We’re not even out of the first month of the 2014 National Lacrosse League season and the Colorado Mammoth have the distinction of having the league’s first discouraged fan base. At 1-5, which includes a current 4-game losing streak, how can it not be? The thing is, there is plenty of talent in Colorado and while 2 of the losses have been by 3 goals and another loss is by 1 in overtime, there also are losses by 11 goals and 7 goals. So should the Mammoth be worried? Is there time to fix it, and if so, how? ILIndoor staffers Bob Chavez, Ty Pilson, Teddy Jenner and Stephen Stamp tackle the issue.
CHAVEZ: We’re just 4 weeks into the season, but the Colorado Mammoth have some big-time struggles going on. They added Athan Iannucci and he’ll add some scoring punch, but is that really what the Mammoth need? They’re giving up 14 goals a game, so what’s the problem on defense and how do you fix it?
PILSON: First off, the Mammoth offence hasn’t looked all that good. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to whether adding Iannucci was a good idea or not. He certainly gives them another weapon and, along with Drew Westervelt, makes for two big bodies on that side of the floor. Nooch is a unique guy with a unique personality and how he’ll fit in is yet to be seen. But back to the main question: The team defence. It hasn’t been very good, and neither has the goaltending. Tye Belanger and Dillon Ward are two young ’tenders in a league with eight other teams of the very best snipers in the world. When you have two goalies like that, it’s incumbent on the defence to play even better in front of them to give them a better chance to succeed. That hasn’t happened. How do you fix it? It sounds simple, but they have to tighten up, play much more physical and try and keep the shooters to the outside. The goalies, quite frankly, have to step up their game. But the real trick may be on offence. If they can stretch out possessions and score more goals they can limit the amount of chances the other team gets with the ball. Moreover, by scoring they give Bob Snider the chance to win the faceoff and give them another possession right away. That may be the easiest way to ‘fix’ things and perhaps why signing Nooch was a priority for Steve Govett.
JENNER: Don’t know if Nooch is the final answer for the Mammoth but he will open up space for Westervelt and Sean Pollock. If he can buy into the system and just go play lacrosse he can definitely help. For me though, the Mammoth have to pick a goalie and stick with him. Ward played quite well Friday in Vancouver, the first time a Mammoth starter went wire to wire but then was on the bench Saturday. Same thing we saw in Minnesota the last few years; how is a goalie supposed to gain any momentum/confidence when he plays a solid game but isn’t rewarded for it?! That also translates into defensive struggles because teams play different in front of different goalies. Chemistry between a goalie and the unit in front of him is paramount to success. Give Ward/Belanger the #1 spot and let them run with it. Five loses in the first 1/3 of the season in a division where three of four make the playoffs? Maybe bigger changes higher up the ladder need to be made.
STAMP: The schedule hasn’t been kind to the Mammoth, either, with six games already including a stretch of four games in eight days. None the less, there’s little time to sit and lick their wounds. Colorado needs to figure out a solution quickly. I think Teddy makes a good point about needing to stick with a goalie. It’s such a tough situation because each time that Bob Hamley has pulled his goalie, taken as a separate situation, it’s hard to argue with his logic. But taken as a whole, the constant shuffling can only undermine the confidence the goalies have in themselves and the players have in the goalies. I know when I saw the change Saturday night I thought “Here we go again.” The players may not admit it, but the same thought has to be running through their minds. There are good defensive players on the roster. They just have to come together and play better as a unit. One of the keys to that will be having a short memory, being able to forget about what’s happened and approach the next game as a fresh start. Easier said than done and a huge challenge for the team.
CHAVEZ: You guys bring up the topic I was already thinking of, and that’s the goalies and their confidence. Sometimes, guys just aren’t feeling it, and sometimes, making a change can create some momentum. But if you’re in the cage constantly looking over your shoulder after each goal, does that get in your head and take focus away from making the next stop? Some might say the pressure is good because it keeps you on your toes, but some might say it’s a distraction and keeps you from your potential. I think every situation is different because everyone’s psyche is different, so the challenge for Hamley and the Mammoth is to figure out what’s going to work best.
So if you’re a Mammoth coach, how do you address the defensive system in front of the cage to give whoever is in goal the best chance to succeed?
PILSON: They could clone Kyle Rubisch and add four of them to the lineup? Really, aside from that, I don’t see any easy answers. Right now, teams are picking apart the defence inside with cutters and picks and when they do keep the shooters to the outside, the forwards are scoring on the struggling goalies from outside. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t type thing. I do agree with picking a goalie and sticking with them. That said, as they sink deeper in the quicksand it’s tough not to panic. 1-5 is a massive hole this season with the new playoff format and all the parity. If Hamley stands pat with a goalie he’ll catch heat, when he yanks them he’ll catch heat. See earlier damned-if-you-do scenario. Tough times for Mammoth nation right now
JENNER: Easy answers just aren’t out there. There’s been a bit of turnover on the Mammoth back end and they’re constantly shuffling pieces in and out of the lineup. Not sure if he was hurt or not but I was surprised to see Joey Cupido not play in Vancouver. John Gallant finally played in his first game of the year to add some savvy veteran leadership but all in all, this is much like the goaltending. You need a defensive unit to gain moment through chemistry and confidence; constables tinkering with it will only make the gaps more glaring. Although I did hear Bruce Urban was working on a hybrid Rubisch/Corbeil clone in northern Alberta.
STAMP: If you’re looking for Rubisch/Corbeil types — and really, who isn’t? — you could start stockpiling draft picks for 2015 to try and get your hands on Graeme Hossack and Chad Tutton. But we’re really talking short term, here, and that presents its own problems. Bill Parcells was extremely successful in the National Football League, and he used to say that you have to get on your team when things are going well and give them a break when the times are tough. If I were coaching in Colorado, I’d be inclined to try to help the boys have fun playing again and let the wins come from there.
CHAVEZ: So maybe a team outing to a miniature golf course can fix it? I shouldn’t pick on the Mammoth because I’m sure there isn’t much laughing going there. But that is a good point about backing off because there’s already plenty of pressure that the fellas are putting on themselves. And to be fair, it has been a brutal schedule for the Mammoth. They’ve lost to Edmonton twice and the Rush have won their 3 games by an average of 7 goals. It’s hard to assess anything with stats because they’ve played 2 and 3 games more than almost all the other teams but if it were my job to right this ship, I’d remind the Mammoth that there is time to get it together. Relax and don’t press, because you can only score 1 goal at a time and win 1 game at a time. It’s cliche, I know, but it works, and there’s too much talent in Colorado for it to not work.
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