Stealth try to keep pace in the West as well, setting the stage for tense matchups on the floor.
Colorado held off Vancouver last weekend on the road in a 14-11 win, a contest that coach Chris Gill was more than pleased with. As far as he is concerned though, it’s in the past and is focusing the roster on securing the team’s third win in a row.
“We thought in general it was one of our best 60-minute efforts of the year, but you’ve got to turn the page on that game and realize you’re playing them right away next week,” said Gill.
Key players in last week’s game were Joey Cupido on transition, who added three goals to his already league-leading points and goals among defensive players. But on offense it was Jeremy Noble who followed up a stellar NLL debut with a six point (4+2) performance versus the Stealth.
Not only did the young gun make an immediate impact on Colorado’s already bolstered offensive threats, his chemistry among the likes of John Grant, Jr. and Adam Jones seemed to be an immediate bond.
One can only imagine what he can do after fully learning the Mammoth playbook.
“It’s been great,” Noble commented. “I’m lucky to come in here and just be in the lineup and contributing. Coming into this offense I’m pretty familiar with a bunch of guys so that’s helped a lot…[the coaches] brought me in for a reason and they want me to contribute right away.”
This game also stands as critical because of Colorado’s remaining schedule. As April begins the team will have three opponents left to face across six games, all home-and-home series, with four of those against West opponents in a division standings that have yet to fully take shape. A win on Sunday could make that much of a difference for not only chances of a playoff berth, but also seeding and a potential postseason game in Denver.
“I’ve never had that before in this league and as a player, I don’t remember that kind of schedule. Its tough, it’s a challenge and it’s something we’re looking forward to,” Gill added.
Vancouver’s Mitch McMichael got the better of Bob Snider in the faceoff circle last game, where it was the complete opposite earlier this season in their first two matchups. It could hold a key to gaining an early or late upper hand on Sunday.
The Stealth meanwhile have had an extra day to sit and stew over their most recent loss. So far this season, the National Lacrosse League squad has played all of their games on either Fridays or Saturdays. The Mammoth sit in second place at 6-5 while the Stealth are third at 4-6 as they try to hold off the Calgary Roughnecks (3-8) for the third and final playoff spot in the division.
“The one extra day to prepare is good, we can go over some of the stuff we need to but I don’t know if it really makes a difference,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault.
In the team’s most recent contest, they fell 14-11 to the Mammoth at the Langley Events Centre, snapping a three-game home winning streak for the Stealth.
On the road, Vancouver has lost three consecutive games since opening with a victory. Vancouver trailed 9-4 in the third quarter against Colorado but put together a run to tie the game at 10-10 early in the fourth quarter. However, a turnover proved costly as the Mammoth’s Joey Cupido scooped up the miscue and raced in for his third goal of the game. Colorado would score three of the final four goals as well.
“We have to move forward; I thought it was a good game,” Perreault said. “We got ourselves in a hole (and) managed to tie it up but a costly turnover, gave the ball away and they pulled ahead.”
This is the second time the teams have played a home-and-home series but last time, Vancouver won on their home floor, which means if they want another split, the Stealth are going to have to win in enemy territory.
“We know it is a big game for us,” Perreault said. “It is going to be a loud house, but we are up for the challenge.”
Vancouver lost the game despite winning the face-off battle 19-9 and having the loose-ball advantage, 58-46. But the offense seemed out-of-sync, failing to connect on passes, missing the net on a few chances and hitting iron on a handful of others.
The Stealth remain at the bottom of the league standings in terms of shots and shots on goal. The team is averaging 45.5 shots on goal per game and 60.7 shot attempts.
“We were fine with the number of shots we had in the last game, but we had some great opportunities that we didn’t score on,” Perreault said.
“And credit to Dillon Ward, he made some fantastic saves, I thought the number of shots we had last game were fine, it was just a matter of we have those great opportunities, we have to cash in, that is the key.”
Stealth rookie Brandon Clelland — the team’s third-round draft choice last year — has two goals this season in four games, both of which came against Colorado.
“It has definitely been a learning experience,” the first-year transition player said. “You think you know a whole lot, but then you finally realize you don’t know that much.”
Clelland said working hard, learning from the veterans and asking questions have been the keys so far.
By Nick Salen (@MammothBeat) & Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.