From the Return of the Loud House to our 2021-22 NLL Championship run, a productive offseason for some of the boys right back into training camp and firing up for this year’s opportunity to defend the cup, it’s been a wild 365 days for the burgundy and black squad.
A year which saw a collection of league, franchise and personal-best records shattered while the NLL officially welcomed its 14th and 15th teams are merely a few of the aspects which made 2022 a landmark year for the world’s fastest game on two feet. With the new year quickly approaching, we’re celebrating some of the biggest takeaways from a memorable year of lacrosse in the Mile High City.
After seeing the star forward recorded his career-best point total (60: 25g, 35a) during the shortened 2019-20 campaign, Mammoth fans began to understand what the potent scoring threat was capable of. What they didn’t know is that he would nearly double that total last season (119: 34g, 85a) while leading the team in scoring and shattering the previous franchise scoring record (116 points), which was formerly held by the legendary John Grant Jr.
Following the other-worldly season, in which the forward added 68 loose balls and three caused turnovers, Lee was named to the NLL’s All-Pro Second Team, his first All-Pro selection. Lee was also named the team’s Co-MVP (Gary Gait Award) alongside goaltender Dillon Ward in 2022.
An outstanding year for growth and opportunity in the NLL, the league successfully welcomed its two newest franchises, as both Panther City Lacrosse Club and the Las Vegas Desert Dogs each participated in their inaugural seasons of play. While Panther City logged its first three games in December of 2021, the majority of its season was executed in 2022, while the Desert Dogs officially made their NLL debut Dec. 9, 2022 against the Lacrosse Club during a showdown between the new franchises.
Every championship run has its origin story, but this one’s been brewing for a while. After racking up an impressive 5-2 record, making 289 postseason saves while earning an 11.22 goals-against facing some of the league’s best talent through the seven-game playoff stretch, Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward was named the 2022 NLL Finals MVP.
It wasn’t just a championship spring for Ward, either, as the year-round professional captured his first Premier Lacrosse League Championship with his Waterdogs Lacrosse Club this summer as well.
Speaking of the “offseason,” a few of our guys competed for Canadian Lacrosse’s top honors as Robert Hope and the Peterborough Lakers defeated Dylan Kinnear, Connor Robinson and their Langley Thunder in the dramatic, best-of-seven series.
The 2021-22 campaign represented the first season that Jason Bishop served as the team’s Offensive Coordinator. A combination of Bishop’s close relationship with Head Coach Pat Coyle, understanding of the professional game and ability to let the guys play loose and have fun have led to great front-end success so far for Colorado. He keeps the players involved in planning and trusts them to make the right plays in the moment. Typically known for having a stalwart defense and one of the league’s best goaltender in net, Bishop and his crew were able to evolve the offensive approach and production throughout 2022.
Prior to the championship season, several members of the Mammoth organization were recorded during media day interviews sharing something to the affect of “We want to make the Loud House a hard place to play…” Well, that came true, as the team posted a 7-1 record at Ball Arena in 2022.
Speaking of having a huge advantage when playing at home, we definitely have the best fans in the lacrosse community. That’s not just to say the best fans in the NLL, either. We’re talking all-time support here, folks, and the team couldn’t be more excited to get the cup back inside of Ball Arena Jan. 7 for the first time in 17 years and celebrate with their fans who helped turned the ultimate goal into reality!
Despite missing the last two games of the NLL Finals, Eli McLaughlin led the NLL in postseason scoring with 41 points (20g, 21a), which also represents a career-best playoff run for the veteran forward. Continuously adapting to whatever the opposition threw at him or the various injuries the Mammoth navigated around, McLaughlin stepped up for the squad in the biggest way.
Not the way anyone wanted to see the budding superstar’s season end, Ryan Lee was injured during Colorado’s Quarterfinal matchup against the Calgary Roughnecks. While the all-pro recorded 10 points (2g, 8a) in the contest, he would unfortunately miss the remainder of the run with a lower-body injury. Thankfully for Mammoth fans and the sport of lacrosse in general, Lee has been ramping up workouts and is expected to rejoin the team’s Active Roster at some point this season.
While a majority of Colorado’s players have been around for a few years, two of its top scorers throughout 2022 were actually enjoying their first seasons with the squad. Zed Williams, whom the team acquired from the Georgia Swarm prior to the cancelled 2020-21 campaign, took some time to get accustomed to Bishop’s looser approach, but once he became familiar and earned the trust of his teammates, he became unstoppable. Matching his career-best 45 points (20g, 25a) in 16 regular season games, Williams took it to another level during the postseason, where he notched a career-best 37 points (20g, 17a) in seven playoff appearances.
