MVP Shares Painful Past with New Acquisition
A short-handed goal.
A power-play assist.
Another of each at even strength, all in the first half of the season-opener for Mammoth forward John Grant Jr.
In the second half, the 37-year-old was even better. Two more scores and five more helpers en route to an 11-point night and a 20-14 pounding of the Minnesota Swarm on January 14.
Grant’s torrid pace continued. He put up another 19 points in the next two games combined, and finished January with 37 total, a 9.25 points-per-game average, in four contests. The left-handed forward was named the National Lacrosse League’s Player of the Month.
Fast-forward to February 18 - St. Paul, Minn. Grant had a workmanlike four-goal, three-assist night. But a legal cross-check from 6’8”, 260-pound Swarm defender Rich Morgan left Grant wincing, slow to return to the bench.
“When I hit [John], it knocked the wind out of me too so I knew I put all my weight and power into it,” said Morgan. “He was slow to get up, but he’s a tough guy and he fought through it.”
The Mammoth star would finish the game on the turf, in victory improving his team’s mark to 6-0, a new franchise-best start to a season. But with the win came agonizing pain.
“It was bad,” said Grant. “I couldn’t sneeze, cough – even talking about it hurt. But obviously we were having a good season, I was having a good season, I wanted to keep playing. So I usually stupidly keep injuries to myself.”
And that he did. The Peterborough, Ontario native added four goals and three assists in team’s first loss of the season in late-February. Then, he played in the NLL All-Star Game and a road win at Buffalo. In just eight regular-season games, a half a season, Grant had an astonishing 68 points and the team was 7-1.
“That just put it over the top,” said Grant, referencing a big check in western New York that sent him crashing into the boards. “It was just too much so I called the ‘doc’ and said ‘Let’s get this looked at.’ I went in and [was told], ‘Oh, you’ve got some damage.’ He didn’t even see the fracture until the last minute…and then he said ‘We are going to have to shut you down. Your chest bone is cracked, your sternum is fractured. You can’t screw around with that.’”
A secret Grant kept from almost everyone, the superstar just now finally revealing the seriousness and nature of his injury.
He sat out Colorado’s games on March 10 and 11, ones in which the Mammoth split with a win and a loss. Twenty days after Grant shut it down, he was back on the field – still injured – and scored a sock-trick (six goals) against the Wings at home. In Philadelphia two days later, he torched them for 12 points.
Six days after his 12-point effort, Grant had 11 in a homecoming against the Rochester Knighthawks. In doing so, he set the Mammoth single-season points record and was just 18 away from a new NLL single-season mark. That’s when the pressure set in.
“I was playing injured and there was a lot being made of that record, so it was in my mind…” admitted Grant. “I usually wouldn’t consider or worry about it because I’ve been close to that record a couple years in the past and I just never even thought of it. I got a little bit too focused on it, and I think it effected my play a little bit.”
Colorado, and Grant, stumbled down the stretch. A 19-12 home win over the Toronto Rock on April 14 saw Grant limited to just six points, his lowest output of the year. His two goals (and four assists) against the Rush six nights later, in his 13th game of the season, were the fewest in a game in 2012.
The 2007 NLL MVP entered the regular-season finale against an opponent he knew all too well – the Minnesota Swarm and behemoth Rich Morgan. Grant was six points shy of a new record to start the night. Three quarters complete, and still three points away. Midway through the fourth, Grant assisted on an Adam Jones goal. He then tied the record with his 115th point of the season on a goal thirty seconds later. Less than four minutes after that, with just 4:22 left in the season, Grant’s power-play laser-beam was good for 116.
“[John] is definitely the best player in the world right now in my opinion,” said Morgan, who witnessed the record-setter first-hand. “He is a threat from anywhere on the floor…”
When the two teams met in the West Division Semifinal at Pepsi Center, the league’s tallest player didn’t know his team’s – or for that matter, his – fate. Grant, still feeling the effects of Morgan’s check nearly three months prior, led all scorers with five goals and two assists in a losing cause.
Morgan’s team would fall to the Edmonton Rush a week later. During the off-season, the Colorado brass courted Morgan and ultimately signed the free agent to a contract. Dave Morgan, Rich’s older brother, used to don the burgundy, silver and black. Dave spoke highly of his time in the Mile High City.
“When I was deciding where I wanted to play, I told him the Mammoth were interested in me and he was all for it,” explained Rich. “[Dave] said he had a great time and experience in Colorado and it would be good for me to play there.”
Now the man who had put a temporary halt to the greatest single-season offensive outburst in NLL history will call Grant a teammate.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said the league’s reigning MVP.
While Grant was unable to win the Champion’s Cup for Colorado in May, he’s been busy polishing the hardware from his other teams’ titles ever since. Under the summer sun, Grant helped the Chesapeake Bayhawks win the Steinfeld Cup. In September, Grant led the Peterborough Lakers to another Mann Cup.
When you’re the world’s best, the skeptics, critics and doubters are never far behind. In the midst of the Mann Cup’s best-of-seven series, the Canadian Lacrosse Association implemented drug testing. Surely, some thought, no one can play at the level Jr. had without some outside help. But just as he’s done his whole career, Grant proved the cynics wrong.
“I was one of the guys that was picked, got tested, and got my results back,” said Grant. “I knew it was going to be fine. I’m cleared to play, no suspensions, everything’s good. There was quite a bit of media buzz around it up here in Canada. But all is good, and I’m just excited to get out there and play healthy and ready to go this year with the Mammoth.”
The next time you see the man with two MVP trophies and 1,093 career regular-season points to his NLL resume, you might just see a bit of a smile out of him. After all, the pressure of the points record is in the past and the man who injured him is now a teammate.