COLORADO MAMMOTH (5-6) VS. BUFFALO BANDITS (10-2)
SAT MARCH 18 | KEYBANK CENTER
5:30 P.M. MT FACEOFF
ALT TV | ESPN
Now 5-6 through the organization’s first 11 games of its championship-defending campaign, Colorado is set to head east for a 2022 NLL Finals rematch against the Buffalo Bandits. After attempting a late comeback last weekend against Calgary, Colorado wasn’t able to close the gap, eventually dropping a 16-10 final inside the Loud House, just the second loss inside Ball Arena this year.
RELATED: Mammoth Attempts Late Comeback, Drops 16-10 Final
Despite dropping four of its last five contests, the Mammoth have captured three of its last four overall contests against the East’s top team and will hope to welcome back the likes of Ryan Lee and company from the Injured Reserve List if they’re to keep up with Buffalo’s balanced scoring attack, headlined of course by 2022 regular season Most Valuable Player Shane Smith.
The biggest factor for the Mammoth so far this year? Battling the injury carousel. Colorado has lost more than 20 man games so far this year due to various injuries to forwards, defenseman and goaltenders throughout the first half of the season. After seeing Ryan Lee return for his first action of the season, where he lit up the scoresheet with 10 points (2g, 8a), the All-Pro forward was forced to miss last weekend’s clash against Calgary with some lingering soreness. Pending his health heading into this weekend’s contest, there’s a chance he finds his way back into the lineup, potentially joining veteran forwards Rhys Duch and Eli McLaughlin, who rejoined the lineup against the Roughnecks after missing two games and one game, respectively.
With transitioning defenseman like Jordan Gilles, Evan Downey and Jalen Chaster, who have showcased their ability to operate the open floor, Colorado has found some success with odd-man rushes and pushing the pace, but needs to rediscover its swagger on the offensive end, specifically in 5-on-5 sets. After allowing Calgary to outscore them 13-3 at one point last weekend, look for the squad to get Zed Williams involved early and often, taking advantage of his size and ability to draw extra attention while Lee, Robinson, McLaughlin and company look to find twine. As the injury roller coaster continues to ride, Colorado may look to rookie Ty Thompson, who’s provided 11 points (6g, 5a) in four appearances, or recently-signed forward Connor Watson to give the O-unit a different look, but a lot remains up in the air regarding Lee’s availability. If forward Tyson Gibson is available to participate, who’s logged five points (1g, 4a) in two contests this season, Colorado would likely look to get him in the lineup as well.
With Noah Lebar also suffering what seemed to be a pretty serious injury against Calgary and the NLL’s official Trade Deadline set for Monday, March 20, Mammoth fans can stay tuned to the team’s social media channels and NLL.com’s transaction page for the team’s latest transactions, news and beyond heading into Saturday’s contest against the Bandits.
Saturday’s matchup in Buffalo represents the first and only regular season matchup against the Bandits, which is set to take place inside KeyBank Center Saturday evening.
The 2022 NLL Finals rematch is slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. MT and can be viewed locally on Altitude TV and nationally via ESPN+.
Leading the Way
As the Mammoth have traversed its first 11 games of 2022-23 NLL action, forward Eli McLaughlin continues to lead Mammoth personnel with 45 points (21g, 24a), including a team-best 21 goals and 24 assists, despite missing a game due to injury. Fellow B.C. native and left-handed operator Connor Robinson also missed one matchup earlier this season, but has managed 39 points (20g, 19a) in 10 appearances so far, second-most on the squad. After securing his fourth hat trick (3g, 1a) in 10 games played, Zed Williams has recorded 36 points (20g, 16a) in his first full season with the organization. Veteran forward Rhys Duch has logged 33 points (10g, 23a) in eight games, most recently chipping in three points (2g, 1a) last weekend in his first game back from injury. Chris Wardle’s 23 points (5g, 18a) round out the top-five scoring totals for Mammoth players so far.
Continuing to assert his dominance in the circle, faceoff specialist Tim Edwards secured 20-of-20 (69%) last week against Calgary and is now 160-for-271 on the season (59%), the fifth-most among all NLL players. Regularly involved on the defensive end, as well as a contributor to the draw team, Edwards also paces the squad with 95 loose balls, while defenseman Warren Jeffrey leads the way with 12 caused turnovers.
Last Time They Played
The Colorado Mammoth captured its second NLL Championship with a 10-8 NLL Finals Game 3 victory over the Buffalo Bandits at KeyBank Center last season. Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward was named the NLL Finals Most Valuable Player after making a Finals-record 55 saves in the win and 135 throughout the three-game series.
Zed Williams (4g, 2a) and birthday boy Chris Wardle (1g, 5a) led the Mammoth with six points apiece Saturday, while Brett McIntyre (1g, 1a), Anthony Joaquim (1g, 1a), Dylan Kinnear (1g, 1a), Tyson Gibson (1g, 1a) and Sam Firth (1g, 1a), who registered his first NLL goal and assist, rounded out scoring efforts for Colorado.
The decisive Game 3 victory secured Colorado’s second overall championship and first since 2006, when the squad also beat the Bandits in Buffalo. After helping to earn the honors as a defenseman with the squad 16 years ago, Mammoth Head Coach Pat Coyle captured his sixth NLL Championship and first behind the bench.
