2013 Colorado Mammoth: What went right, what went wrong

Injuries hit the Mammoth defense, but Rory Smith and goalie Tye Belanger were bright spots. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)
Injuries hit the Mammoth defense, but Rory Smith and goalie Tye Belanger were bright spots. (Photo: Dale MacMillan)

It’s been a wild ride for Colorado Mammoth fans of late. The Mammoth were 7-9 last year, 11-5 the year before and 5-11 before that. But each of those seasons ended with a first-round playoff loss, so the Mammoth know how to get there. They just haven’t been able to figure how to stay. The 2013 National Lacrosse League season was more of the same and lately, that “same” has been defense. Injuries last season were a deterrent to consistency and the goaltending issue was a mess until midway through the season. The Mammoth were able to find themselves and gather a bit of steam, but it wasn’t enough to get over that first-round hump. So let’s take a look at the Colorado Mammoth for 2013 and what went right, and what went wrong.

Schedule

By the time the Mammoth reached Week 9, they were 2-7 and just 1-4 at home. A 5-game losing streak that covered most of the month of February was the culprit and that’s hardly a springboard of momentum for the last half of the season. The Mammoth managed to regroup, however, and went 5-2 in the final 7 games and although they managed to secure a playoff berth with a 7-9 record, the postseason party ended with a first-round loss to Calgary in the first round. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Mammoth have lost in the first round of the playoffs in 6 of the last 7 seasons and 4 of those losses have been to the Roughnecks. For 2013, however, it was a frustrating search for the right kind of momentum, especially coming off of an 11-5 season in 2012. The homefloor advantage the Mammoth enjoyed in 2012 (6-2) disappeared with a 1-4 start at home (3-5 overall) in 2013 and they never won more than 2 straight. Why, is the big question, and the answer comes later.

Offence

The problem here wasn’t so much the number of goals scored, although any team will always take more, right? The Mammoth — powered by John Grant Jr.’s team-leading 43 goals — ranked 6th in the NLL with 11.56 goals per game (185 total). Helping Grant was Adam Jones with 33 and Jordan McBride with 24. After that, well … there wasn’t much. Gavin Prout played just 11 games and finished with just 8 goals, a career low. Jamie Lincoln and Sean Pollock each had 15 goals but that was about it, giving the Mammoth a glaring lack of depth among finishers. So sure, the production here could have been better. But it was made worse by a defense that had a few soft spots, putting more pressure on the offense to convert.

Defence and Goaltending

Four goalies saw time with the Mammoth, tied with the Stealth for most to see time with a team last winter. The season started with veterans Chris Levis and Matt Roik sharing time but by Week 5 it was Roik and Dan Lewis. By Week 8 it was Lewis and Tye Belanger and by Week 10, it was pretty much Belanger’s job to lose. Overall, the Mammoth as a team ranked 5th in goals-against with a 12.63 average. And that’s not too bad considering Levis was let go with a GAA of 18.95 and Roik was let go with a GAA of 13.69. Belanger’s GAA of 10.78 sparkles by comparison and his play down the stretch helped the Mammoth overcome problems of slow starts early in the season. Colorado’s 57 goals in the fourth quarter ranked 3rd overall in the NLL for the season, but those goals came after the defense had allowed a league-high 104 goals in the first half. The team’s 1-8 record when trailing after 3 quarters reflects how often the Mammoth were playing catch-up. But Belanger’s presence helped settle the situation let defenders like Dan Coates, Rory Smith, Creighton Reid and Richard Morgan play with more confidence. And that’s what helped the team go 5-2 down the stretch.

Special Teams

The extra-man and man-down units were solid for the Mammoth as the overall power play ranked 3rd in the NLL at 56% (50-for-90), That’s solid production for a unit that saw 90 chances overall, second-most in the NLL. The 50 goals were third-most in the league but the unit really shined at home with a league-best 32 goals (tied with Toronto). Production on the road dropped to 18 goals but was still respectable at 46% (tied for 5th). The downers ranked in the middle of the pack, coming in at No. 4 overall at 48% which is pretty good considering the 85 chances were third-most in the NLL. There’s room for improvement in the transition game, at least from a scoring vantage point. The 7 short-handed goals scored were tied for second-fewest. Colorado allowed just 5 short-handed goals, tied for best in the NLL. One of the bright spots in transition was Joey Cupido, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011. He didn’t play in the first game of 2013, but joined the lineup in Week 2 and didn’t miss a game the rest of the way. He led the team with 101 loose balls and 20 forced turnovers, and used his speed to separate himself to finish the season with 15 points (6-9).

Personnel

Injuries and attempts to bolster units that weren’t producing kept the Mammoth phone lines busy in 2013. The first problem to address was in goal. Levis was released by the end of January and Roik was gone by the end of February. From there, there were some key injuries to the back end. Mac Allen’s season ended in injury 2 games into the season, and John Orsen played 2 games late in the season because of college coaching duties. That opened the door for the Mammoth to try Eric Martin, who was cut before the season by the Stealth, but that lasted just 5 games. Speedy Jarrett Park was limited to just 10 games, veteran defender and team captain John Gallant played just 11 games and Ryan Hotaling made his return to the NLL for 5 games when he was signed in mid-March. An early-March trade saw the team ship Jon Sullivan to Rochester for Casey Powell and the veteran did what’s expected of him by providing 32 points (9-23) and emotional leadership in just 6 games. NLL rosters have seen more movement than this during a season, but the movement for Colorado was a key positions — especially defense, and that may have been the biggest factor in the team’s inability to establish some positive momentum.

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 bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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