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First Things First: Mammoth Rises Above Rush, 9-7

An early-week home win was just what the doctor ordered for the Colorado Mammoth (5-2) after a 9-7 victory over the Saskatchewan Rush (3-2) at Pepsi Center in Denver.

The win is just the second out of the last nine regular season meetings against the Rush. Not only did the victory end a five-game skid against the Rush on home turf, but also snapped a two-game losing streak for the Mammoth, which started the season 4-0, and now regains the top spot in the West Division. 

“We weren’t happy with our last two games,” said Mammoth netminder Dillon Ward. “Obviously the one to Saskatchewan we literally gave it away in the fourth quarter. And the one last weekend, we just completely laid an egg. We knew tonight we wanted to get back on track, especially against Saskatchewan.”

Saskatchewan’s Robert Church led the team in points (1+4), with Mark Matthews (1+2) just behind.

Seven different shooters registered goals for the Mammoth, who were without Adam Jones in the matchup. Callum Crawford highlighted the offense with five points (1+4), with John Grant, Jr. (1+2) and Eli McLaughlin (2+1) also heavily contributing. 

“Missing a guy like Adam Jones in the lineup, you kind of double think yourself [at first],” McLaughlin commented. “We started feeling it out, getting our flow together without him. Once we did that, we started clicking.”

Saskatchewan led 54-34 in shots on goal, but Ward stood tall in net for Colorado, who recorded 48 saves in his third win of the 2016 season.

“Ward…lights out. You couldn’t ask for anything better than that…and the defense shut them down, they grinded just like we wanted them to, and we did our job,” McLaughlin added.

The Rush dominated both sides of the field the majority of the opening frame, registering a pair of goals to go along with 17 shots on goal.  Despite being held to five shots themselves, Colorado’s Joey Cupido netted a late transition goal to make it 2-1.

“First quarter, we got peppered really early on,” Ward said. “It was nice to get a lot of saves early on, I felt I was seeing the ball really well, and the defense played great in front of me. We were forcing them to take shots outside, and that’s what we want.” 

Colorado began to find rhythm offensively early in the second quarter, gaining the lead temporarily.  Saskatchewan however would answer in the waning minutes with back-to-back scores by Matthews and Curtis Knight, sending the Rush into the locker room up 4-3.

The Mammoth surged to a comfortable lead after a four-goal run to start the third, and held the Rush to one to make it 8-5 going into the final stanza. Saskatchewan tallied two quick scores in the fourth, but was not enough to rally back from an early second half deficit.

“We just wanted to stick with the process,” said McLaughlin. “We had a game plan going into the first half even though we were down by one. We knew they were going to make some adjustments, we made a couple here and there, but for the most part we stuck to our game plan.”

Aaron Bold finished the night opposite of Ward with 25 saves on the night. He was briefly chased from net before returning, ultimately picking up the loss, the first against the Mammoth since 2014.

Colorado’s weekday win won’t be celebrated long as they are now travel to Alberta to face division rival Calgary this Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. The Rush meanwhile will head home to begin a two-game homestead, starting with Rochester next Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Three Stars of the Game:

1) Dillon Ward
2) Callum Crawford
3) Ilija Gajic

By Nick Salen for NLL.com. Photo by Jack Dempsey.