There were plenty of question marks coming into the 2012 National Lacrosse League season for a Colorado Mammoth team that went 5-11 the season before. Hopes were high, especially with the arrival of sniper John Grant Jr., but it didn’t translate into victories for the Mammoth, whose 5-11 record included a 1-8 start to the season. But a strong draft and the addition of some other key veterans — along with an MVP season from Grant — helped the Mammoth turn it around in 2012. And although there was some fade down the stretch and a disappointing early exit from the playoffs, the 11-5 record in the regular season was a clear signal that the Mammoth had returned to their perch as one of the NLL’s elite.
The 1-8 start in 2011 put a big hurt on the pride of this franchise, so GM Steve Govett got to work and it paid off. The Mammoth won their first 6 games, 3 at home and 3 on the road. The first loss of the season, a 21-10 trashing at the hands of Calgary, had the potential to damage confidence, but the Mammoth got back on the proverbial horse by responding with back-to-back wins.
But any momentum regained there was lost with 2 straight losses, including an 11-8 road loss to the Stealth which was the only game all season the Mammoth were held to single digits. It was part of the second-half sag for the Mammoth, who, after a 7-1 start to the season, were 4-4 in the final half. That was punctuated by a pair of losses to end the regular season, the finale being to the Minnesota Swarm team that also ended Colorado’s season with a first-round playoff win in Colorado.
The Mammoth were 5-3 at home, 6-2 on the road and 3-1 in games decided by 1 goal. Still, it was a disappointing end to a season that started with so much hope.
Any team with Grant, Gavin Prout, Adam Jones, Sean Pollock and Jamie Lincoln should have a pretty potent front door and the Mammoth did, leading the NLL with 217 goals. They also led the West Division with 540 points (217 goals, 323 assists). NLL Rookie of the Year Jones and Lincoln were the rookies of the bunch and some may say they exceeded expectations, but their work was able to flourish because of the veteran production that spread out defenses.
The bonus for the Mammoth was the occasional big games from forwards who were counted on for secondary scoring. Derek Hopcroft had a 4-goal game, Jordan McBride had a 3-goal game. Even though they didn’t do that consistently, it made defenses at least account for their potential and the more you can get a defense to do that, the more room there is to work with. That’s the upside to having so many good shooters.
But there is a downside. The Mammoth took 1,079 shots as a team, third-most in the West Division. But 28% of their shots were off goal, most in the West. That’s not necessarily a bad number because everyone else in the West was between 22% and 27%, but what happens with those shots that are off the mark? They bounce off the glass and if you don’t collect the loosie, the other team does and it creates chances. The Mammoth led the West with 477 turnovers and while not all of them came off of wild shots, you have to factor that into the equation.
There’s no way to break down the style of turnover, but when your team leads the division in that category, that’s definitely an aspect that needs correcting.
Like the offense, the back end had a nice mixture of veterans and young blood, but there were some key injuries to this unit. John Gallant was the stalwart he’s been for so long in Colorado and he got some valuable help from another veteran, but a newcomer, to the team in Rory Smith. Known more for his fighting than defense, Smith didn’t have to drop mitts at all in 2012 and his defensive skills shined through, resulting in his first All-Star game.
Another newcomer, Jon Sullivan, was a solid presence in the back end and Ian Hawksbee gave the Mammoth even more veteran leadership. Rookie Dan Coates jumped right in and fit into the system well, while Ilija Gajic re-defined his role. He started taking faceoffs midway through the season and stuck with it the rest of the way. He didn’t dominate, but won a respectable 44%. But as well as these guys played, they definitely missed the services of Mac Allen and Jon Orsen.
The Mammoth gave up 201 goals, third-most in the NLL. It’s not fair, or accurate, to pin all of those goals on the defense because of the situations that arise in transition as well as special teams. Allen and Orsen missed significant time due to injuries and it’s hard to say if their presence would have lowered that number of 201 goals-allowed, but it’s not hard to say their pressing, aggressive styles were missed. As a whole, the Mammoth forced 113 turnovers and only Washington (110) had fewer.
Goaltender Chris Levis carried the bulk of work in cage, playing 939 minutes while Tye Belanger and Dan Lewis each got minor looks. Levis was 10-4 with a 12.26 goals-against average that ranked No. 6 among primary goalies and his .758 save percentage came in at No. 6 as well.
The Mammoth did a lot of damage on the power play, leading the NLL at 58.2%. Their 56 power-play goals were most in the league so the team’s got to be happy with that. Those goals not only count on the scoreboard, but they can be demoralizing as well. The downers, however, were a different story. Man down, Colorado came in at just 49%, sixth-best in the 9-team league. Colorado’s penalty killers gave up 46 goals, better than only 3 other teams.
And reflecting the lacking transition game when down a man, the Mammoth’s 4 short-handed goals were fewest in the league. They gave up 9 short-handed goals, fourth-most in the league. It’s a good bet that coach Bob Hamley and his staff have plans to address this in training camp.
Should Govett have been the league’s GM of the Year? The ILIndoor staff thought so, but the league’s honor went to Minnesota’s Andy Arlotta. Still, it’s hard to deny the work of Govett and its effectiveness.
Through trades, drafts and free agents, Govett put a winning product on the floor that turned around a franchise that had a combined record of 9-23 the previous 2 seasons. He signed Hopcroft and Scott Stewart as free agents. He swung a trade in July with Toronto, sending Dan Carey to the Rock for Creighton Reid and Mat McLeod. He dealt Ned Crotty to Philadelphia for Orsen. And in the entry draft, he and his staff did extremely well to bring in Jones, Coates, Lincoln and Jordan McBride, all of whom were significant contributors in 2012.
But perhaps even better than that was the September trade he made before the Boston Blazers dispersal draft. He sent the No. 3 overall pick in that draft to Minnesota for Pollock, Smith and Sullivan and the impact of that trio cannot be understated. Govett did well by the Mammoth and their fans, crafting a roster that returned the team to its winning ways and set it up nicely for the future with a solid core of young legs.
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