How the Colorado Mammoth upset the Saskatchewan Rush

Cupido.jpg

It might sound odd, but last Friday chimpanzees and mammoths shared a distinguishing trait.  

Despite what most people might think because of their genetic similarities to humans, a chimpanzees short-term memory lasts no longer than 30 seconds; following their commanding 13-8 loss to the Saskatchewan Rush, the Colorado Mammoth needed to channel their brothers from another species to prepare for their West Division Semi-Final against those same Rush just six days later.

After a grueling underperforming 6-12 season, the Mammoth, maybe expectedly, ended their regular season on a low note but still managed to squeak into the NLL Playoffs. Even though their last game-tested practice didn’t go as planned, Mammoth forward Ryan Lee and the rest of the team understood they needed to put that demoralizing loss behind them.

“We had to have a short memory,” said Lee. 

Although the Mammoth rallied in the second half of their final regular season match with the Rush - the Mammoth trailed 11-1 at the half - it was clear that the team wanted to stay level through the first 30 minutes of their playoff match in order to give the team a chance to win according to Lee.

“We needed to stick with them in the first half and then control them in the second half like we’ve done all season,” said Lee

The Mammoth have struggled in first halves, particularly against the Rush. During the regular season, the Mammoth had a goal differential of minus-15 in the first 30 minutes as opposed to plus-7 in the final 30 minutes when facing the Rush.

And, when it mattered most in the win-or-go-home contest. Just as Lee mentioned, the Mammoth stuck with the Rush and went into the half with a 4-4 draw. It was the first time the Mammoth hadn’t trailed the Rush at halftime in the 2019 season.

Yet, just as it was looking promising for the Mammoth, the Rush began to pull away. Following a Jeff Shattler goal with 12 minutes remaining in the game, the Rush led 8-5. However, with their short memory and “what’s next?” mentality, the visiting Mammoth stormed back and even took a  10-9 lead with three minutes left after a spectacular diving score by Lee.

Then, as the Rush made frantic last-gasp attempts to tie the game, Ben McIntosh appeared to snatch the ball right out of Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward’s stick and consequently scored a goal with 41 seconds on the clock while the netminder stood in the crease. To the amazement to Mammoth fans everywhere, no violation was called, and the game would go to overtime.

It was just another potentially backbreaking moment that the Mammoth needed to handle and according to Lee, the team got over it quite hastily.

“We were definitely upset on the bench for a short period of time,” said Lee. “We were able to quickly turn things around and get ready for overtime.”

A nail-biting back-and-forth overtime saw a few spectacular events including a breakaway one-on-one stop by Ward on Mike Messenger and then the game-clinching transition goal from Joey Cupido to send the Mammoth on to the next round.

It was an outcome that no one would have expected and rightfully so. The Rush have been the epitome of success over the last 5 years - even though you might say that didn’t always live up to that standard this season - and the Mammoth snuck into the playoffs with the fewest wins in a regular season (6) since the Edmonton Rush made the postseason with a 6-10 record in 2012. 

The Mammoth understand that they were the underdogs, but Ward believes that helped the team to have realistic expectations and be mentally prepared for the game.

“There’s no pressure on us,” said Ward. “We went into the playoffs 6-12, and everyone wrote us off in the first round, but we came out of that one with a victory. We’re sure we’re going to be the underdog in the next round. If we lose, we know we were expected to lose, but if we win, we know it’s a big upset.”

Ward added that having the mindset was important that each team they face is a singular moment and not about how they stacked up against the competition during the regular season.

"It was correct for people to doubt us,” said Ward. “We definitely struggled during the season but we didn't have to be the better team all year to win this game, we just had to be the better team that night, and that's what we did.”

Now that the Mammoth have jumped this huge hurdle, they feel prepared for anything. But maintaining the belief that this next game against the Calgary Roughnecks is the next singular moment will be key to helping this team advance to the NLL Cup. 

A short memory helped them to win the West Division Semi-Finals and moved the Mammoth one step closer to their ultimate goal: the team’s first championship since 2006.

“Our goal all year has been to be a championship calibre team,” said Ward. “Now we’ve put ourselves in the position to play in the NLL Cup.”

Adam Levi