COLORADO MAMMOTH (9-9, 3-1) VS. BUFFALO BANDITS (14-4, 3-0)
SAT MAY 27 | KEYBANK CENTER
5 P.M. MT FACEOFF
ESPNU | ESPN+
As Saturday’s Game 1 of the NLL Finals quickly approaches, the Colorado Mammoth have found its way back to the crucial season-culminating series for the second-straight year after picking up an electric 9-7 win over the Calgary Roughnecks last weekend during Game 3 of the West Conference Finals. After eliminating the last organization to capture the elusive NLL Championship since the Mammoth overtook the hardware last season during last year’s NLL Quarterfinals, paired with winning 2-of-3 most recently, Colorado is now 3-1 in its last four postseason matchups with Calgary after enduring one of the most noteworthy losing streaks against the squad prior to the Mammoth’s championship-caliber run over the past two seasons.
Officially solidifying the honors of “Best in the West,” the Mammoth leaned on the epic goaltender efforts of All-Pro Dillon Ward, who absolutely stood on his head throughout the final 60 minutes of Calgary’s season. Stopping 33-of-40 overall, Ward held the Roughnecks scoreless during the final 26-plus minutes of play, including zero goals in the most crucial fourth quarter session in both of the respective franchises’ journey this year.
RELATED: Colorado Punches Ticket to 2023 NLL Finals with Clutch 9-7 Win over Calgary
Seeing the home team get on the board just 49 seconds into Saturday’s Game 3 matchup, the Mammoth offense got right to work as well, as forward Eli McLaughlin immediately provided an answer just 17 seconds to tie the game up at 1-1. Following a scoreless seven minutes of play, Calgary found twine at the 8:01 and 10:40 marks to establish its first two-goal advantage of the contest. But again, in retaliation, Colorado rose to the occasion in stopping the run from getting out of hand, as talented finisher Zed Williams was able to log his first of the night with just under three minutes remaining in the opening 15. Calgary’s Kyle Waters finished an impressive effort a minute later, quickly granting the Roughnecks a 4-2 advantage heading into Quarter Two.
Using the opening moments of the second quarter to its advantage, forwards Ryan Lee (1:11) and Chris Wardle (1:29) doubled down for the defending champs, knotting the game at 4s just 89 seconds into session. With a pair of strikes from Zach Currier and, 30 seconds later, Tyson Gibson, cancelling each other out as the game raged on, it was faceoff specialist Tim Edwards who broke the tie and earned a lead for the Mammoth with five minutes remaining in the opening half. Bringing a 6-5 advantage into halftime, Colorado felt good about its performance.
But, quickly causing chaos and retaking the lead, Calgary came out of the break firing on all cylinders, as both Tanner Cook and Shane Simpson logged goals within the first three and a half minutes in of the third quarter. Thankfully for the Mammoth, Dillon Ward sports a burgundy jersey, and that pair of conversions would mark the last tallies to trickle by Ward for the entire game. While Colorado would be held scoreless throughout the entire third session, courtesy of an elite performance from Christian Del Bianco, the defending champions were able to score six minutes into the final 15, as Williams became the only Mammoth producer to score more than one goal on the night. Just over two minutes later, a surging Warren “Moose” Jeffrey showed off both his speed and stick skills, taking the rock the duration of the turf and quickly beating Del Bianco to establish an 8-7 advantage for Colorado. With each ensuing possession, the drama rose, but time after time, Ward stood tall. With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Mammoth allowed a turnover deep within its defensive zone. Quickly leading to a one-on-none opportunity, Ward made arguably the biggest save of the game before sending a lob ball to a wide-open Connor Robinson, who iced the game with an empty-net goal and solidified the dramatic 9-7 final.
In a game where eight different Mammoth players found the scoring sheet, it was Zed Williams who paced efforts with four points (2g, 2a), while Warren Jeffrey (1g, 2a), Eli McLaughlin (1g, 2a) each recorded three points. Chris Wardle (1g, 1a), Ryan Lee (1g, 1a), Tyson Gibson (1g, 1a), Connor Robinson (1g, 1a) and Tim Edwards (1g, 0a) also found the scoresheet, while Robinson and Jordan Gilles lead the way with eight loose balls.