The other talented newcomer referenced above, hailing from the opposite end of the continent, Connor Robinson quickly introduced himself to the NLL after hiding in the shadows behind a loaded front-end group for the Saskatchewan Rush during his first few years in the league. Practically a star in his own right now, Robinson tallied a career-best 71 points (42g, 29a) in 18 regular season games before adding 38 points (18g, 20a) during Colorado’s seven-game championship run. Better yet, he’s a gem in the locker room and even better in postgame interviews, always on brand with a timely “Tusk Up!”
The welcomed reinforcements heading into the 2021-22 season made both immediate and long-term impacts, but that didn’t stop Mammoth General Manager Brad Self from making a pair of trades just prior to March’s NLL Trade Deadline. While the team didn’t have any “forget them picks” t-shirts created for the championship parade, the squad wasn’t afraid to move some assets around in capitalizing on what the front office realized was a championship-caliber squad. The first move came in the form of acquiring defenseman Anthony Joaquim from the Philadelphia Wings. The bid-bodied defenseman eventually logged seven points (3g, 4a), 87 loose balls and 22 caused turnovers in 20 regular season games (combined totals from Philadelphia and Colorado) in shoring up back-end efforts for the team.
The second move involved acquiring the former first-overall selection in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, Tyson Gibson. The young talented forward earned NLL Rookie of the Year honors during the shortened 2019-20 season via his 43-point effort (16g, 27a) in 12 regular season matchups. Gibson’s 42 points (12g, 30a) recorded during the regular season proved very helpful, but it was the forward’s key 20 points (6g, 14a) during the playoffs that were his most clutch contributions of the year.
Top to bottom, Colorado’s roster is filled with an immense amount of talent, which shows on the turf. What doesn’t always show up on paper, in game previews and beyond is the amount of blood, sweat and tears these guys share and shed together. It’s part of the reason they love the game so much, but this group is just a bit different, a bit closer than your normal group of lacrosse guys. They’re a family, in the locker room, travelling on the road, in front of the best fans in the league and wherever else they’re asked to play. A championship culture has been established in Colorado, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, either.
An experienced player and now grizzled veteran behind the bench, Defensive Coordinator Andrew McBride doesn’t have to command respect from his defensive group, he’s earned it. Continuing to utilize Ward’s high-arc approach, McBride has been able to fine-tune the Mammoth’s back-end approach to force low-percentage shots while continuing to unlock the transition talents of Jalen Chaster, Jordan Gilles and beyond. He’d make a great head coach anywhere in the lacrosse world, but we’re more than happy to have him grinding with Coyle and Bishop again in 2023.
Going out on top is an elite, yet rare, way to end an NLL career, but that didn’t stop former defenseman and now Head of Player Development Scott Carnegie from retiring as an NLL Champion. Judge Carns played a vital role in maintaining a fair, yet embracive locker room culture and will continue to positively impact the club via his new role scouting and evaluating personnel. Ward also accepted a new role with the organization, Lacrosse Development Manager, to continue working alongside the Denver lacrosse community in which he’s embraced since arriving in Denver nearly a decade ago. Ward will continue to play goaltender alongside veteran Tyler Carlson and youngster Nate Faccin into 2023.
Colorado was only able to capture its regular season series over the Vancouver Warriors in 2022, dropping best-of-three opportunities against Panther City, Calgary, Saskatchewan and San Diego. While season series against West Conference opponents may play a potentially important role in deciding playoff berths or affect seeding outcomes, the real takeaway here is that the regular season matchups have little to no meaning once the playoffs start up.
The top three teams in the NLL’s West Conference (Seals, Roughnecks and Mammoth) each finished with identical 10-8 records at the end of the 2021-22 regular season. With tie-breakers in favor of San Diego and Calgary, the Mammoth were seeded as the West’s third seed and final seed, as the Philadelphia Wings vacated the league’s wild card spot. Colorado would eventually have to go through both Calgary (16-12 Quarterfinals victory) and a best-of-three West Conference Finals with the San Diego Seals before meeting the Buffalo Bandits in the NLL Finals.
Marking its first NLL Finals appearance since 2006, when the burgundy and black squad was matched against the Buffalo Bandits, Colorado again faced off with the orange and black unit, which was highlighted by 2022 NLL MVP Dhane Smith and a decorated cast of scoring talent. None too big for Dillon Ward, though, who exited the best-of-three series with his first NLL Finals MVP and the organization’s second NLL Championship as the Colorado Mammoth (third, including the Baltimore Thunder).
We are the champions – and until someone is able to capture the trophy during this spring’s 2023 NLL Playoffs, we’re going to celebrate! Continuing Jan. 7 with a banner-raising ceremony during our LOUD HOUSE home opener against the Calgary Roughnecks. Be sure to come out and support us as Ball Arena next weekend and stay tuned to Colorado Mammoth social media channels and coloradomammoth.com for all of the latest news and updates throughout the 2022-23 NLL season!