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Colorado Continues Playoff Push During NLL Finals Rematch vs. Buffalo

DENVER – As the National Lacrosse League (NLL) prepares to continue its March to May postseason preparation campaign, as the 15-league entity figures out exactly which of its eight teams will qualify for this year’s postseason, the Colorado Mammoth are very much still in the hunt despite the team’s 5-9 record. Most recently picking up a HUGE 13-7 win March 23 against the Rochester Knighthawks, Colorado kept its postseason hopes alive while helping to knock the Knighthawks out of the picture as things sit entering Week 19.

Seeing both Eli McLaughlin (4g, 3a) and Zed Williams (4g, 3a) put on stellar performances while goaltender Dillon Ward limited the Knighthawks to seven goals overall, including just two in the second half, Colorado looked every bit the playoff contender during its last matchup, a form they’ll look to repeat Friday night as they prepare to host the Buffalo Bandits April 5 on Grateful Dead Night.

RELATED: Mammoth Keep Playoff Hopes Alive with Clutch 13-7 Win Over Knighthawks

Following the big Week 17 win inside the LOUD HOUSE, the team’s fourth of the season, the boys embarked upon a long week of rest, as the team endured its final bye week of the 2023-24 season. Great timing, all things considered, as the team will be forced to deal with a set of back-to-back contests next weekend, first hosting the Philadelphia Wings before heading west to take on the basement-dwelling Las Vegas Desert Dogs. Despite both of the teams sitting below Colorado in the standings right now, it won’t be an easy set of tests as the season approaches its end. However, the Mammoth need to first concentrate on its NLL Finals rematch with the defending NLL Champion Buffalo Bandits Friday, where more than 10,000 LOUD HOUSE supporters will pack Ball Arena for the dramatic showdown.

All of the games have seemed to be a bit more impactful this season than year’s past … but this one truly is for all of the marbles. Honestly, each of these last four games are, as Colorado’s slow start has the team in must-win mode for the duration of the season. While each of the past few season’s battles in respective East and West Conferences have seen quite the back-and-forth results, the league’s new Unified Standings format has undoubtedly fueled the NLL with closer matchups than ever before. Furthering the parity, teams around the league will eventually be sorted into qualifiers and non-qualifiers by the slimmest of margins, as there are currently just three teams officially clinched, thus meaning there are five remaining postseason spots available.

With each of the (12-3) Toronto Rock, (11-4) San Diego Seals and (10-5) Albany FireWolves locked into this year’s playoff run, 11 of the remaining 12 teams are still mathematically alive in attempting to claim one of the last five postseason spots. The (4-11) Las Vegas Desert Dogs are the lone team which has already seen its playoff hopes crushed, as the second-year squad continues to piece things together on all fronts.

Currently in the picture are each of the (9-7) Georgia Swarm, (9-7) Halifax Thunderbirds, (8-7) Buffalo Bandits, (7-7) Panther City Lacrosse Club and (7-8) New York Riptide. If the season were to end today, these would be the eight teams above the cutline, thus dancing their way into the playoff picture, slated to begin April 25-28.

RELATED: 2024 NLL Playoffs Open April 25-28 with Single-Elimination Quarterfinals

Enter even more drama, as the next four teams in the standings each have six wins, with three of the four bringing matching eight-loss totals into Week 19, while the (6-9) Vancouver Warriors have just three games remaining. Occupying the No. 9 spot, the (6-8) Saskatchewan Rush have turned things up a notch in the second half of the season, attempting to get back to the playoffs once again despite a bit different of a roster compared to recent seasons. The (6-8) Calgary Roughnecks have had a similar story, floating just under the .500 mark for a majority of the season, but showing some flashes of late-season life. The (6-8) Rochester Knighthawks are final representative at the identical mark, who after dropping both of its last two contests, need to get back in the win column if they want to make Connor Fields’ standout season mean something other than in the personal record books.

