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2022 NLL Championship Season Review: Rounding Out the O-Team

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.

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.

But, as this team learned throughout its 25-game marathon, if it hadn’t known before, is that it was about each of those 25 guys in the locker room more than any one win, player, coach, etc.

Rounding out the regular (non-rookie) offensive contributors for the Mammoth, Dylan Kinnear, Chris Wardle and Tyson Gibson gave everything they had for this special squad. And while each of the three forwards entered the season with drastically different NLL Entry Draft positions, earned accolades and overall reputations, the trio found a way to continuously complement Colorado’s revamped offense. While two of the three had started their journeys with the Mammoth at a previous training camp, the odd man out was forced to switch gears midseason.

Sure, the Loud House loves getting to “Jump Around” every time a Leezer Laser connects, but it was a new song, a new swag this year that caught the attention of Mammoth fans at Ball Arena.

Coming from a struggling New York Riptide squad, Tyson Gibson was acquired by Colorado March 15, prior to the NLL’s official trade deadline. The former first-overall selection from the 2019 NLL Entry Draft had racked up 71 points (24g, 47a) in 23 regular season appearances with the Riptide before heading west to join forces with the streaking Mammoth squad. The 2019 NLL Rookie of the Year posted 43 points (16g, 27a) in 12 games during the pandemic-shortened season before following up his first campaign with 28 points (8g, 20a) in 11 games with the Riptide.

Gibson went on to add 14 more regular season points (4g, 10a) and 15 loose balls during limited play while getting onboarded to Colorado’s offense, which was already full of weapons. More importantly, the second-year forward recorded a postseason career-best 20 points (6g, 14a) in seven playoff games while managing to score in five of the seven contests, which represented key depth conversions as Lee and McLaughlin were eliminated from contributing late in the run due to injuries.

While the young forward needed some time getting used to Offensive Coordinator Jason Bishop’s way of things in the O-zone, friends in Dylan Kinnear and Chris Wardle were sure to step up as the talented second-year scorer found his place on the field and within the Mammoth locker room.

But for a veteran like Chris Wardle, this was far from his first time welcoming a new teammate to the squad. Wardle, who was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NLL Entry Draft (54th overall) by Vancouver had seen his fair share of teammates come and go over the years. The calm, yet confident, veteran has also been involved in some trade scenarios himself, albeit always finding his way back to Colorado. While the locker room is always quick to verbally welcome new guys to compete on the turf with, it was some of the more reserved guys like Wardle and Zed Williams who helped Gibson truly find his place with Colorado.

And while Wardle himself continued to serve as one of the more level-headed, disciplined and consistent forces within Colorado’s locker room, the exact same could be stated for his play during the Mammoth’s championship run.

Building on his career-high 51 points (18g, 33a) logged in 13 appearances during the shortened 2019-20 NLL campaign, Wardle picked up where he left off, this time with several new, potent additions to the offense in Connor Robinson, Zed Williams, Gibson and beyond. Racking up 46 regular season points (17g, 29a) in 18 games, the veteran’s second-best regular season point total, Wardle wasn’t concerned with who finished the play at the end of the day, he just wanted his squad to succeed together.

Unselfish play in a nutshell, Wardle was the ultimate team guy for the Mammoth this, and every season. A high-character, high-lacrosse IQ guy, Wardle was never afraid to bang some bodies down low while creating some space for his fellow left-handed threats. Nor was he afraid to distract the defense by floating behind the net, helping to set up a swift skip pass or even falling back on a defensive shift when needed. If Lee, McLaughlin and Robinson were the kings of converting this year, Wardle should be crowned the captain of setting up teammates for success.

Logging two hat-trick outings on the year (3/18 vs. VAN, 3/26 @ PC) among five four-plus point games, Wardle was involved in Colorado’s success early and often and never looked back.

Never skipping a rep in practice, enjoying a coffee while taping his stick pregame and going to battle with his brothers: a simple man, who wasn’t easy to guard and even harder to try and think a step ahead of. During his, and Colorado’s deepest NLL playoff run in a while, Wardle recorded a career postseason-best 25 points (3g, 22a) in the Mammoth’s seven-game playoff journey. While Wardle was sure to spread out his goal-scoring efforts throughout the postseason run, scoring one goal in the first, fifth and seventh games overall, it was the forward’s consistent ability to get teammates involved that shined brightest.

Logging at least one point in all seven contests, Wardle’s postseason point streak (5-4-1-1-4-4-6) served as one of the most meaningful set of performances for the Lee and McLaughlin-less championship squad, while Wardle himself served as one of the pillars in helping the organization ascend to a championship level. Not just this year, but since 2016, when he arrived.

Pieces of the 2021-22 championship puzzle have been assembled for more than a decade in the Mile High City, as the roster comprised of a fair amount of youthful talent balanced with experienced veteran leadership. Compared to some of the organization’s most recent teams, even the 2019-20 squad, Colorado’s championship roster featured a larger core of young players than even before.

Part of that core was a scrappy left-handed forward in Dylan Kinnear. While the second-year forward had only logged a handful of NLL appearances heading into his sophomore season, Kinnear represented one of five forwards to return from the 2019-20 lineup, as the Mammoth welcomed the talents of Robinson, Williams, Gibson, McIntyre and beyond.

Kinnear quickly accepted his role of earning some dirty goals, getting bodies moving near the crease and ultimately being willing to attack the net at any given time: double-teams, cross-checks and goalie charges aside.

After entering the NLL scene with an explosive, illogical, yet impressive, spinning effort during his rookie campaign, the SportsCenter Top 10 nominee zeroed in on his craft of posting up his defenseman and earning some space via a quick stutter-step and score move, often providing clutch goals for the Mammoth.

We’re talking gritty goals, bleeding knees and nose contusions, as Kinnear was never afraid to mix it up in the scrum or attempt a high-flying bid across the crease in battling for his squad. Initially drafted in the third round (39th overall) by Colorado in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, Kinnear appeared in 11 regular season games with the Mammoth this season. Having recorded 16 points (7g, 9a) and 17 loose balls in his first complete campaign, the forward added a career-best 15 points (4g, 11a) in his first seven postseason games with Colorado. Kinnear contributed a goal in four of the seven matchups and managed to record at least one point in each of the contests, racking up a 1-3-3-1-1-4-2 point streak, which included and impressive four-point outing (1g, 3a) in Game 2 of the NLL Finals.

Yet, as tough of a competitor Kinnear is, the young forward always seems to be surrounded by smiling faces. Chirpy in nature and still learning some of the entertaining struggles of the travelling NLL schedule, the second-year lefty has not only found his role on this Mammoth team, but excelled in it.

Truly a team effort, Colorado’s offensive unit collectively took a step forward in confirming the organization has surrounded its veteran core with producers, grinders and overall professionals who aren’t afraid to go the extra mile (or kilometer, for most.)

 

Colorado Mammoth Pro Lacrosse Team