Despite missing its two leading scorers in forwards Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin since Game 2 of the West Conference Finals and Game 2 of the NLL Finals, respectively, Zed Williams, Connor Robinson and company successfully demonstrated the next man up mentality and showcased the incredible depth of talent throughout Colorado’s roster.
Kyle Buchanan (3g, 1a) paced the goal-scoring charge for the Bandits, while teammates Ian MacKay (1g, 1a), Chris Cloutier (1g, 0a) and Connor Fields each added goals. Holding Buffalo’s top-end talent in Josh Byrne (1g, 3a) and Dhane Smith (1g, 2a) to a combined seven points Saturday (2g, 5a), the Mammoth outscored the NLL’s hottest offensive unit 35 to 31 throughout the series, thanks to the elite efforts of goaltender Dillon Ward.
Making 22 fourth quarter saves against the once-unstoppable unit, the read-and-react professional brought the hardware back to his home in Colorado, where the Loud House embraced the squad with a monstrous celebration.
Consistency is Key
What doesn’t show up on the scoreboard for forward Zed Williams is surely recognized by his teammates down in the trenches, as the talented scorer continues to draw an extra man while showcasing his ability to find the net or connect with teammates, all while banging bodies around near the crease. Similar to fellow forwards Connor Robinson and Eli McLaughlin, Williams’ selfless approach has earned him 36 points (20g, 16a), including a near 1:1 ratio in goals/assists as he looks to surpass his previous regular season-best scoring totals while working around Lee’s quarterbacking of the offense. He’s continued to dedicate himself to the game and his team, and after producing his fourth hat trick of the season (3g, 1a), he joins fellow Mammoth scorers in producing at least one point in each game, including:
Eli McLaughlin (0g, 5a), (4g, 3a), (2g, 1a), (1g, 3a) (3g, 1a), (2g, 4a), (2g, 1a), (4g, 2a), (3g, 1a), (0g, 3a) = 45 points (21g, 24a)
Connor Robinson (1g, 0a), (0g, 1a), (5g, 1a), (4g, 1a), (2g, 2a), (4g, 3a), (1g, 4a), (1g, 1a), (2g, 3a), (0g, 3a) = 39 points (20g, 19a)
Zed Williams (2g, 0a), (3g, 5a), (3g, 0a), (1g, 0a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 1a), (1g, 3a), (1g, 3a), (3g, 1a), (3g, 1a) = 36 points (20g, 16a)
Rhys Duch (2g, 1a), (1g, 4a), (1g, 6a), (0g, 2a), (2g, 5a), (1g, 3a), (1g, 1a), (2g, 1a) = 33 points (10g, 23a)
Brett McIntyre (1g, 1a), (1g, 1a), (0g, 1a), (1g, 4a), (1g, 1a), (1g, 0a), (1g, 0a), (1g, 0a) = 15 points (7g, 8a)
Ty Thompson (2g, 0a), (1g, 3a), (0g, 1a), (3g, 1a) = 11 points (6g, 5a)
Ryan Lee (2g, 8a) = 10 points (2g, 8a)
Tyson Gibson (0g, 2a), (1g, 2a) = 5 points (1g, 4a)
New Season, Same Bandits
Entering Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. MT contest inside KeyBank Center, the first-place overall and East Conference-leading Buffalo Bandits bring a 10-2 record into the matchup against the defending champs. They don’t bring a recent trophy, or even the most recent win between the teams into the match, but they will be bringing the talents of Dhane Smith and company, which will surely keep Dillon Ward and his defensive unit busy. Currently enjoying a six-game winning streak and with last year’s projected “upset” still fresh on their minds, this will be a game to remember.
Trailing standout forward Jeff Teat (New York Riptide) by two points overall, forward Dhane Smith has accumulated a league second-best 94 points (27g, 67a) in 12 appearances so far, averaging just under eight points per-game (7.83). Joined by four teammates who have surpassed the 30-point mark as well, Josh Byrne has produced 60 points (28g, 32a) in just nine games, while Kyle Buchanan has chipped in 46 points (14g, 32a) in 12 contests. Sophomore forward Tehoka Nanticoke continues to show promise, having collected 35 points (19g, 16a) in his first 11 games, while veteran transition specialist Ian McKay rounds out the team’s top five scorers with 31 points (17g, 14a).
While the team’s back-end unit is scattered with talented players and veterans like captain Steve Priolo, it’s the all-world goaltender in net, Matt Vinc, which Colorado will be forced to solve. They’ll want to get some momentum in their favor early, for if not, Vinc is great at holding a lead and getting out of there before his opponents are able to catch up. Regardless of personnel on the field at any point Saturday, fans can expect this one to get physical and potentially see a lot of goal-scoring action, despite the pair of elite netminders in play.
Get in the Game
Mammoth games can be viewed on Altitude TV and streamed live via ESPN+. Saturday’s game against Buffalo can be viewed locally on Altitude TV and nationally on ESPN+. Mammoth fans can keep an eye on the team’s social media channels and coloradomammoth.com for the latest news, transactions and organizational updates throughout the 2022-23 NLL season.
RELATED: Altitude Announces 2022-23 Colorado Mammoth Broadcast Schedule
Limited tickets for Colorado’s March 31 Grow The Game matchup against the Las Vegas Desert Dogs are available for purchase.