Technically a half game back from (6-9) Vancouver Warriors, the (5-9) Colorado Mammoth indeed have a path to the postseason, but will need to take care of their business for the duration of the season, beginning Friday night against the Buffalo Bandits, who are coming off a high-scoring 18-12 win over the Philadelphia Wings. Featuring a showdown between the second-highest scoring team in the league (Buffalo) and the NLL’s lowest-producing squad on the offensive end (Colorado), Dillon Ward will need to be ready to stand tall against Josh Byrne, Dhane Smith and company. Potentially even more important, the Mammoth offense will need to be firing on all cylinders, and with the growing possibility of forward Connor Kelly returning to the lineup this weekend, there couldn’t be a better time for the Mammoth to start an epic season-ending run than with a big victory over the very team which edged them out of consecutive NLL Championship honors nearly one year ago.

Facing a squad which features BOTH of the league’s top scoring threats in Byrne (112 points) and Smith (109) points, Mammoth captain Robert Hope will very much need to make sure his defensive core is up to the task. And with the team trading veteran defenseman Paul Dawson to Friday night’s opponents, they’ll be without the big-bodied defender once again as the team watches him don orange and white for the first time in-person since the mid-season trade.

Representing the first of nine Week 19 games and the first of four contests scheduled for Friday night, with Colorado and Buffalo primed to share the slate spotlight alongside Saskatchewan x Calgary, Panther City x San Diego and Halifax x Vancouver, the LOUD HOUSE is set to be packed to the nines as the team and its rowdy fanbase get groovy on Grateful Dead Night!

Friday evening’s matchup with the Bandits is set to begin at 7 p.m. MT inside Ball Arena, thus representing Colorado’s eighth home contest of the season and first of two games remaining this season to be played at the LOUD HOUSE. Fans can catch the team’s 15th showdown of the year nationally on ESPNU, stream the matchup live on ESPN+ and stay tuned to and Colorado Mammoth social media channels for game highlights, postgame recaps and beyond!

Leading the Way

It hasn’t been a perfect season for the burgundy and black squad by any means. But that doesn’t mean the boys haven’t been dressing up and giving their all this season, either! A brief glance at the team’s last game shows the veteran-led squad is far from throwing in the towel on the 2023-24 campaign. Ever evident as Zed Williams exploded for a season-high seven points (4g, 3a) against Rochester as fans and teammates alike could see the fire return to powerful forward’s eyes. At one point, the talented scorer found twine with three defenders in front of him … and the goaltender very much in net. The best part of penalty-killing is watching Williams embrace double, triple and somehow even quadruple-teams with ease. The big-bodied forward is now up to 44 points (21g, 23a) on the season despite allowing fellow righty Connor Kelly to step into the Ryan Lee “Ace” roll this season. While Williams may not meet his career-best figures of 71 points, which he produced last season, he’s still very much an important pillar of the Mammoth offense, and continues to prove his prowess in many ways. Moving bodies around for friends, never afraid to cover in transition, and after his summer wielding a long pole with the Haudenosaunee Nation, he’s even signed up for an occasional defensive shift or two. With a set of skills and physical presence like his, it’s hard to argue against, honestly! Continuing to play his role well, he joins the following players in leading the charge so far, including:

Points: 75 (Eli McLaughlin)

Goals: 36 (Eli McLaughlin)

Assists: 39 (Eli McLaughlin)

Loose Balls: 105 (Robert Hope)

Caused Turnovers: 17 (Robert Hope)

Penalty Minutes: 27 (Jordan Gilles)

Blocked Shots: 22 (Robert Hope)

Faceoff Wins: 188 (Tim Edwards)

Consistency is Key

Another game, another dominant performance from assistant captain Eli McLaughlin, who produced seven points (4g, 3a) during the team’s big win over Rochester March 23. While it took the talented finished a bit to get warmed up, scoring all four of his goals and registering six of his seven points in the second half. But once he got some momentum rolling and some fan-forward celebrations flowing (as No. 51 loves to raise his arms and embrace the dedicated LOUD HOUSE supports, usually dashing right to the board for a good celly), there wasn’t anything the Knighthawks could do to contain him. Continuing to pace the Mammoth squad with 36 goals, 39 assists and a team-best 75 points, Liger has been unstoppable once again this season. Having produced a career-high 83 points in each of his past two seasons (2022: 38g, 45a; 2023: 44g, 39a), the B.C. native is now just eight points from tying his top regular season totals. If the Mammoth are to keep up with the high-scoring squad set to enter Ball Arena Friday night, McLaughlin will be on the board early and often, and continues to light up the scoresheet in each of the games in which he’s participated in, alongside:

