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2022 NLL Championship Season Review: Defense Wins Championships

As the Colorado Mammoth and teams around the National Lacrosse League (NLL) continue to prepare for the upcoming 2022-23 campaign, we’re taking a look at some of the most impactful players from the Mammoth’s 2022 NLL Championship run.

Finishing its regular season with a 10-8 record and ranked third in the NLL’s West Conference, the squad made its historic run behind the efforts of one of the franchise’s most memorable and comprised squads in NLL history.

Having explored some of the team’s most explosive and entertaining players in the series’ first few posts, we’ve been able to re-live some of the biggest and best highlight moments during Colorado’s 2021-22 NLL Championship season. Featuring the smiles of Zed and Joey, the competitiveness of Ward and Robinson, the raw talent and teamwork from Lee and McLaughlin … the list goes on.

While many of the celebratory smiles procured at KeyBank Center, Pechanga Arena and especially Ball Arena throughout Colorado’s seven-game postseason run were the results of a stellar pass, flashy goal or exciting opportunity for the offense, it’s good to remember the age-old saying: Defense Wins Championships.

With each of the seven matchups, Colorado’s defense was tasked with allowing fewer goals than its opponent. Not rocket science, that’s sports. When the likes of Curtis Dickson, Wes Berg, Austin Staats, Dhane Smith and company highlight said opposition, it’s not exactly an easy ask.

Yet, despite continuously rising to the occasion of stifling each opponent’s top scoring threats, that wasn’t enough for the Mammoth’s back-end unit. They wanted transition opportunities, to connect with their offensive teammates, TO SCORE GOALS.

And they did, feverishly erupting from one white line and sprinting to the other, the likes of Joey Cupido, Erik Turner, Jalen Chaster, Anthony Joaquim; whoever had legs and wasn’t afraid to keep going. Often reminiscent of gym class when the teacher had to remove the go-getters from one team after a shocking 12-2 start to a Wednesday kickball game, some of these guys didn’t want out of the game, or to give anything less than 100%.

The competitive spirit shared between Josh Sullivan, Warren Jeffrey, John Lintz, Jordan Gilles, Tim Edwards, Nick Finlay, Scott Carnegie, the captain and brick wall … the list goes on, but nevertheless an ode to the championship culture that’s been established in the Mile High City. That begins and ends with the defensive unit.

Since capturing the elusive NLL Championship earlier this summer, Mammoth captain Robert Hope continued to add to his trophy collection by doubling down and capturing the Mann Cup with the Peterborough Lakers. The ultimate year of box lacrosse, Hope demanded nothing but excellence from his guys. Dating back to last November’s training camp, the defensive veteran always set the tempo, got guys talking in warm-ups, loose on the floor and locked in once faceoff time neared. Dillon Ward may be the backbone of this unit, but Hope is the heart, and leader. Ending the season tied with Joey Cupido for the most loose balls recorded in Mammoth franchise history (853), he’ll have yet another reason to get the most out of Cupido and company as the two duke it out for the ultimate honor.

Hope wouldn’t tell you this himself, but he might be a few years younger than Joey, with better odds on the end game goal. He’d also be the first to congratulate Joey each time he passes him and the last to care about individual stats, always putting the team first.

It wasn’t long ago that the Mammoth were known specifically for having a rowdy defensive core. The defense, and Ward, had to be rock-solid, as Colorado’s offense wasn’t always packed with superstars. Obviously, that changed during the 2021-22 NLL campaign, but defensive contributions did not.

If anything, the defense was inspired to reach new heights in the transition game, and succeeded in doing so.

Normally reserved and true to locking down defenders and moving bodies over holding the ball, Lintz recorded a career-best five assists this season, one of the many contributors who understood the growing importance of the transition phase of play and when to take advantage of a delayed shift. A leader in the locker room and on the floor alike, Lintz helped this squad take the next step in blossoming into a league-winning entity.

Despite missing a large part of the regular season due to injury, defenseman and faceoff man Tim Edwards recorded a postseason-best five helpers, getting folks involved directly out of the circle and creating opportunities. Another longtime Mammoth contributor, Josh Sullivan ended the season with a perfectly-rounded 200 career loose ball count after posting four points (1g, 3a), 33 loose balls, four caused turnovers and six penalty minutes in 18 regular season appearances. Another calming presence for the veteran-backed unit, Sullivan worked well with Lintz, Carnegie, Cupido and others in balancing some of the learning moments from the young guys with experienced, reliable veteran play.

As mentioned before, smiles are typically created on the other end of the floor, but there’s always an exception, and Colorado’s is Jordan Gilles. For being one of the strongest, most physical, grounded defensemen in the league, he brings an educated approach and win-now-and-always mentality. Whether grinding in the weight room, getting some full-floor-length transition practice in or getting some extra shots on Nate Faccin in practice, Gilles continues to evolve his game and it’s showed, on the floor and in the stat books, as he reached a new career-high of 100 loose balls this season. Rarely flagged for penalties, always ready for the next shift, Colorado will continue to lean on Gilles and company as they did during its championship run.

While “Moose” aka Warren Jeffrey may enjoy a good time off the floor, it’s all business for the Vermont University product once he hits the turf. After logging 13 contests to begin his career during the shortened 2019-20 NLL season, Jeffrey achieved career-best totals in several categories in 2021-22, including points (5), goals (2), loose balls (75), caused turnovers (15) and penalty minutes (42), regularly serving as a physical force and enforcer, when needed. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, he’s been a welcomed, productive addition to Colorado’s back-end and recently received a three-year extension, keeping him with the Mammoth through the 2024-25 season.

Another big-bodied defenseman who helped pave the way to championship glory after being acquired midseason from the Philadelphia Wings, Anthony Joaquim was in the right place at the right time. Once he arrived, he stood out in practice, never afraid to challenge the top-end talents of Ryan Lee, Zed Williams and company and never afraid to push the tempo in transition. Racking up seven points (3g, 4a), and a personal-best 87 loose balls, 22 loose balls and eight penalty minutes in a rare 20-game slate (12 games with Philadelphia, 8 with Colorado) this season.

With Scott Carnegie retiring and moving into his new role as Head of Player Development for the Mammoth and Erik Turner currently rostered by the Las Vegas Desert Dogs (via the 2022 NLL Expansion Draft), the rest of the team’s defensive players from last year are set to return for the 2022-23 season.

A collective group of individuals, brought together by the sport they love, gifted to play with the guys they enjoy spending time around and grinding with. Defying the odds, going on the road for all three playoff matchups and coming home with the trophy, this defensive unit did what was needed and then some. After all, defense does win championships.

 

Colorado Mammoth Pro Lacrosse Team