There’s an old sportswriting term from back in the 1950s that referred to an eager team as being “loaded for bear.” We may be able to resurrect that phrase for the 2012 Colorado Mammoth because the energy and intensity bursting out of the Mile High City is downright touchable. An off-season of roster moves through trades and drafts, dispersal and entry, have retooled the Mammoth roster just enough, while keeping in place some key veterans to build what the team hopes is the foundation for another run at National Lacrosse League glory. Is it all set up for the Mammoth in 2012? Turn the page and let’s have us a look.
2011: 5-11, lost in first round of playoffs.
Top 3 returning scorers: John Grant Jr. (36 goals, 47 assists for 83 points), Gavin Prout (14-46, 60), Alex Gajic (24-24, 48).
League leaders: none.
Key additions: F Sean Pollock, D Rory Smith, D Jon Sullivan, D John Orsen, F Ryan Boyle, Mat McLeod, F Derek Hopcroft, D Creighton Reid.
Key departures: Brian Langtry, Cliff Smith, Steve Toll, Dan Carey.
Outlook: Is there any team out there poised to be more improved this season? GM Steve Govett and the Colorado Mammoth were very busy in the offseason and it’s clear their focus was on defense even though the 172 goals-allowed was fewest in the West Division. Every team in the East, however, gave up fewer so if the Mammoth have their eye on being the best defense in the NLL, they’re well on their way.
Already solid with the likes of John Gallant, Tom Ethington, Matt Leveque and Brad Richardson, the Mammoth added John Orsen through a trade with Philadelphia and Rory Smith and Jon Sullivan through a trade with Minnesota. Throw in Creighton Reid, who also came over in a trade, and draft pick Dan Coates, and the Colorado coaching still will have some very, very difficult decisions to make in camp. Chris Levis is back to lead the way in goal and he’s being challenged by rookie Tye Belanger out of Peterborough, a second-round draft pick, and free agent Dan Lewis of the Burnaby Lakers. The depth on defense already has come in handy as the Mammoth learned they’ll be without top-notch defenseman Mac Allen for much of the season. He injured his knee playing summer ball with Peterborough and had surgery in early November. Colorado is hoping he’ll be able to suit up before the end of the NLL season.
So as comfortable as the Mammoth may be in back, the glaring need for attention was the front end. The offense scored just 151 goals last season and only Philadelphia scored fewer. This end of the floor was not ignored, and there is a fantastic base of talent for the Mammoth to build on. John Grant Jr. and Gavin Prout are back, and Ryan Boyle was signed as a free agent not long after Philadelphia released him. They’ll miss Brian Langtry (retired) and Dan Carey (traded to Toronto), but there is great potential in the rest of the roster. Adam Jones reportedly still is working through the effects of his knee injury but has looked superb in camp.
Another draft pick, Jordan McBride, has been strong and Derek Hopcroft, another free agent signing, has been sensational so far in camp sessions. Jovan Miller out of Syracuse University, considered by many a project because of his lack of box experience, has been impressive in camp with stick skills that don’t suggest a lack of indoor playing. And all this is going on with the draft picks before we even bring up names like Sean Pollock (traded from Minnesota) Ilija Gajic, Joel Dalgarno, Connor Martin and Mat MacLeod (traded from Toronto). Martin lit up the cages in last weekend’s scrimmages, and Jamie Lincoln, yet another entry draft pick, scored the most of any draft picks (4 goals in 2 scrimmages). Jarett Park is the unquestionable leader on transition now with the retirement of Steve Toll, and he’ll get plenty of help from veteran Jed Prossner, Gajic and McBride as the Mammoth are feeling good about the track they’re on.
Yes, they were a playoff team last year, but the expectations go beyond that. They’re eyeing a return to the status of the elite, a return to the level of play that brought them an NLL championship in 2006. Being a playoff team isn’t good enough for the Mammoth these days. They want to be a winning playoff team, and look good doing it.
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