Eli McLaughlin: (2g, 3a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 2a), (3g, 2a), (3g, 3a), (2g, 4a), (5g, 5a), (0g, 3a), (2g, 3a), (3g, 3a), (4g, 5a), (3g, 1a), (2g, 0a), (4g, 3a) = 75 points (36g, 39a)

Connor Robinson: (0g, 2a), (3g, 0a), (4g, 3a), (0g, 1a), (2g, 3a), (0g, 6a), (1g, 4a), (0g, 1a), (0g, 4a), (1g, 0a), (3g, 4a), (1g, 1a), (0g, 2a), (2g, 3a) = 51 points (17g, 34a)

Connor Kelly: (3g, 2a), (2g, 1a), (3g, 1a), (1g, 2a), (4g, 0a), (1g, 1a), (3g, 0a), (4g, 4a), (2g, 3a), (1g, 6a), (1g, 1a) = 46 points (25g, 21a)

Zed Williams: (0g, 1a), (2g, 4a), (1g, 1a), (1g, 2a), (1g, 1a), (2g, 1a), (2g, 0a), (3g, 2a), (2g, 2a), (3g, 2a), (0g, 2a), (0g, 2a), (4g, 3a) = 44 points (21g, 23a)

Tyson Gibson: (1g, 4a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 1a), (0g, 2a), (0g, 2a), (1g, 0a), (2g, 3a), (1g, 1a), (2g, 3a), (2g, 1a), (4g, 2a), (0g, 1a), (2g, 0a), (0g, 1a) = 41 points (18g, 23a)

Evan Downey: (0g, 1a) = 1 point (0g, 1a)

Return of the Champs:

Representing the second regular season showdown between the rivalrous squads, with the Bandits picking up a 12-8 win earlier in the year inside KeyBank Center, the defending 2023 NLL Champion Buffalo Bandits are set to return to Ball Arena for the first time since last season’s NLL Finals, where the Mammoth captured a big Game 2 win to force the ever-decisive Game 3 finale back out east. But with Buffalo now capturing three of the four last matchups, combining the two postseason wins with this year’s early-campaign victory, it’s very much the squad with Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith who are coming into Friday’s matchup with both a better record and, sadly for Mammoth fans, better odds of picking up the dub.

Mostly due to a pair of potent scorers in Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith, who have already combined for an insane 221 points through the team’s first 15 games. Byrne, who leads the entire league with 112 points (45g, 67a), also sits just two tallies behind Jeff Teat with the most goals in the NLL. A threat to score from literally anywhere on the turf, and even outdoors, Byrne’s flashy approach has been just as efficient as impressive this time around. Nothing against Smith, who trails his teammate by just three points overall, yet paces his team with a nearly unthinkable 84 assists, adding to his 25 goals (109 points) and whopping 102 loose ball recoveries. Forwards have been known to scoop from time to time, but the way Smith collects offensive rebounds and finds himself in the middle of any type of play is simply amazing.

Chris Cloutier’s 57 points (25g, 32a) and Chase Fraser’s 47 points (26g, 21a) join Kyle Buchanan’s 38-point effort (19g, 19a) in forming the team’s top five scorers. But with three additional scorers in Tehoka Nanticoke (34 points), Ian MacKay (29 points) and Nick Weiss (26 points) all sitting above 25 points on the year as well, Buffalo features one of the league’s most potent scoring attacks top to bottom. With veteran defenders littered throughout the squad’s back-end unit and the GOAT Matt Vinc in net, Colorado will definitely need to grind out some big scores while limiting Buffalo to under 15 goals or so if they want to keep their postseason hopes alive!

Get in the Game

Mammoth games can be viewed on Altitude TV and streamed live via ESPN+. Friday’s April 5 Grateful Dead Night matchup against the Buffalo Bandits can be viewed nationally on ESPNU and streamed live on ESPN+. Mammoth fans can keep an eye on the team’s social media channels and for the latest news, transactions and organizational updates throughout the 2023-24 NLL season.

Limited tickets for the Mammoth’s Grateful Dead Night matchup against the Buffalo Bandits at Ball Arena remain available as the organization prepares to be one with the world in tie-dye style.

Colorado Mammoth Pro Lacrosse Team