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Colorado Opens First NLL Finals Since 2006 in Banditland Saturday

After defeating the San Diego Seals 15-13 in Game 3 of the West Conference Finals last weekend, the Colorado Mammoth are now slated to head east to meet the Buffalo Bandits for Game 1 of the NLL Finals Saturday, June 4. Representing the Mammoth’s first NLL Finals berth since 2006, when the team captured its first NLL championship, Colorado meets the same Buffalo squad that the franchise defeated 15 years ago in the then “winner takes all” one-game format. With Game 1 scheduled to take place Saturday at KeyBank Center and Game 2 preparation beginning for a June 11 date at Ball Arena, the best-of-three series has the potential to head back to Buffalo for an ever-dramatic Game 3 scenario June 18.

Coming off a postseason-high 12 points (5g, 7a) last weekend during Colorado’s triumphant victory over the Seals, forward Eli McLaughlin has transformed into an offensive terminator during the Mammoth’s postseason run. Leading the NLL in points (33) and goals (17) through the Conference Finals round, McLaughlin’s 16 assists also rank second-best in the league as the B.C. boy continues to exert his dominance in the O-zone. Building on his regular season-best 83 points (38g, 45a) achieved during the 2021-22 campaign, McLaughlin has regularly been the benefactor of Colorado’s constantly-growing chemistry on the front-end. While the unit has been producing as if its in midseason stride, the reality is that this current forward group, without the likes of right-side quarterback Ryan Lee, has only logged three games with its current configuration (Games 1, 2 and 3 of the West Conference Finals). That said, McLaughlin and Zed Williams haven’t shied away from having the ball in their stick, showcasing their abilities to convert themselves while getting the likes of Tyson Gibson, Connor Robinson and friends involved at an elite level.

Robinson’s 23 points (12g, 11a) currently rank third-most in the NLL, albeit Colorado did play in one more game than Buffalo, due to the Bandits sweeping Toronto in two games, whereas the Mammoth took its series to the limit. The lefty leader has enjoyed a standout, career figure-shattering campaign throughout the regular and postseason alike, as his 71 regular season points (42g, 29a) and 23 playoff points are both career-bests. Working effortlessly with McLaughlin, Chris Wardle and Dylan Kinnear, Robinson is likely to show up on Buffalo’s scouting report. The problem is, Robinson has a killer outside shot, can move his feet to get others involved, and as proven during last weekend’s thriller, isn’t afraid of taking the rock to the cage, either.

Colorado’s Tim Edwards is quickly approaching NLL postseason records of his own, as the faceoff specialist enters Game 1 of the NLL Finals just 18 faceoff wins short of the record for most secured in an entire postseason run (Jake Withers holds the current record with 89). Constantly grinding at the dot for his squad, Edwards has secured 71-of-114 draws (62.3%) throughout Colorado’s four postseason appearances, claiming both the most faceoff wins earned and the highest win percentage among advancing faceoff personnel. Defenseman Joey Cupido has added one goal in each of the Mammoth’s four playoff contests, while captain Robert Hope’s 38 loose balls pace the league.

While Buffalo ended its season with a 14-4 record and in first place of the East Conference, the Bandits entered its April 2 matchup with the Mammoth with a 13-1 record but saw a 7-6 Colorado squad steal an unexpected victory against and ultimately began Buffalo’s sloppy end to the season. Dropping three of its last four regular season games, including contests with the New York Riptide and Toronto Rock. However, Buffalo has since shaken of its late-season cobwebs and has advanced to the NLL Finals with a perfect 3-0 record after punishing Albany (10-5) in the Quarterfinals and sweeping the Toronto Rock in the first two games of the East Conference Finals. Conversely, after Colorado finished its season with a combined 3-6 record in away games, the Mammoth have started its postseason push with a perfect 3-0 record on the road and is set to march into KeyBank Center Saturday with hopes of extending that streak.

