The Colorado Mammoth secured a scrappy 16-10 win over the visiting Buffalo Bandits Monday as the Loud House was at full capacity for the afternoon matchup. Explosive as always, Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin did the heaviest lifting with seven points each, while netminder Dillon Ward continued to showcase his All-World talent.
Ian MacKay got the scoring started for Buffalo, exactly four minutes into the game, as the forward came around a series of screens before instantly dashing toward the net. With his designated defender lagging behind, he made quick work of an awaiting Dillon Ward to grant his team an early 1-0 lead.
After captain Robert Hope was called for a hooking penalty three minutes later, Buffalo quickly established a 2-0 lead, as forward Kyle Buchanan cashed in midway through the first quarter.
With 4:17 remaining on the board, Chris Wardle finally got the defending champions on the board. First faking out his assigned defenseman, the veteran snuck his way toward the crease before launching a missile past Buffalo goaltender Matt Vinc to bring the boys back within one. But another penalty called on the home team, this time on Anthony Joaquim, quickly sparked another opportunity for Buffalo’s power-play unit. Converting 65 seconds in, Buffalo’s Dhane Smith found twine during the 5-on-4 surge.
But, just 10 seconds later, after winning a faceoff, draw man Tim Edwards accepted a slick pass from fellow defenseman Jordan Gilles and slammed home a quick strike following the mid-field spar as Colorado was right back in at 3-2.
With a rowdy Loud House crowd cheering them on, the boys went right back to work during the team’s next possession, as the magic man Connor Robinson darted toward the crease before beating Vinc to tie the game at 3s.
Making it three in a row for the good guys, Flyin Ryan Lee assumed his flight-ready form and received a beautiful dish to the back side and immediately slammed it home, finishing with the diving effort and giving Colorado a 4-3 advantage early in the second.
In almost identical fashion, Lee managed another diving effort a mere 24 seconds later to extend the Mammoth’s lead to two. Marking the talented forward’s first NLL Finals game played inside his home barn, everyone in the building could feel #16 heating up as the fans showered him with love.
Making it look easy, Smith strolled to the cage from his usual area of operation and slang a quick shot past Ward to bring the Bandits back within one courtesy of the team’s first tally in the second quarter.
Picking up his second-quarter hat trick, Ryan Lee finished another diving effort, a much shorter one this time, but nonetheless counting the same, as Colorado converted 12 seconds into the man-up opportunity.
The Bandits didn’t learn their lesson though, as the East Conference Champs committed another silly foul, this time cross-checking Zed Williams in the head as he crashed the crease. Clutch as always, Robinson finished another back door effort with a quick far-side bid as the Mammoth assumed its first three-goal advantage of the afternoon.
Eventually earning one back for Buffalo, Chris Cloutier closed the gap back to two.
As things were coming to a close, with less than a minute to play on the board, Williams was initially looking to set up the shot clock in his team’s favor with a quick reset, but actually beat Vinc with 46 seconds remaining to boost his team to the 8-goal mark.
Before ending the opening half, the Bandits were flagged for having too many men on the floor, and while Colorado wasn’t able to slam the door shut to finish the second quarter, they brought more than 50 seconds of man-up time into quarter three, along with an 8-5 score in their favor.
Opening the second-half scoring was one Mr. McLaughlin, who beat his man before beating the opposing goaltender to grant the home team its first four-goal advantage of the contest.
Just 29 seconds later, Buffalo was able to provide a retaliation effort, courtesy of Bandits’ forward Tehoka Nanticoke, as the game sat at 9-6 early in the third.
In absolutely amazing fashion, Leezer slipped a sly little behind-the-back attempt past Vinc as the team was killing a penalty opportunity, instead turning it into a shorty with 10 minutes remaining in the action-packed third. His fourth of the night, Lee was truly the difference maker in the contest so at this point, with six points (2g, 4a) in 35 minutes of play.
Seeing his fellow forward having all of the fun, McLaughlin wanted one of his own, and got it, thanks to a beautifully-lofted pass from Dylan Kinnear. Elite Canadian talent showing the world how it’s done on the most elite of lacrosse stages, the Mammoth offense was clicking as the third raged on. The goal counted as McLaughlin’s second of the quarter and 10th of the postseason
Resilient as they come out East, Buffalo battled back with another conversion from Nanticoke, who sent a side-armed effort from the top of the key past Ward to create an 11-7 score.
Continuing to spread the load, Lee and Williams worked the two-man game, but instead of giving the rock up to Lee, Williams kept it and dashed toward the crease, beating Vinc and restoring a five-goal lead for the defending NLL Champions.
Here’s where it started getting scrappy, as the Bandits found themselves down five without much going their way. So, they tried another shot at the only area they had found success Monday, dirty play. Racking up four penalties in two minutes of play, Buffalo loaded its penalty box with players.
Nonetheless, Colorado cashed in again, this time McLaughlin, as the forward completed his hat trick while forcing Ball Arena to erupt with cheers. 13-7, advantage: Good guys.
While half of the arena, including players on the floor, were distracted by a tie-up between McLaughlin and a Buffalo defenseman, Tyson Gibson said, “We’re still playing” and launched a rocket past Vinc to officially double down the Bandits, now 14-7.
Finally breaking the streak, Nanticoke was able to score with just over 12 minutes left to play, bringing his squad back within six. Chase Fraser got another one going for the away squad, who was down five with eight to play.
While killing another penalty, Colorado ended up converting another shorthanded bid, as a wide-open Robinson was identified on the opposite end of the floor, who quickly beat Vinc and extended the Mammoth’s lead to six again.
But in typical Bandit fashion, the away team notched a quick response, again, courtesy of Nanticoke, as the deficit was back to five with four minutes remaining. The opposition ended up getting called for ANOTHER penalty though, as the Loud House was rocking late.
Tough guy Nick Weiss showed how out of whack his team was when he attempted to challenge Zed Williams, but that obviously didn’t work out, as Williams had other things to focus on.
Eventually burying a penalty shot past Vinc to solidify a 16-10 final, Kinnear became the sixth Mammoth forward to find twine as the defending champs forced a Game 3.
Used to shining in the limelight these days, Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward continued to deter one of the league’s hottest offenses time and again, stopping 38-of-48 on the afternoon.
Stellar efforts from Ryan Lee (4g, 3a) and Eli McLaughlin (3g, 4a) paced Colorado at seven points per, while Zed Williams (2g, 4a), Connor Robinson (3g, 2a), Tyson Gibson (1g, 1a), Chris Wardle (1g, 0a) and Tim Edwards (1g, 0a) each found the scoresheet. Defenseman Jordan Gilles paved the way on the loose ball front with 10, while Robert Hope, John Lintz, Garrett McIntosh and Gilles each tied with a team-best two CTOs.
Colorado will now head back to Buffalo for Game 3 of the NLL Finals, Saturday, June 3, just like last year, via the momentum of an insanely huge win inside the Loud House!