We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, or for as long as the National Lacrosse League has its current playoff format: No one wants to be “THAT” team. And “that” team is the one that misses the playoffs. We’re only halfway through this NLL season and there’s plenty of ball yet to play, but it’s hard not to notice that 6 of the 9 teams have records that are .500 by 2 games or less. It’s so level, a carpenter could practically use this league as a plumb line. But then there are the teams outside of that bubble and one of them is the Colorado Mammoth. They were 7-1 at this point last year but today, they’re 2-6. And this weekend, they’re on the road against 2 of the best teams in the East Division in Toronto and Buffalo. So staffers Bob Chavez, Stephen Stamp, Marty O’Neill and Casey Vock ask the obvious: Can the Mammoth get it together in time to save their season?
STAMP: It’s an interesting exercise to forget about their record and how things have been going and just look a their roster. In perusing the list of players on the team, would you think they were likely to be in danger of missing the playoffs this year? I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t, until you get to the bottom of the list and see the young and inexperienced goalies. That gives pause. I’m on record as saying their young goalies are good and that I think Tye Belanger can be a solid starter for them for years. I still think they’ll go through growing pains, though, and among them may well be a lost season of 2013. Has to be frustrating for everyone in the franchise after such a promising 2012 that looked to have the Mammoth back on track.
O’NEILL: I have to admit I’m surprised by all the Western teams to some degree this year. Colorado is having issue with goaltending, defense and scoring. That’s an unperfect storm. They may get it right in one area but slide in another, and then the following week correct something and have another area regress. They have to win the rest of their divisional games or they are in deep trouble. As for the goaltending we haven’t seen much good or bad at this point from Dan Lewis or Belanger. People should not compare this to Minnesota’s rookie goalie situation of a year ago. These Colorado guys have been dropped in place half way through the schedule on a team way below .500 and that pressure would be rough on a 10 year vet! The Minny guys started training camp last year with a team no one thought would win so the pressure wasn’t remotely close to what Colorado is facing now.
VOCK: I get the sense when watching the Mammoth on the floor that the team is frustrated, and rightly so, and that is coming from the top down on the roster. That is, John Grant Jr. is even visibly disappointed more often than not. I could be wrong in my perception, but Colorado looks defeated at times — much different feel than I got watching this team last year. That being said, I don’t know if I’d totally count them out yet. That frustration could be a good sign that no one is content. As already pointed out, they need to win the rest or as many of their remaining divisional contests as possible. Those two games against Minnesota to end the year could become pivotal depending on how things shake out in the second half of the schedule. In Junior, they have a player who can put a team on his back and help them overcome some of their deficiencies, but maybe not all of them. But Lewis didn’t look too shabby to me this past weekend, so maybe there’s still a chance here. This league continually makes me scratch my head, so the Mammoth rallying to make the playoffs certainly wouldn’t shock me.
CHAVEZ: That’s got to be the frustrating thing about the Mammoth. They have the talent — on paper — and it’s not all that different from the team that was 11-5 last season. But for some reason it’s just not coming together for 2013. Marty makes the point that as soon as one issue is fixed in Colorado, another pops up. And that’s a familiar theme that we saw last year with the Washington Stealth. So put yourself in the shoes of coach Bob Hamley. Do you switch the philosophy at this point of the season, or tell the fellas to stick with the gameplan?
O’NEILL: The gameplan ain’t working. And the schedule ain’t getting any easier. Colorado wants to work toward some stability in the back end, limit rebounds and PP chances, yet be more proactive and less reactive to the play in front of them. On offense, goal scoring is way down on the right side with Sean Pollock and Gavin Prout. Adam Jones is on the mark to score a few more goals at his pace than in 2012 and Grant is on pace for 50 goals, the same as last year. The tell tale sign in the stats? Grant is also on pace to have 24 less assists this year than last. The ball isn’t moving and Grant is proving that he can’t do it alone, so why try? Last year was JGJ’s best season ever, and a ton of credit has to go to the other guys on this offense who just aren’t getting the chance to get involved this year. It’s a continuation of last year’s playoff game when the ball stopped moving.
STAMP: All true. The game plan isn’t working, the ball isn’t moving the way it was, Junior’s not getting the assists he did last year and they’re out of the playoffs as of today. On the other hand, with all that has gone wrong, they’re still half a game back of an Andrew Suitor-less Minnesota Swarm for the final playoff spot. I may tend to err on the side of sticking with the plan too long, but I think Hamley has a chance to get his guys to take a deep breath and just try to get back to what they were doing last year. Some tweaks are clearly in order, but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here. If I were Hamley, I would remind Prout that I believe he’s still a great player, urge Junior to keep moving the ball early in shot clocks to help get everyone else rolling, and alternate Lewis and Belanger until one of them steps up and grabs the starting job and runs with it.
VOCK: I still think the Mammoth have a chance to redeem themselves in the remainder of the season, and the message coming from the bench has to be positive and I see it as more of a tinkering of the current plan than an overhaul. It’s not going to be easy, but this team has the talent to make it happen and it’s a league in which literally anything can and does happen. I see both Marty and Stamp’s points here, and I’m trying to be optimistic in thinking that it shouldn’t be impossible for the offense to return to its 2012 form — if they score like they did last year, I think they can overcome their defense and goalie struggles (Colorado’s offense last year was the primary driver of the team’s success). Junior might not be able to do it alone, but we’ve seen what the team as a whole can do when everyone is involved, so he’s obviously key to any changes on that end of the floor. I think the deep breath approach is spot on. Maybe a clear frame of mind or a refresher from Hamley on why these guys are where they are could be enough to get things moving in the right direction. However, I can’t help but notice that the team has only been involved in one close game that they’ve won. I don’t think that really speaks to the character of this team overall, but being able to come out on top in a couple close games could do wonders for their confidence and their place in the standings.
CHAVEZ: I believe I’d stick with the plan as well, but I’d also keep my focus on the back end. I believe it all starts there and the Mammoth need to have that working for 2 reasons. One, the young goalies need all the help and support they can get to build confidence. And two, the better a defense plays, the less pressure an offense feels to produce. Hamley said on the coaches call that the Mammoth simply need wins, and he’s right. Wins are easier said than done in the NLL, but there’s still time for the Mammoth to get this season together.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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