Haiden Dickson recorded a team-high three points (1g, 2a) in the loss, while Jeff Cornwall, Jesse King, Zach Currier, Shane Simpson, Tanner Cook and Kyle Waters each posted identical two-point (1g, 1a) performances in the loss. After earning a franchise-best 13 wins during its regular season campaign, Colorado will renew its rivalry with the Roughnecks during the 2023-23 season, after butting heads with the Bandits in the NLL Finals for second-straight season.
After stringing together a consecutive pair of contests without any transactions relating to injuries, the Mammoth were forced to move veteran defenseman Josh Sullivan to the Injured Reserve List ahead of the team’s Game 3 victory over Calgary. In a corresponding move, defenseman Tyler Garrison was moved to the Active Roster, and eventually made his postseason debut with the defending champions, chipping in one loose ball, two caused turnovers and two penalty minutes. Mammoth fans can stay tuned to coloradomammoth.com, 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 Game 3 showdown with the Roughnecks.
Saturday’s Game 1 of the NLL Finals in Buffalo represents the first of two scheduled postseason matchups against the Bandits, with a potential Game 3 set for Saturday, June 3, if needed, as well as the second overall contest to take place between the two storied franchises during the 2022-23 slate. It will also represent the second competition to take place inside KeyBank Center, with the Mammoth posting a convincing 13-8 win there on March 18 during the regular season.
The opening NLL Finals battle is slated to begin at 5 p.m. MT and can be viewed on ESPNU and ESPN+.
Last Time They Played
When the two teams last met, March 18, during this year’s regular season campaign, it was the Mammoth who exited the matchup with a 13-8 victory inside KeyBank Center. While the Bandits were able to outscore the Mammoth 4-1 through the opening 15 minutes of play, courtesy of conversions from Chris Cloutier, Chase Fraser, Kyle Buchanan and Carter McKenzie. With Zed Williams representing the lone scorer for Colorado, he went on to see his squad find twine four times in the opening five minutes of second-quarter play. With Tyson Gibson, Ty Thompson (x2) and Connor Robinson chipping in four-straight goals for the defending champs, the visiting team was back on top. Five, and later, seven minutes later, Buffalo responded with a pair of retaliation efforts, as Fraser and Cloutier were each able to double down on the score sheet. With 89 and 45 seconds remaining in the open half, lefties Eli McLaughlin and Chris Wardle lit the lamp to bring Colorado back within one as the teams entered the break.
Following 11 and a half minutes of scoreless play, Buffalo’s Brad McCulley was able to find the scoreboard, but was quickly met with another Zed Williams tally just before the third quarter expired. While Josh Byrne was able to get his home team on the board again just two and a half minutes into the final 15, Colorado saved its best offensive efforts for the final 10 minutes of action. Seeing Robinson come to life in a series of plays, the magician logged goals at the 5:43 and 6:51 marks to grant the defending champs a 10-8 advantage. Then, it was McLaughlin’s turn to complete the hat trick feat, as the fellow B.C. boy scored at the 8:42 and later, 11:42 as the Mammoth began to pile it on. Eventually sealing the deal at 13-8, defenseman Anthony Joaquim put an exclamation mark on the contest with a goal of his own as the Mammoth defeated the Bandits for the fourth time in its last five opportunities, including regular season and playoff matchups dating back to the 2021-22 campaign.
Beasts of the East
Bringing a 14-4 regular season record into the team’s East Conference Finals matchup against the Toronto Rock (who enjoyed a fruitful 13-5 regular season), the orange and white contingency made easy work of them. Beginning the two-game sweep with a convincing 14-5 Game 1 victory in Buffalo, the East Conference Champions crossed the border the next night, only to post a 17-8 final in front of the Rock’s home crowd, effectively eliminating one of the most stories franchises in NLL history. The Quarterfinals matchup before that? A 20-8 domination of the Rochester Knighthawks, who was arguably the league’s hottest team during the first half of the season. Bringing a +30 goal differential into Saturday’s opening session with 51 goals for and just 21 against, both goaltender Matt Vinc and the team’s talented forwards have been bringing their A-game throughout the team’s first three postseason matchups.