Featuring a high-powered, yet efficiently-spread offensive unit, Buffalo was the only organization during the regular season which had seven players record 50-plus point totals, with several teams having at least five players to reach the milestone. Among the Bandits’ top threats is NLL Most Valuable Player frontrunner Dhane Smith, who posted an incredible 135 points (41g, 94a) this season, despite not recording any points in Buffalo’s final matchup. While the veteran has recorded 22 points (7g, 15a) during the Bandits’ three postseason contests, his teammate Josh Byrne’s 23 points (8g, 15a) pace the team and rank second-most among NLL scorers in the playoffs. The forward’s 99 regular season points (37g, 62a) ranked second among Bandits players and qualified along with teammates Connor Fields (32g, 35a), Chris Cloutier (25g, 34a), Kyle Buchanan (19g, 38a), Chase Fraser (32g, 24a) and rookie Tehoka Nanticoke (32g, 19a) in surpassing the 50-point mark.

Buffalo’s defensive unit, anchored by veteran goaltender Matt Vinc, has been just as impactful for the Bandits this year, providing countless transition opportunities via the efforts of Ian MacKay and beyond. Captain Steve Priolo will look to keep his back-end squad locked in on Colorado’s top threats while Vinc looks to continue to his Goaltender of the Year-esque campaign. For more on NLL Final matchups, Mammoth postseason information and beyond, be sure to check out our 2022 Colorado Mammoth Playoff Hub.

Saturday’s matchup at KeyBank Center marks the first postseason matchup between the organizations, as well as the second overall meeting between the teams during the 2021-22 campaign and first to be hosted in Buffalo. Mammoth fans will be able to watch this weekend’s matchup on Altitude 2 and stream live on ESPN+!

Looking Back:

Colorado captured a 15-13 victory over the San Diego Seals last weekend in Game 3 of the West Conference Finals at Pechanga Arena. Only Colorado’s second-ever win in the building, with the first coming in Game 1 of the series, the Mammoth put on a show behind the heroics of Eli McLaughlin and Dillon Ward within the house Bob Watson built. Despite trailing by four at the half (9-5), Colorado continued to display its resilience and ability to battle back. After surrendering nine markers in the first half, Dillon Ward held the Seals scoreless for the first 21 minutes of second-half play, while McLaughlin and the offensive unit went on to score six-consecutive goals out of the break. San Diego may still own the overall rivalrous series advantage, but Colorado won the most important games, and now moves on to the NLL Finals.

After being deemed a scratch in Colorado’s first three playoff contests, defenseman Erik Turner finished a transition opportunity three minutes into the game to give the Mammoth an early lead. A Seals’ response two minutes later, courtesy of forward Zack Greer, knotted the matchup at one, which would remain for the next six minutes of play. After seeing Zed Williams earn Colorado its second lead of the night, Greer went back to work a minute later, re-tying the game at two before the first period expired. Following a scoreless opening five minutes of second-quarter action, the contest would see five goals in the next two minutes of play, as Tyson Gibson converted a power-play tally at the 4:51 mark to start the action, but was quickly followed up by a Wes Berg goal 24 seconds later. San Diego captured a bit of momentum midway through the second with three in a row, as Casey Jackson (6:32) and Austin Staats (6:52) contributed the second and third to the run. Before the Seals executed its second three-straight streak, Connor Robinson was able to sneak one in to create a 5-4 game at the 7:19 mark, but rookie Patrick Shoemay, Berg and Dane Dobbie retaliated by granting the Seals an 8-4 advantage. A late-quarter Eli McLaughlin tally was erased with less than a minute-and-a-half remaining in the half, as rookie Tre Leclaire extended his team’s lead back to four heading into the half.

In a second half dominated by Dillon Ward and the Mammoth defense, its offensive unit was the only side to have success coming out of the half, as Colorado outscored San Diego 3-0 (Gibson, Robinson, McLaughlin) in the third quarter before logging the first three of the fourth (Robinson, Joey Cupido, McLaughlin) while holding San Diego scoreless for its first 21 minutes of second-half play, when Berg finally stopped the bleeding.

