SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN – Players were forced to play out of position. Guys were asked to fill roles they don’t normally fill. And yet, the Colorado Mammoth (4-4) went toe-to-toe with the two-time defending NLL champion Saskatchewan Rush (5-2) at SaskTel Centre for the full 60 minutes, losing by a single score, 8-7.
The Mammoth got off to a shaky start offensively, and was held without a goal in the first quarter. It was the first time this season Colorado was kept off the board in any period. Down 4-0 early in the second, Colorado scored four straight in two-minutes, two-seconds to even the score. Callum Crawford, who was questionable due to an injury sustained last week, scored the first on a short-handed opportunity. He then assisted on Jacob Ruest’s goal – and the subsequent one – which was scored on the power-play by newcomer Stephen Keogh. Brent Adams, who was the hero in Vancouver a week ago, scored the first of his two on the night to even things up.
The teams each scored once in the third, as the final 15 minutes would be needed to settle the contest.
Ruest’s second just 35 seconds into the fourth gave Colorado its first lead of the night, 6-5. Curtis Knight responded for the Rush six minutes later. Shortly thereafter, a bit of controversy. During a delayed penalty on Greg Downing for a five-minute high-sticking major, Ben McIntosh netted his second on a six-on-five. The officials got together, as there was question whether the tally beat the shot-clock. Ultimately they said it did, which prompted the challenge flag from Pat Coyle, who was promoted to Mammoth head coach earlier in the day. The officials said Coyle didn’t throw the flag in the allotted time.
“I guess I didn’t throw it fast enough. I was waiting to see whether it was a goal or not, to throw the flag. We didn’t see a replay, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a goal and I was going to throw the flag. I thought the refs were discussing whether it was a goal or not, and apparently I waited too long.”
With less than two minutes remaining, Joey Cupido’s up-tempo transition play drew a penalty on Jeremy Thompson, which ultimately resulted in a man-up opportunity. Colorado’s offense couldn’t bury, and Coyle chose to pull goaltender Dillon Ward to pressure the ball. Saskatchewan’s Jeff Cornwall scored the empty-net goal with 13 ticks left. But Colorado wasn’t done.
Still on the man-up, Eli McLaughlin capped off his four-point performance with a goal with 4.5 seconds remaining. That’s how things would end.
Zack Greer, who won back-to-back titles with the Rush, was moved to the Injured Reserve List earlier in the day. The man he was traded for – Adam Jones – was held without a goal.
“It’s always fun to play against the best in the League, and he’s one of them,” said Mammoth captain Dan Coates, who was teammates with Jones dating back to their college days. “He’s a close friend of ours. It was fun – it was a great game to be a part of. Certainly, going up against Adam raises your level of competitiveness.”
The star of the night was undoubtedly Ward, who made 45 saves in the loss.
“We saw tonight the Dillon Ward that we’ve been waiting to see,” said the Mammoth bench boss. “He’s been good in moments this season, but that was the first time where I felt like he really – from start to finish – was the Dillon Ward that we know he can be.”
Colorado concludes its three-game road trip at New England next Sunday, Feb. 26 against the Black Wolves (3-4) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.