Despite playing in one less postseason game than the Mammoth, both Dhane Smith (6g, 20a) and Josh Byrne (11g, 15a) pace the NLL in postseason scoring with 26 points each, respectively, which boils down to an insane 8.67 points per game for EACH of the talented scorers. With Chris Cloutier (11g, 7a), Kyle Buchanan (4g, 8a) and Tehoka Nanticoke (7g, 4a) each qualifying as double-digit producers themselves, transition specialist Ian McKay (3g, 4a) and flashy forward Chase Fraser (4g, 2a) are also threats to strike at any given point of a matchup, and will surely show up on Colorado’s scouting report. Perhaps the biggest outlier when it comes to Bandits statistics, veteran goaltender Matt Vinc is set to defend his postseason-best 7.07 goals-against average alongside an impressive .866 save percentage after allowing just 20 goals in his first three appearances.
In a nearly scripted “Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object” rematch of the NLL Finals, the league’s top two teams are set duke it out with a place in lacrosse history on the line. After defeating the Bandits in three games last year, the Mammoth moved to 2-0 all-time in NLL Finals series against the Buffalo (3-1 in four games: 1-0 in 2006, 2-1 in 2022), while the Bandits will look to complete their journey in the win column after qualifying for the NLL Finals four times in the past six seasons, but dropping all four of its opportunities. On math alone, their due for a conversion, but will have to go through the defending NLL Champions in order for their dreams to become reality.
Consistency is Key
After seeing eight different players record a goal during last weekend’s Game 3 West Conference Finals win over the Calgary Roughnecks, it’s safe to say that the Mammoth have absolutely bought in to the “We Before Me” mentality. Not that that they hadn’t before, but the selflessness has been on display throughout the entire postseason as Colorado was forced to fight for each and every one of its goals in the insanely tight West Conference Finals series.
Playing against NLL Goaltender of the Year in Christian Del Bianco provided tons of challenges for the Mammoth, but none large enough to get in the way of some Pat Coyle-led adjustments. With six NLL Championships on his resume as the coach looks to secure his seventh, consistency is apparent throughout the organization, top to bottom. Adding in a handful of season-culminating wins from former Roughnecks defenseman and current Mammoth Defensive Coordinators in Andrew McBride, all of a sudden you’ve got one of the most decorated coaching staffs in the league. Bringing more than 20 years of experience leading some of Canada’s premier youth lacrosse teams, it’s also no fluke that the team is competing for its second-consecutive NLL Championship since Offensive Coordinator Shawn Bishop joined the crew, now in his second season.
As much as the coaches can prepare for and reflect on their own playing days, it still comes down to the current men donning the burgundy and black to get the job done, and so far, that hasn’t been a problem. Consistently reminding coaches, forwards and fans around the lacrosse community he was named the 2022 NLL Finals MVP and regular All-Pro selection, Dillon Ward has taken his play to the next level, showing up in each and every game for the Mammoth. While the Quarterfinals contest against the San Diego Seals began to run up the talented netminder’s numbers, his calming presence between the pipes is what makes this team go, and when he shows up, so does the rest of the squad.
With Ryan Lee’s 21 points (5g, 16a) representing the third-highest total among all players during the 2023 NLL postseason, combined with Eli McLaughlin (8g, 9a), Zed Williams (8g, 8a) and Connor Robinson (7g, 8a) each ranking within the NLL’s Top 10 producers, the team’s top scorers represents three of six Mammoth players who have logged at least one point in all four postseason contests, including:
Ryan Lee (4g, 5a), (0g, 4a), (0g, 6a), (1g, 1a) = 21 points (5g, 16a)
Eli McLaughlin (4g, 2a), (1g, 2a), (2g, 3a), (1g, 2a) = 17 points (8g, 9a)
Zed Williams (2g, 3a), (1g, 2a), (3g, 1a), (2g, 2a) = 16 points (8g, 8a)
Connor Robinson (0g, 1a), (3g, 2a), (3g, 4a), (1g, 1a) = 15 points (7g, 8a)
Chris Wardle (1g, 0a), (2g, 0a), (1g, 2a), (1g, 1a) = 8 points (5g, 3a)
Brett McIntyre (1g, 1a) = 2 points (1g, 1a)
Get in the Game
Mammoth games can be viewed on Altitude TV and streamed live via ESPN+. Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Bandits can be viewed on ESPNU and ESPN+. Mammoth fans can keep an eye on coloradomammoth.com and the team’s social media channels for the latest news, transactions and organizational updates throughout the 2022-23 NLL season.
Tickets for the NLL Finals Game 2 matchup inside Ball Arena on Monday, May 29 are officially on sale, with limited seats remaining.