Rookie defenseman Jalen Chaster recorded his first postseason NLL goal at the 6:34 mark and was followed up by another Williams conversion, giving Colorado a 13-10 advantage. A pair of rebuttals from Dobbie and Staats quickly closed the gap, but a pair of “we aren’t going home” responses from McLaughlin at the exact 12 and 14-minute marks created a late 15-12 score. Berg’s 14:15 conversion finalized a 15-13 final as Colorado moves on to the NLL Finals.

Showing Up to Work:

While the Mammoth organization and its fanbase can only imagine how potent the front-end unit could’ve been this postseason with the talents of Ryan Lee contributing as well, the scoresheet proves the “next man up” mentality is alive and well in Denver, as Eli McLaughlin, Connor Robinson, Zed Williams and company have done more than “rise to the occasion” without Leezer. They’ve set the bar for new occasions, as the Buffalo Bandits and NLL Finals will soon witness Colorado’s new-look, lefty-dominant approach. Regardless of personnel, set plays, opponents and beyond, Offensive Coordinator Jason Bishop has tapped into the talent trees of his unit and continues to balance primary, secondary and alternate scoring opportunities for the squad, never afraid of letting the transition team run in space, either. With one goal in mind, Colorado’s personnel continues to show up to work throughout its playoff run, as seven Mammoth players have contributed at least one point in all four postseason appearances so far, including:

Eli McLaughlin (3g, 3a), (3g, 5a), (6g, 1a), (5g, 7a) = (17g, 16a)

Connor Robinson (5g, 1a), (4g, 2a), (0g, 3a), (3g, 5a) = (12g, 11a)

Zed Williams (1g, 2a), (5g, 1a), (0g, 2a), (2g, 3a) = (8g, 8a)

Tyson Gibson (1g, 1a), (0g, 4a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 2a) = (4g, 9a)

Chris Wardle (1g, 4a), (0g, 4a), (0g, 1a), (0g, 1a) = (1g, 10a)

Dylan Kinnear (0g, 1a), (1g, 2a), (1g, 2a), (0g, 1a) = (2g, 6a)

Joey Cupido (1g, 1a), (1g, 0a), (1g, 0a), (1g, 0a) = (4g, 1a)

Mammoth Postseason League-Leaders:

As Colorado continues to climb its way toward an elusive NLL Championship, its offensive stars have continued to produce in supporting the organization’s postseason run. Equally impressive on the defensive end, the Mammoth squad has operated aggressively, yet efficiently, generally holding the opposition’s top scoring threats in check while letting goaltender guru Dillon Ward handle the rest. Averaging a league-best 8.25 points-per-game through four playoff appearances, Eli McLaughlin called game last weekend with a stunning 12-point (5g, 7a) performance to send Colorado to its first NLL Finals since 2006. After recording five goals Saturday in San Diego, McLaughlin continues to pace the league with 17 tallies, while his 33 points (17g, 16a) also lead the ever-shrinking active player pool. Notching eight points (3g, 5a) himself in the contest, roommate Connor Robinson has amassed 23 points (12g, 11a) during his first Chase for the Championship, ranks tied for second in NLL scoring and joins teammates Robert Hope, Tim Edwards and company ranking among the NLL’s statistical leaders in several categories, including:

Goals: 17 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Assists: 16 (2nd) Eli McLaughlin

Points: 33 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Points-Per-Game: 8.25 (1st) Eli McLaughlin

Power-Play Goals: 2 (T1st) Eli McLaughlin, Tyson Gibson

Game-Winning Goals: 2 (T1st) Zed Williams

Shots on Goal: 42 (3rd) Eli McLaughlin

Loose Balls: 38 (1st) Robert Hope

Caused Turnovers: 7 (T2nd) Robert Hope

Faceoff Wins: 71 (1st) Tim Edwards

Faceoff Win Percentage: 62.3% (3rd – 1st among remaining players) Tim Edwards

*All rankings updated through Game 3 of Conference Finals

 

Colorado Mammoth Pro Lacrosse Team