As the Colorado Mammoth and teams around the National Lacrosse League (NLL) continue to navigate the offseason waters of expansion draft, entry draft and free agent action, 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.
It’s no coincidence that as the Mammoth took the next step in its competitive grind, veteran forward Eli McLaughlin recorded career-best figures across the board. Originally selected in the first round (4th overall) of the 2014 NLL Entry Draft by Colorado, the experienced B.C. native played a unique, yet extremely important role in the Mammoth offense this year.
Surrounded by the talented likes of Ryan Lee, Zed Williams, Connor Robinson and beyond, the left-handed professional was able to enjoy a balanced approach of finding twine and connecting with teammates this season. With good friend Ryan Lee generally serving as quarterback to the team’s first unit, McLaughlin was freed up from a bit of the on-ball attention he’s received in the past, allowing the forward to operate lethally throughout the team’s first championship run since 2006.
Regularly showcasing his ability to produce with a deadly step-down shot from the point, the refreshing mix of personnel also created additional opportunities for him in the pick-and-roll game while increasing his near-crease conversions and skip pass successes. The Legend of the Liger’s storybook season continued to propel his destiny of finally capturing that elusive title: NLL Champion.
McLaughlin’s chemistry with season-long roommate Connor Robinson was on full display, as the fellow lefties worked with Dylan Kinnear and Chris Wardle in providing an extremely solid first-four on that side of the offense. A fellow B.C. boy, Robinson’s lack of play time and NLL Experience may not have landed the first-year regular on many scouting reports early in the season, but thanks to the quickly-established connection between the two pros, they would eventually end the season ranked first and second in NLL postseason scoring.
From the moment the former Coquitlam Adanacs forward arrived at training camp last fall, there was a new sense of confidence and leadership behind 51’s approach. Whether it was an extended pandemic away from the sport he loves, the realization that it was time for his veteran presence to ascend to an elite level or knowing that he had some additional firepower to help transition away from the “Defense first” mentality the Mammoth have always been known for, Eli delivered one of the most memorable postseason performances in Mammoth history after cementing regular season bests as well.
Recording a career-best 83 points (38g, 45a) in 18 regular season contests, ranking second among Colorado players in points, goals and assists, the veteran also set personal-best totals with 38 goals and 45 helpers en route to finishing 16th overall amongst NLL scorers. Now, 16th might not seem very high at first glance, but when Ryan Lee (34g, 85a), Connor Robinson (42g, 29a) and friends still have to eat, McLaughlin’s selfless play resulting in 16th is pretty respectable. Logging a career-best 11-point game (5g, 6a) in front of a rowdy Loud House crowd at Ball Arena as the Mammoth hosted the Vancouver Warriors March 18, the forward’s efforts, combined with Robinson’s and Lee’s, served as the only trio of 30-plus goal-scorers on the same team during the 2021-22 NLL campaign.
Building on his regular season success, McLaughlin continued to dominate the league’s best competition, one game at a time. Feeding off the good vibes from Robinson and offensive mates, the forward recorded six points (3g, 3a) when Colorado knocked Calgary out of the playoffs during the Quarterfinal round and followed it up with 27 points during the team’s three-game West Conference Final series against the San Diego Seals. In a victorious opening Game 1 matchup, McLaughlin notched eight points (3g, 5a) before dropping a sock trick (6g, 1a) despite losing the second game and a postseason best 12 points (5g, 7a) during the NLL Finals berth-clinching Game 3 against the Seals. A walking hat trick, and then some most nights, the forward tallied eight points (3g, 5a) in a Game 1 loss to the Buffalo Bandits before eventually missing the rest of the series due to injury. Despite missing Games 2 and 3 of the NLL Finals, McLaughlin finished first overall in postseason scoring with 41 points (20g, 21a) in just five games, another career-best achievement for the now champion.
As important as McLaughlin’s on-field contributions were to that Mammoth squad, the veteran also understood the vitality of a good laugh, having fun and truly bonding with teammates. While a good portion of the team was part of the returning veteran core from the previous season, newcomers like Tyson Gibson, Anthony Joaquim and the team’s rookie class were graciously greeted with the teeth-showing smiles of McLaughlin and friends, an important aspect of the group coming together during its successful season. Accompanying Eli in that onboarding process early in the season was fellow veteran jester Joey Cupido, who’s next up in our 2022 NLL Championship Series Review!