The Colorado Mammoth are back, but they’re not happy with just being back. They have a specific destination in mind and they’re coming into the 2013 National Lacrosse League season intent on reaching that destination: On top of the NLL world. Last year’s edition of the squad certainly was an improvement from the 5-11 team of 2011. But the Mammoth clearly feel they were set up for a deeper playoff run than the one they made that ended with a first-round loss in 2012. The loaded offense is back practically intact, but the defense was tweaked a bit with some key additions and a key returnee so when the Colorado Mammoth start talking about expectations for this season, be clear on what those expectations are. They are nothing short of the 2013 Champion’s Cup.
2012: 11-5, lost to Minnesota in West Division semifinal
Top 3 returning scorers: John Grant Jr. (50 goals, 66 assists for 116 points), Gavin Prout (22-61, 83), Adam Jones (29-47, 76).
League leaders: Grant (116 points, 50 goals), Chris Levis (10 wins in goal, 603 saves)
Key additions: T Chet Koneczy (free agent), G Matt Roik (free agent), D Richard Morgan (free agent), Joel Dalgarno (returns after 1 season off).
Key departures: F Derek Hopcroft (traded to Buffalo), D Ian Hawksbee (holdout list), D Scott Stewart (released), Alex Gajic (released).
When you return 7 of your top 8 scorers to an offense that led the National Lacrosse League with 217 goals, you’re in good shape. And that’s where the Colorado Mammoth find themselves today. John Grant Jr. led the offensive parade with a league-leading 50 goals and 116 points (66 assists), which garnered him MVP honors. And as amazing as those numbers are, it’s scary to think of what they could have been had he not missed 2 games with an injury. As it is, Junior is back and has all the help he had last year in Gavin Prout, Adam Jones, Sean Pollock (26-35,61), Jamie Lincoln (27-19, 46), Mat McLeod (10-13, 23) and Jordan McBride (10-10, 20). Gone is Derek Hopcroft, whose 26 points (15-11) ranked 6th on the team and provided a valuable secondary scoring option.
Still, there’s plenty of balance on this unit with Prout, McLeod, McBride — who looked especially strong with 7 goals in 2 preseason games — and Pollock on the right and Grant, Jones and Lincoln on the left. But the Mammoth are figuring the return of lefty Joel Dalgarno, who missed last year because of work duties, and the work of big man Richard Morgan, the 6-foot-8 free agent signee who can set some mighty tough picks, will more than make up for the departure of Hopcroft.
But really, offense wasn’t the problem for Colorado last year and it shouldn’t be for years to come, considering 3 of those top 7 scorers were rookies last season. The defense gave up 201 goals and only 3 teams gave up more than that in 2012.
To that end, the Mammoth didn’t exactly overhaul their back end, but the couple of upgrades they made were significant. The return of a healthy Mac Allen can’t be underestimated. The tough and aggressive defender played just 3 games last year after missing most of the season with a knee injury. But he looked just fine in helping the Peterborough Lakers win the Mann Cup in September. Adding him to a unit that saw rookie starter Dan Coates hold his own, along with veterans John Gallant, Jon Sullivan and Rory Smith will make the defense considerably more reliable. Throw in the addition of another free agent in the underrated Chet Koneczy, and the Mammoth have some legit wheels to put the ball in motion and light a spark for the transition game. Creighton Reid also brings some speed out of the back end and the Mammoth also are looking to Cam Holding and rookie Jaeden Gastaldo to add even more depth in the transition game.
If the new chemistry there bonds well, whoever is in goal — last year’s starter Chris Levis and free agent signee Matt Roik — will be the beneficiary. Levis carried the load last year with more than 900 minutes and he made a league-high 603 saves while finishing in the bottom half for goals against (12.26, 6th in the NLL) and save percentage (.758, 6th). The addition of Roik gives the Mammoth an experienced backup who is capable of taking the starter’s job outright should Levis falter. Roik’s season started in Toronto last year but the Rock’s early struggles led to his release and he finished the NLL season without a team.
After a 7-1 start to last season, the Mammoth were 4-4 in the final 8 games before a first-round playoff exit. They didn’t exactly need an overhaul coming into 2013, but a couple of tweaks to fine-tune the machine bodes very well for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since it won the Champion’s Cup in 2006.
Last year’s first-round loss to Minnesota makes the Mammoth 0-5 in the playoffs since that title run and perhaps last year that could be excused because there were so many new faces to the revamped roster. But this year, there’s no excuse for the Mammoth, who could give Calgary a run for the top spot in the West Division, and the rest of the NLL for the Champion’s Cup.
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