First-round focus: Dillon Ward ready to make a name for himself in Colorado

Dillon Ward on draft night. (Photo: Dave Abel)
Dillon Ward on draft night. (Photo: Dave Abel)

It’s not usual for goalies to go in the first round of the National Lacrosse League Entry Draft and it’s particularly uncommon for them to go as early as number three. Dillon Ward recognizes that and appreciates what it means for the Colorado Mammoth to have taken him there this fall. “It was extremely exciting. Obviously, not many goalies get picked this high. I was honoured to be picked third overall and it couldn’t have been to a better organization,” the Orangeville Northmen and Bellarmine grad says.

Now, he wants to repay the Mammoth’s faith in him by proving that he’s a professional both on the floor and off. That means fighting hard for the starting job but also being a strong teammate whether he’s facing shots or managing the flow of teammates out the back door. “I just want to come in and prove that I’m a capable goalie in the league and make a name for myself. Whether or not I end up being a starter or a practice goalie, I want to show that I have the ability to be here and belong here,” Ward told IL Indoor.

“I just want to make a name for myself. But first and foremost I want to see Colorado do well and see the Mammoth be a contender for a championship would be an unbelievable experience. And if that means that I’m sitting there opening the door, being the backup goalie, or if I’m in there being the starter, I’m not going to be picky. I just want the team to do well.”

After a sensational career as a junior that included earning the Minto Cup MVP award when his Northmen won it all in 2012, Ward got some experience as a backup this past summer with the Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks. And while he’s a competitive guy, he relished the opportunity. “That was awesome. You couldn’t ask for a better guy than Mike Poulin to sit behind,” Ward said of the Kodiaks and Calgary Roughnecks starter. “It was nice to take a step back and play the backup role for the summer and learn from someone who’s had a lot of success in the NLL and in Major Series Lacrosse and just take a couple of nuances from his game and be able to add them into mine.

“It was just an unbelievable experience. Then when I got into games myself, I felt like I took advantage of the opportunity I had and played pretty well. So I think this summer was a really big stepping stone into moving forward in my lacrosse career.”

Now, Ward will be battling for the top job with Tye Belanger, a fellow former junior star who has been establishing himself as a legitimate starter in both MSL (with the Oakville Rock) and the NLL, where the Mammoth showed their belief in him by signing Belanger to a long-term contract this off-season. “I don’t know him that well, personally, but from the times I’ve met him he’s been a really nice guy. From the history we have playing against each other, I feel like he always brings out the best in you when you play and we always have good competition against each other.”

That history in junior includes an epic seven-game playoff series where Belanger almost led his Peterborough Lakers to a stunning upset of Ward’s Orangeville side in the OLA semi finals in 2011. Now the pair will be functioning as teammates and will be living in the Mile High City. “I’ve been here a couple of times before in college and from what I’ve seen of it I love the city. The people who have been out here, I’ve heard nothing but good things,” Ward says of Denver.

He’d also love to be back in Denver next summer for the world field lacrosse championships. Ward was one of four goalies invited to Canada’s tryout camp in Buffalo last month and he put on a strong performance that, combined with his outstanding senior season at Bellarmine, make him a real candidate to be one of the team’s goaltenders for the tournament.

Moving back to the indoor game is always a bit of an adjustment, especially for a goalie, but Ward is on it. “I’ve been lucky enough to play in the big nets this fall and to play with the plastic stick,” he says. But even though he plays with a small plastic stick in the outdoor game, Ward says it’s taking him a while to get used to having to use one indoors instead of the big stick he was able to use in junior and the summer. “The first couple of times it felt like I didn’t have any stick in between my legs, but the more I’ve played the more I’ve gotten used to it. I’m sure that moving forward that’ll be more and more the case. The more time I put into it, the more comfortable I’ll feel.”

The same will be true of playing in the professional league in general, and Ward’s transition to the NLL started over the weekend as Colorado became the first team to open training camp. Now, like rest of us, he just can’t wait to get the season started.

Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at stamplax@hotmail.com.

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